Tony Stark Three: An Iron Man 3 Review

Article written by:
John Oliver Go
Author: John Oliver GoWebsite:
Oliver has a love-hate romance with video games. So much so that all he writes are loving hate letters about his games - or hateful love letters depending on his mood. But he has a love-love relationship with his cats.


This is not the superhero movie you expected. Consider an early scene at a local diner: we find Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) having a beer with his buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle) as a little child approaches Stark for an autograph. The girl hands him a drawing of Iron Man fighting the Chitauri aliens, the last we saw of him from The Avengers (2012). The picture, however, triggers ill memories of him being whisked off into space and back - helplessly falling into the abyss - causing the one thing we would not expect of our brazen hero: a frightful, demented anxiety attack. Sweaty and shaking, Stark leaps outside the diner and, in a complete tonal turnaround, we find him entering his Iron Man suit adorably parked by the driveway - a deadpan punchline mirroring the movie's audacious traipse towards black comedy. Finally, we have a superhero film as playful with its own tale as Tony Stark is with his own legend.

As audacious as Stark himself, the film begins at a New Years' Eve Party in 1999 to the tune of Blue as we find our hero meeting the beautiful Dr. Maya Hensen (Rebecca Hall) and the brilliant Dr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce), as he gets a one-night stand with the former and standing up the latter. As Dr. Hensen presents Stark with the Extremis virus, what could be the cure for cancer if it didn't make its botanical subjects so spontaneously combustible, Dr. Killian is seen cold and all alone come the Millenium countdown. This event bites Stark in the present day, as the threat of the Mandarin (deliciously played by Ben Kingsley in more ways than one) looms in the horizon; with what his strange acts of terror seeming oddly related to the virus hinted at by the good doctor.

As the plot slowly unravels and the stakes go higher and more personal, so do Downey's improvised, impishly-timed banter elevates the film to blockbuster greatness. Perhaps some of the more dramatic scenes, themselves, swan dive towards intense, boilerplate drama veering quite close to Stark's polar opposite in the haunted Bruce Wayne,  but so too does the film pitch itself back up to the devilishly funny as if being self-aware of its own mistakes. To illustrate, before his Malibu Mansion is terrifyingly attacked by the Mandarin, the last we hear of Tony is through an argument involving a giant bunny with giant assets as he tries to remember a one-night stand. Moreover, during one of the film's bigger plot reveals, the film at once ups the ante as it twists the proverbial knife and threatens to be the world's greatest stoner comedy at the same time. It's quite a testament to Director Shane Black (The Last Boyscout, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) that he channels more of his action comedy sensibilities than traditional superhero conventions. A friend of mine once mused, after learning that this is from the guy who made Lethal Weapon: "So is Iron Man 3 a buddy comedy involving a white guy and a black guy?" Girl, I just don't know where to start.

And this focus on Tony Stark and his over-the-top persona is evident in its endlessly creative action set-pieces. At one point, we find Stark brandishing just a handgun as he ballets back and forth at his aggressors with just his left leg and right shoulder armored. In another, we find him fighting a sexy, super-powered aggressor - himself unarmored with nothing but his wits.

Almost as if flirting with death, he charmingly quips: "I've dated better-looking girls than you."

"That all you've got? A cheesy one-liner?"

Stark coolly replies: "Girl, that could be the title of my autobiography."

... and then proceeds to blast her to kingdom come with but a lighter and kitchen paraphernalia.

The rousing finale, moreover, drives the point home. As dozens of Iron Man armors get thrown into the fray, we get an incredible action sequence of our hero mad-dashing to and fro the flying suits in a sort of balletic trance. At the end of it, however, we find that it's almost as if Tony Stark is allergic to wearing the Iron Man suit to begin with. And as every dramatic scene in the film isn't played straight (every single one has its own punchline), we find there was never a moment when we found Tony Stark in a traditional action sequence of Iron Mans and Avengers past. It's always Stark in transition to Iron Man or just as himself. You might as well call the film Tony Stark III and get away with it perfectly.

The great comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks famously mused: "My films rise above vulgarity" as he created a revolution in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (both 1974) eschewing comedy at its most brilliantly absurd. Maybe we are seeing this same revolution in the superhero space with Robert Downey, Jr. at the frontline, eschewing superhero bravado in favor of crass but witty humor. Because at its most serious, Iron Man 3 blends the effects of wartime politics with riffs on Downtown Abbey and Dora the Explorer. Because at its most serious, it is also at its most provocatively hilarious.

Perhaps we have seen a certain maturity to comic book films in terms of breaking its own boundaries - even if, as this film portrays, the way there is the furthest thing from whatever maturity that actually entails. Because at its best, Iron Man 3 is not a superhero movie but a comedy of superhero-esque proportions. Now if Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy represents what comic book films could achieve if they are deconstructed into hard-boiled crime noir, then Iron Man 3 represents its polar opposite: of what action comedy could achieve if comic book films are deconstructed into nothing but the excesses of its heroes. Audaciously brazen in its swagger, this is the film that Tony Stark, himself, would have made.


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