“You Know, It’s Moments Like These When I Realize What a Superhero I Am.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the return of Tony Stark . . .

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I haven’t completely made up my mind about a few things yet, but for the most part, I had a pretty great time watching this.

SUMMARY:

After the events of The Avengers, Tony is not in the best headspace: nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, etc. The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is not helping matters, what with his penchant for organizing terrorist attacks on American soil. When Tony calls him out, The Mandarin focuses his attention on Tony.

(His attention includes lots of explosions.)

NOTES:

1. I won’t say how, exactly, but this movie kind of won me over in the first couple of seconds. This story begins in 1998, and I guess I’m a sucker for a good junior high flashback.

2. More importantly, this is the first Iron Man film directed by Shane Black, best known for directing this movie:

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And if anyone’s curious, I am perfectly willing to watch further collaborations between Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr.

Black has a great eye for balancing the comedic and the dark. Things go fairly bad for Tony Stark in this film, but the tone of the movie isn’t relentlessly bleak, and frankly, I’m grateful for it. Which isn’t to say that I don’t like grim superhero stories because I do. I don’t want to watch a movie and feel like it’s constantly backing away from anything remotely unhappy and morally ambiguous because it doesn’t have the balls to be complex. But I also go to the Iron Man movies with an expectation that I’ll have a certain level of fun. I want to laugh, and I did — a lot more than I did when I watched Iron Man 2. (Which, for my money, isn’t as bad of a movie as a lot of people claim, but is also easily the weakest of the trilogy.)

3. Also, the action is pretty great.

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I’m glad I wasn’t spoiled for most of it. This is true for the whole movie, actually, not just the action sequences — often, the less you know about a movie going in, the better, even if the movie is shit. Especially if the movie is shit, actually: I remember the days before X-Men: The Last Stand came out . . . oh, those hopeful, innocent days, before our young, naive hearts were cruelly stomped upon and then butchered and eaten  . . . when they released a shit-ton of clips before the film came out, and I watched every single one, getting more and more excited until I realized I had watched the only particularly good parts of the movie.

I certainly hoped Iron Man 3 would be better than X-Men: The Last Stand — cause, good God, how could it not be — but I’ve learned my lesson well. When it seemed like there would be a new Iron Man 3 clip every other day prior to the film’s release, I decided not to watch any of them and damn my curiosity. It worked out for the best, I think.

4. I was surprised at how much time there was devoted to Tony Stark out of the suit. Don’t get me wrong: Iron Man gets a lot of screen time. There’s, ah, quite a bit of Iron Man to go around, really. But I think maybe the best parts of the movie were when Tony’s stripped of his armor and has to rely on his improv mechanical genius to figure out what’s going on and to get him out of shit. I loved that.

5. And the scenes between Tony and Harley are the best.

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These two, back and forth. So damn funny. They play off each other so well, and there are so many good quotes here — good quotes that I’m probably going to search for in vain because finding the actual dialogue from a movie (and not just the edited shit from trailers) a couple days after it’s released is never fun.

But some of the shit Tony says to this kid — one line in particular — is pretty damn ballsy. Sure, Iron Man is about as irreverent of a superhero as you’re going to get, but still . . . not everyone could have pulled off this line, I don’t think. And yet, Robert Downey Jr. does. Because he is Tony Stark.

6. For how much longer? Hard to say. There’s been a lot of speculation about that lately, what with RDJ’s contract being up and, also, him edging up on 50. Seriously, he’s almost 50? Damn, that man’s got some good genes. How many men near 50 do you know who can rock lederhosen? Honestly, how many men do you know who can rock lederhosen at all?

