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'Iron Man 3' goes outside the box for franchise's third offering

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When you really think about it, a third film in a movie trilogy is arguably the most pivotal of the bunch. If the first two films are financially successful enough to merit another offering, chances are you’re going to have to think outside the box while still combining the elements that made the preceding films a box office draw. Photo: contactmusic.com

 

Such is the case with Iron Man 3. It’s not a perfect film or even your typical superhero fanfare for that matter, but it works.

 

The film begins with a narrative by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) who freely admits that his shortcomings in dealing with the human race can sometimes come back to haunt you...or in this case...the entire world.

 

It’s New Year’s Eve 1999 in Switzerland, and Stark is about to get “friendly” with biologist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) when he’s approached by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist using a cane (remember that) who seeks out Stark in hopes of him backing one of his research projects. Stark tells him he will meet him several minutes later, but chooses to explore more “pleasurable” opportunities with Maya instead. This seems like a no-brainer at the time, but it turns out that wasn’t such a good idea.

 

It’s now 14 years later, and the United States has been attacked by a series of bombings at the hands of Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a “terrorist” being sought after by US intelligence. In their efforts to put an end to Mandarin’s reign of terror, intelligence decides to recruit Lieutenant Rhodes (Don Cheadle) in the form of Iron Patriot (formerly War Machine). When Rhodes informs Stark of the recent Mandarin bombings, he does so reluctantly- because Stark is clearly battling his own demons. Not too far removed from the course of events that took place in The Avengers, Stark is now suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder and is prone to insomnia and anxiety attacks. He copes with his issues by hiding out in his Malibu home while attempting to develop new Iron Man prototypes. In the process, his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been strained and he has developed somewhat of an identity crisis.

 

When Stark is confronted by the press about the work of Mandarin after one of his attacks puts his best friend Happy Hogan (played by previous Iron Man director Jon Favreau) in a coma, Stark vows to put an end to Mandarin- even telling him to come find him at his home address.

 

 

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When the bad guys happen to take him up on the offer, Stark’s home is obliterated into the Pacific Ocean and he barely escapes with his life. Having just lost his home, his identity, his armor, and possibly Happy and Pepper, Stark sets out on a journey to literally and mentally put himself back together. During this time, Stark discovers that the Mandarin bombings have been orchestrated by soldiers from the Extremis program, which was an experimental drug used to heal soldiers from crippling injuries. To make matters worse, the Extremis drug has fatal flaws and has now fallen into the hands of Killian, who masked terrorist plots as a front for the underdeveloped drug’s shortcomings. As a result, Stark must now come to term with his own sense of purpose while also trying to stop Killian in the process.

 

Iron Man 3 is clearly Robert Downey Jr’s best performance as Tony Stark. Director Shane Black chose to focus on the human side of Stark and how vulnerable he’s become when not wearing the armor, and Downey executes this perfectly. This is where Iron Man 3 succeeds and The Dark Knight Rises came up short. Downey manages to tap into his inner self with more humanistic humility and a little less distance than Christian Bale’s Batman. Furthermore, Stark’s journey back without his conventional use of weaponry makes for a more entertaining viewing experience than Bruce Wayne’s ridiculously overplayed prison escape.

 

Although there are plenty of action scenes that rank among the best of the three Iron Man films (particularly the one with Iron Man and Air Force One that will literally leave you on the edge of your seat) the movie tends to focus more on Downey outside the armor when he does the heavy lifting.  In fact, he rarely wears the armor during the course of the movie, and when he does, it’s a prototype yet to be battle tested.  At times, Iron Man 3 comes off as quite dark when compared to the previous two installments. You couldn’t help but feel that the carnage and terroristic threats were quite chilling and seem a little too realistic in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings, but Black offers a delicate balance between morbidity and humor, which the film (for the most part) manages to pull off.

 

 

 

Pearce’s performance as Killian is exceptional and clearly more menacing in his role than Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in Iron Man 2, while Paltrow and Cheadle are actually given more prominent roles than in the previous sequel. Cheadle’s Rhodes even becomes somewhat of a sidekick for Stark, especially during the film’s epic finale. Kingsley’s role is somewhat brief when compared to the other supporting actors, but his dramatic as well as comedic efforts definitely make his performance noteworthy and memorable.

 

Iron Man 3 is definitely not your typical third installment if a successful film franchise.  If you’re looking for the original Iron Man or even Iron Man 2, forget it. The film really stands on its own and its 3D format offers a nice touch. While it won’t be Downey’s last appearance as Iron Man (he is slated to appear in the Avengers sequel), the film manages to bring things full circle in the Iron Man universe while leaving the door open for a fourth movie.

 

And without giving too much away, I’ll just say the following:  This superhero doesn’t retire and go to France to sip lattes (like another superhero did last summer), and like all Marvel films, make sure you stick around until all of the credits are rolled.

 

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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