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'Iron Man 3' Proves Everyone's Favorite Avenger Can Still Fly Solo

Michael Chasin |
May 3, 2013 | 5:24 p.m. PDT


"Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away, what are you?"

The man and the machine. Courtesy Disney Pictures.
The man and the machine. Courtesy Disney Pictures.
—Captain Steve Rogers

When we last left Tony Stark, he had expanded his horizons. The climax of Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" saw the most popular member of Marvel Studios' miraculously assembled superhero team discovering that not only was he living in a world he didn't fully understand, but also one that might not even have him at the center. A jarring change of perspective? Well, inter-dimensional wormholes will do that to you.

After surviving his sacrificial play to save New York from nuclear and extraterrestrial annihilation, Stark's decided there's no place like home. A recluse inside his own armor, he builds and tinkers as if all he needs is one more iteration of his iconic suit to seal away whatever pain the world may have to offer. But of course it isn't long before the world comes knocking, and Tony—with or without his shiny second skin—has to master his inner turmoil in order to battle the demons he created back when everything was simple.

To say more almost seems unfair, considering what a clever job the marketing folks over at Marvel have done to trick you into thinking you know what this movie is about. The trailers have shown, what? A destroyed mansion? A threatening Ben Kingsley? Pepper in danger? Tony out for revenge? A bunch of different armors? Oh it's all there, but none of it quite in the way you might think. That's a good thing.

Iron Man 3 is nothing that was expected yet everything it should be - a third installment stronger than any in the history of comic book movies (sorry, Chris), which signals Marvel Studios' post-Avengers era with a cocksure grin and a fireworks show that might as well spell out "Yes, we can still deliver standalone stories. In fact, we're better at it than ever."

Thank director Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "Lethal Weapon") whose previous work with Robert Downey Jr. helped get him the role of Stark in the first place. Reunited, the two work in perfect tandem, with Black's deft script and constant sense of humor playing wonderfully to the strengths of his lead. The humor seems a little excessive at times, toeing over the line of acceptable irreverence in a story that, despite its occasional absurdity, deals with real themes of anxiety and identity in the face of trauma. That said, it's hard to be too upset when every joke lands so well.

On that note of absurdity, yes, there are things in this movie far more outrageous than in the first two Iron Man films. Synthesizing a new element out of the blueprints to a World's Fair? That's kid stuff. Remember, there are Norse gods doing battle in some adjacent realm. Anything goes! To relate those things here might make potential viewers scoff (to comic fans let's just say "Extremis" and leave it at that), but lo and behold if it doesn't all work in context.

By this time there's no question as to the skill of the cast. Tony Stark is Iron Man is Robert Downey Jr., inimitable in the role no matter how many may try and match their facial hair to his. Gwyneth Paltrow does her best Pepper Potts yet, Don Cheadle actually makes Rhodey his own after not quite finding the mark in "Iron Man 2," and though he's no longer directing, Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan is given a far more significant role than before.

As for the newcomers, Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian has been kept entirely hidden from the spotlight. While Sam Rockwell excelled as a comedic foil for Tony Stark in the previous movie, Pearce plays this rival scientist far more seriously yet steals scenes all the same. It's no exaggeration to say "Iron Man 3" might not work without him. James Badge Dale also gets some great moments as Killian's right hand man.

Then there's the Mandarin. The voice of Ben Kingsley's villain has dominated trailers, but otherwise his role in the story remained a mystery up until release. Be grateful it did. He is nothing like any villain ever seen in this sort of movie, and his impact is made all the stronger for it. He remains a puppet-master figure for what starts to feel like an uncomfortable amount of the runtime, but the payoff more than justifies the build-up.

And oh is there ever payoff. The action in "Iron Man 3" is coherent, thrilling and above all creative. Each fight or escape or rescue is totally different, and together they utilize what feels for all the world like every cool thing someone could possibly do with a high-tech suit of armor. Remember how in the first two Iron Man movies the last action scene was kind of a letdown? Yeah, that's not a problem here. It's not the New York finale in "The Avengers," but then, what could be? It's hard to imagine an Iron Man film ever topping the pyrotechnic delights on display here.

"Iron Man 3" edges out the first installment to claim the title of the best stand-alone film Marvel Studios has delivered so far. It's a fun, funny, engaging and surprising blockbuster packed with great sequences and bold ideas. It proves what we already knew: Without the suit, Tony Stark is a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.

And, above all else, a hero.

Listen to Michael Chasin interview Marvel Studios President and Iron Man 3 producer Kevin Feige, follow him on twitter, and listen to more of his reviews on the Post Credits Podcast every week.



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