I know Robert Downey Jr. won’t play Iron Man forever. But man, can I tell you how not interested I am in seeing someone else take up the part? It’s funny — roles are replaced all the time. The Hulk’s been played by three different actors in under a decade. (Although, clearly, Mark Ruffalo is the best.) I really enjoy Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Jeremy Renner as Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, and Hawkeye respectively, and I’d be both disappointed and worried if they dropped out . . . but none of them so entirely epitomize their roles for me the way Robert Downey Jr. does with Tony Stark. I really do want to see RDJ do in other stuff, maybe even some movies that aren’t so blockbustery and action-packed with a capital A . . . but there’s a piece of my little fangirl heart that unrealistically wishes he could be the only Tony Stark ever, or at least for 25 years. (In Hollywood, that’s about the same as forever, right?)

7. All right, back to the actual movie. Let’s talk villains.

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Sir Ben Kingsley plays the Mandarin, and there’s been a lot of talk about that. I’ll admit, I wasn’t wild about the casting prior to seeing the film, and his performance grated on me a little during the movie too, at least at first. (Actually, it wasn’t so much his performance as his voice — his voice was driving me nuts. Those ‘R’s’ he was hitting . . . UGH. I actually started trying to compile a list in my head of characters who had decent line deliveries despite their voices or accents, although it didn’t end up being a very long list. 1. The Mandarin. 2. Bane. And done.)

But I will say that by the end of the movie, I ended up really enjoying Ben Kingsley’s performance, and many of my initial concerns were alleviated. So, that was cool.

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Guy Pearce is more of a slimy, sleazebucket of a bad guy, and he does the job pretty competently. I wouldn’t put him on a list of BEST VILLAINS EVER or anything, but he’s certainly respectable enough. (To be honest, I’ve never been wowed by any of the Iron Man villains — they’re usually okay but never, you know, amazeballs. I’d venture to say Guy Pearce is probably one of the better ones, though.)

8. This movie’s actually a bit on the long side — the run time is 130 minutes — but I didn’t really notice while watching the film. That, in and of itself, is a BIG point in its favor because I can get kind of antsy during shorter movies that I like when watching them for the first time, especially in theater.

9. Here are a few of those pesky quotes I mentioned earlier. (They probably aren’t exactly 100% accurate, either. It’s hard to double-check the exact words without paying another ten dollars and scribbling down a bunch of notes in the dark.)

Tony: “Dads leave, sometimes. No need to be a pussy about it.”

Tony: “Stop stopping.”

Tony: “I love you; I’m lucky, but honey? I can’t sleep.”

Guard: “Don’t shoot! Honestly, I hate working here. They are so weird!”

Tony: “I loved you in A Christmas Story, by the way.”

Tony: “I stole a poncho off a wooden Indian.”

Tony: “Are you guilt-tripping me?”
Harley: “I’m . . . cold.”
Tony: “I know. You know how? Because we’re connected.”

10. Finally, before spoilers, Iron Man 3 is set in late December. While it’s a little weird to watch a Christmas movie in theaters in the beginning of May . . . I don’t mind it at all because some of my very favorite Christmas movies — most of my very favorite Christmas movies, to be honest — fully embrace this trope: An Ass Kicking Christmas.

I’m saying, I don’t think Die Hard and Lethal Weapon will mind having another friend in my house this December.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

So, we begin with a voiceover . . . because Shane Black plus Robert Downey Jr. apparently equals funny voiceover, and hey, I’m okay with that. RDJ can rock a voiceover the way so few people can. We also begin with this song, which I have not heard in a long, long time. The pure surprise of hearing it here made me laugh really hard in theater.

Other than making me crack up, we’re mostly flashbacking to the 90’s to . . .

A) Introduce Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and show how Tony Stark kind of, sort of helped spawn him into the Evil Supervillain He Is Today. Don’t get me wrong — 90’s Tony Stark? Kind of a tool. Still, standing up your roof date with a random creepy scientist isn’t exactly in the same league as, oh, I don’t know, somehow being responsible for the death of said scientist’s daddy. As far as the Genesis of a Supervillain goes . . . I’m saying, it’s kind of a weaksauce origin story. Thankfully, I don’t think I’m supposed to take it all that seriously.

B) Introduce Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who is enjoyable enough but also basically the second Bond girl in any Bond film. (We’ll talk more about her later.)

C) Give us a Yinsin cameo. Yay!

D) Show us that Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is at least a decade behind the times, because it’s the late 90’s and for some unholy reason, he is still wearing a bolo tie. It’s all quite frightening.

(A quick note about Jon Favreau: I know he voluntarily stepped back from directing Iron Man 3, but it still seems like it could have been an awkward situation, acting in the third part of a franchise that he used to direct. So it’s particularly nice to see him here as Happy and all his power hungry, ID badge glory.)

We then flash to the present, where Tony is not dealing particularly well with everything that happened in New York. He’s attempting to cope by building a veritable shitload of Iron Man suits, which can now operate without anyone actually being inside them. Handy. Meanwhile, the Mandarin is taking over the airwaves to announce to the American public that he’s responsible for all these bombings that are happening. (Also, to mangle the holy fuck out of his R’s. Seriously, these hard R’s drive me nuts. What the hell accent is he supposed to be going for, anyway?)

Tony’s not involved at first — it’s apparently not superhero-worthy, at least according to War Machine Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle).

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I personally think the rebranding is hysterical, but mind you, I’m not a purist, so I don’t really care about Iron Patriot’s true origins. The fact that I’m not a purist will be even more apparent later on, when we delve deeper into the Mandarin’s origins.

Anyway, Rhodey tells Tony some of this highly classified information at a nice little family restaurant with kids, like, literally standing at the table, waiting for an autograph. Asshole. (I kid. I like Rhodey, particularly now that he’s played by Don Cheadle. But seriously, maybe Ruby Tuesday’s isn’t the best place to have this discussion. Or whatever restaurant they’re actually at — wow, how did I pull Ruby Tuesday’s out of my ass? We don’t even have one around here. I’ve only been to one once, and I was annoyed because they’re hamburger buns were fucking wheat. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, Tony starts having a panic attack at this point and has to run out of Probably-Not-Ruby-Tuesday’s. One of my friends, who was very unhappy with this movie, didn’t like the panic attacks because she felt they were played for comedic effect. I sort of agree with that, but only to an extent — there is definitely levity in some of these scenes, but at the same time, even if I do laugh, I always buy the actual panic in Robert Downey Jr’s face. The whole movie rides that line between comedy and angst, and I think it does a pretty good job with it. I also just like that Tony is having panic attacks after the events of The Avengers, and it’s not at all because I wrote a fanfiction where that happened. Honest.

Anyway, Tony gets involved in the whole Mandarin business when Happy is nearly killed in one of the Mandarin’s terrorist explosions. (Happy was following one of Killian’s creepy henchmen, who I remember from the days when I used to watch 24. Of course, back then he didn’t have glowy fire eyes.) Happy — who, awesomely, likes Downton Abbey — ends up in a coma, and when Tony exits the hospital into a media frenzy, he calls the Mandarin out on national television, giving everyone his home address. It is a massively stupid thing to do, but again, RDJ sells it beautifully, all that anger and grief bubbling up just under the surface. What he does is reckless and dumb, but I totally buy it.

This is about when Maya Hansen pops up again, thankfully not with Tony Stark’s secret twelve year old lovechild. (That’s not my kind of fanfiction.)

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She’s trying to get Tony to come with her to look at something urgently. Meanwhile, Pepper’s just trying to get Tony out of the house before the Mandarin takes him up on the offer for a one-on-one fight. This, of course, is when the Creepy Red-Eyed Henchman (James Badge Dale — his character must have a name, too, but I never caught it) and his cronies show up in their helicopters and blow the shit out of Tony’s Malibu home. Tony calls the Iron Man suit, where it awesomely attaches itself to Pepper.

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This, by the way, is where not watching clips ahead of time works in your favor. Also, seeing Pepper in the Iron Man suit — and not like some feminized Iron Man suit, either, but just the Iron Man suit — is pretty awesome.

Pepper and Maya get out of there. Tony calls the suit back to him and eventually escapes too, although his whole home is destroyed, including his Batcave Basement Lab Chock Full of Iron Man suits. Everyone thinks he’s dead, but thankfully, he’s just in Tennessee. JARVIS had set up a flight plan there because of some lead on the Mandarin that I can’t be bothered to remember right now. Then JARVIS gets very tired and has to take a nap, so Tony’s pretty much on his own.

Thankfully, Tony teams up with Harley (Ty Simpkins), a local kid whose house he basically wanders into. Harley makes a pretty awesome sidekick, and if he would like to come back as a cameo in The Avengers — you know, I’d have no problem with that. Anyway, Tony does some detective work — oh, right, there was a big explosion here in Tennessee years ago. It’s not supposed to be the Mandarin’s work, but the heat signature matches or . . . something. I don’t know. Me, science, fail. Anyway, it turns out there’s this thing called the Extremis Virus, which is basically another super-soldier experiment gone horribly wrong . These particular soldiers are uber fast and strong and can survive all sorts of gnarly shit — the boss can even breathe fire — but sometimes they also horribly explode. So, that’s bad.

Tony has to take on a couple of these super soldiers, this chick with a scarred face and the previously mentioned Creepy Red-Eyed Henchman. Of course, Tony has to do all this without his suit, which makes it harder (and kind of more awesome). Eventually, he kills the chick and temporarily incapacitates CREH. He also gets JARVIS back up and running and tracks the Mandarin to some house in Miami. He uses his hardware skillz to get past the bodyguards and confronts the Mandarin . . .

. . . only to discover that the Mandarin is actually just some actor who’s being paid to make these little terrorist TV spots. This twist on the Mandarin has sparked some pretty massive Nerd Rage, but like I said, I’m not an Iron Man purist, as I never read the comics and there was no cartoon for me to obsessively follow in my childhood. And frankly, I needed that twist. The Mandarin wasn’t playing for me at all, but once it’s revealed that he’s just this guy who’s actually supposed to come off like a bad, Hollywood version of a a vaguely Asian emperor? That worked for me. It also helped me a little with the whitewashing of the character, since everything about this guy is fake anyway. (Although it’s fair to say that there’s really no reason that the actor playing the Mandarin still couldn’t have been Chinese. I’m torn, though — I do enjoy Kingsley here. It’s fun to see him in something so comic and so, well, not Gandhi.)

So, the man behind the curtain, of course, is Killian — and it turns out that Maya works for him. (They started working together the night that Tony stood Killian up.) This is unfortunate news for Pepper, who left with Maya after the Malibu attack. Annoyingly, I didn’t pick up on the fact that Maya was a bad guy until just before they told us, when she’s all like, “Thank you, Pepper,” and I’m like, Shit, she’s totally evil. Godammit.

(In point of fact, she isn’t evil at all. She’s one of those good bad guys who has a sudden change of heart because the hero reminds her that she has a {deeply buried} conscience. Then she does that dumb thing secondary villains sometimes do, when they massively overestimate their own importance and get killed for it. But that happens later. Anyway, I think the actress, Rebecca Hall, does a pretty decent job with her, even makes her likable, to an extent, but seriously, she’s just the second Bond Girl, and the second Bond Girl pretty much always dies.)

Let’s see, what’s next — oh yes, Killian infects Pepper with the Extremis Virus.

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He also captures Tony and Rhodey, who both eventually escape. They figure out that Killian plans to attack Air Force One, and that his plan somehow involves the Vice President. They call to warn him, but the VP won’t be on Air Force One because, of course, the VP is in on the evil plan. This one I knew almost as soon as I saw Miguel Ferrer in the part. (Actually, William Sadler, who plays the president, is even more likely to play a bad guy, but VP’s are more likely to be evil than presidents. It plays better. Secretly evil presidents are kind of annoying. Remember how I used to watch 24? Yeah, I stopped well before the show ended. Also, spoilers. Sorry. But that show has been over for some time.)

Iron Man saves a whole bunch of the flight crew from Air Force One and finally takes out CREH, but Killian successfully kidnaps the President anyway, using Rhodey’s very own Iron Patriot armor. Tony calls every Iron Man suit he has left — they were hidden under the basement —  and uses them to attack. (This feels pretty convenient, and I’m not sure if I’m missing something here. They totally set up the number of suits, but why couldn’t Tony call these earlier, like when he goes to attack the Mandarin? I’m not sure if it’s just a plot hole for drama, or if there was a line of exposition that I didn’t quite catch.)

Rhodey saves the President. Tony jumps from flying Iron Man suit to flying Iron Man suit, attacking Killian and trying to save Pepper. After telling her that he’ll catch her, Pepper drops from something, and Tony . . . er, doesn’t catch her. She falls a few hundred feet into a fiery abyss. I assume she’ll be giving him shit for that forever.

Cause Pepper totally didn’t die. I entertained the notion, for half a second, but only because I’d read that the end of this movie had some big twist that would make Tony’s return in The Avengers seem . . . problematic. Ugh. I avoided clip after clip after clip, but a few hours before I go to see the movie, I get my EW in the mail with RDJ and Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover, and I’m like, ooh, I should read that. Ugh. Why, brain, WHY? Why did you do this to yourself? (Also, reviewers? Telling someone that there’s some twist too big to spoil is almost as bad as revealing the damn twist, sometimes.) Anyway, I figured Tony could give up being Iron Man after Pepper’s death or something, but I highly doubted it, especially with her being all Infected with Fire and whatnot.

Killian keeps coming back, so Pepper is forced to return from the dead and be TOTALLY AWESOME. And kind of hot. That’s not meant to be a pun. I’m saying, she’s damn good looking, kicking Killian’s ass. Never been this attracted to Gwyneth Paltrow in my life.

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I love that she’s the one who takes out the bad guy, ultimately. I was hugely into the development of badass, Extremis Pepper —

— only to have it taken away from me a second later in VO, where Tony says he cured her or whatever. Which, honestly, I think is disappointing — I’d love to see more of Pepper where she isn’t just the constantly-in-danger girlfriend. You want to add female Avengers to the sequel? Add Fire Pepper! (My problem with adding female Avengers, mind you, is not that I don’t want more women — I just don’t want new characters, girls or boys. I’d much rather see more of someone who I already like than take the time to develop some new person I don’t care about. I would also take a super-powered Kat Dennings in a hot second.)

So, I’m — completely unrealistically — hoping we’ll find out later that Tony’s incredibly vague, one-line cure isn’t as complete as he thinks, and that Pepper gets to keep some nifty abilities, preferably without also exploding. Cause, admittedly, that’s a bad trade-off.

Tony blows up all of his Iron Man suits for Pepper as an early Christmas gift, and I’m like, okay, he’s doing that temporary, I-Quit-Iron-Man thing superheroes sometimes do between sequels, and I’m all fine with that. But then we get to the thing that’s causing people to fucking Flip Their Shit: Tony gets the arc reactor and the fragments of the bullet taken out of his damn chest.

Wow. Can’t say I was expecting that.

I also haven’t fully decided how I feel about it. As the end of a trilogy . . . you know, it totally makes sense. They do build the idea a bit in this movie, that Tony is Iron Man even without the suit, that he’s capable of being a hero without the armor, and if that’s the case, he sure as hell doesn’t need a bunch of shrapnel in his chest. As the end of a trilogy, it makes sense. But man, it’s a ballsy move. Tony Stark is always kind of supposed to be half an inch from death, you know? It’s that whole terrible privilege thing he was talking about in The Avengers. (I may have seen that scene about 18,000 times . . . I could watch Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo play off each other all day.)

And it’s just . . . without retconning the shit out of this ending, it’s hard to see how the character will continue on without the arc reactor. Obviously, he can just make more suits — Iron Patriot doesn’t need shrapnel in his chest to be Iron Patriot — but it’s . . . you know, I can’t even think of a great equivalent for it. It’s like bringing Batman’s parents back to life or something. It is so damn quintessential to the character, and I suspect I’ll have mixed feelings about it until I see how Joss Whedon handles it in The Avengers 2.

(And am I a bad person, that I kind of wish I’d been there to see Joss Whedon’s nervous breakdown that he must have had when he watched this movie? And I like Joss Whedon. I’m terrible. Absolutely terrible.)

I will tell you what I don’t have mixed feelings on, though: the end credits. The end credits are made of awesome. They remind me a little of James Bond end credits — this is actually what made me come to think of Maya as a Bond Girl. Anyway, they rock, maybe almost as much as the clip after the credits — and I usually hate the shit that comes after the credits. (I think The Avengers is the first movie that’s made it work for me, with the shwarma scene. Man, I loved that little scene.)

This one? Well, it’s awesome because it has SCIENCE BROS. Turns out, Tony is narrating this whole story to Bruce, which is too bad because Bruce is totally sleeping through it. Tony catches him. Bruce apologizes but reminds his buddy that he’s not a therapist.

Bruce: “It’s not my training. I don’t have the . . .”
Tony: “Time?”
Bruce: “Temperament.”

Heh. Then when Tony blithely ignores this and starts describing some incident from his teenage years, Bruce nods and throws his head back in exhaustion and resigned despair, and it’s just . . . perfect. I heart this little scene with all the fangirl squee in my soul. In fact, I like watching these two together so much that I’m considering trying Zodiac again, and I seem to remember that being an occasionally interesting but very long and ultimately somewhat dull affair. (To be fair, I’ve only seen it once. It could have total genius I’m forgetting about. Anybody’s thoughts on Zodiac? Maybe I can rent it and just fastforward to their parts. Yes, that’s totally something I would do.)

And thus concludes Iron Man 3. Next up: Thor 2. I’m . . . I don’t know, I’m just not expecting that one to be as good. We’ll see.

Maybe if Darcy suddenly gets superpowers.

CONCLUSIONS:

Strong end to a trilogy. Funny, action-packed, highly entertaining. Haven’t made up my mind about that end, though.

MVP:

Robert Downey Jr.

TENTATIVE GRADE:

A-

MORAL:

Um. Don’t tell the geeky guy that there’s a pool on the school roof?

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3 Responses to “You Know, It’s Moments Like These When I Realize What a Superhero I Am.”

  1. Brandon says:

    “Although it’s fair to say that there’s really no reason that the actor playing the Mandarin still couldn’t have been Chinese.”

    I actually think that was precisely the point. Guy Pierce hired a random actor, gave him a name and a character, and said the hell with any kind of accuracy, *and the public totally bought it*. There’s a wonderful little lesson here about how we will manufacture a villain at the slightest provocation even if what’s in front of our faces belies a more nuanced story.

    And quite honestly…I think its better this way because The Mandarin has always been kind of a racist character to begin with. I love that they did what they did in the story…it made the character much, MUCH easier to swallow.

  2. Brandon says:

    “This feels pretty convenient, and I’m not sure if I’m missing something here. They totally set up the number of suits, but why couldn’t Tony call these earlier, like when he goes to attack the Mandarin? I’m not sure if it’s just a plot hole for drama, or if there was a line of exposition that I didn’t quite catch.”

    ALSO. There is a line. Jarvis tells Tony at one point that “the cranes have arrived at the mansion”…meaning the work crews clearing the rubble from Tony’s house wreckage. He couldn’t call the suits before then because there was too much stuff sitting on the opening.

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