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Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Culture | 17 comments

Iron Man 3 – a review (or an excuse for one) SPOILERS

This morning I saw Iron Man 3, which was launched in Australia well ahead of the US (as happens with many of the cinema blockbusters these days). I was looking forward to this movie, which seemed to have many of the ingredients for success, but I came home feeling disappointed.

Despite the big “SPOILERS” warning in my heading, I don’t intend to say much to spoil it. At the same time, you’ve been warned. If you don’t want any clues, stop reading now.

First, the good. The performances are generally of high quality. Yet again, Robert Downey Jr. gives us a fine portrayal of Tony Stark, showing the genius superhero’s mix of strength and weakness, of pride and humility. Stark/Iron Man is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after the experiences depicted in The Avengers, and he is forced to battle throughout with his inner demons as well as his (super)human enemies. This comes across well. Likewise, Gwyneth Paltrow is reliable in the role of Pepper Potts. They gain our sympathy in every scene, always seeming like the courageous underdogs against dangerous opponents who, in fact, do them great harm before it’s all over. In particular, Guy Pearce performs superbly, creating an especially terrifying villain.

I should also commend the way the movie depicts something that has been said before, perhaps often, about Tony Stark. His real super powers are not the capacities of whatever suit of armour he happens to be wearing. They are his essentially superhuman technoscientific intellect, his genius as an improviser and tactician, and his extraordinary courage beneath the self-doubt, and the psychological brittleness. This aspect is portrayed clearly and underlined by strong scenes; indeed, this alone might make the movie worthwhile for fans of the franchise. It is a bold, yet readily recognisable, vision of the character.

But the movie is too long, too self-indulgent, too dependent on special effects, and at times too confusing. It ends with a huge, extended battle scene involving much industrial wreckage, as if we haven’t had enough of those.

As is well known, Iron Man 3 features a version of The Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), one of Iron Man’s classic villains from the Silver Age comics, almost an equivalent to Magneto, Loki, or Doctor Doom. The Mandarin has always been a difficult opponent for Stark – a genius in his own right with superhuman fighting skills (in the comics, his karate blows can shatter steel) and a set of rings that effectively gives him a whole array of powers. However, what the moviemakers end up doing to the character is a travesty. You’ll see what I mean. The Mandarin was inevitably going to be difficult to translate to a contemporary live-action movie – he was originally something of a Fu Manchu lookalike, which sends immediate suggestions of racism. So it was going to be a challenge to create a version that was viable for the big screen at this point in the twenty-first century. I was anticipating how Iron Man 3 might rise to that challenge… only to see a bathetic failure. Even if you’re not a fan of the character, you’re in for an anti-climax.

I really wanted to like Iron Man 3. And I did like some things about it, such as the performances from Downey, Paltrow, and Pearce. But overall it was a movie that I could have done without. Obviously your mileage may vary. Feel free to disagree with me.

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  • Funny. IGN loved it. I was ho-hum on the sequel, and I can’t say I’m frothing at the mouth for this one…. it’s just farther down on my list of must-sees after some epics like Into Darkness, Man of Steel and Elysium. But IGN’s review did bump it up a bit on my radar.

  • After Downey was so good in The Avengers (whatever else was wrong with it), I had high hopes for this one. And Downey didn’t disappoint.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    I’m moving to Australia.

  • Guest

    Just watched iron man 3. Im also disappointed about The Mandarin because I was expecting something spectacular like what The Dark Knight did with the Joker. But overall it’s a very good movie, almost on par with the first iron man and the avengers. I think you didnt like it because it made too much fun with the iron man property. Let’s just say that we can call it the most expensive comedy ever made.

  • Andrew Carlo Gustilo

    the movie was good overall. the actors did a fine job. but the way they portrayed the mandarin in the movie is, in my opinion, the biggest letdown of the film.

  • Yeah, an element of that, I guess. I liked some of the humorous touches, but I did think some of the comic relief went on much too long.

    I like your comparison to the Joker. Yes, this was an opportunity to do something amazing with the Mandarin to revitalise him. In the end, I couldn’t see the point of even using the character except to attract people who’d be interested in what the moviemakers would do. But any fans who went largely for that reason will, if anything, feel cheated by that portrayal.

  • Jayden Lucan


    The first movie review i agree with, they created a false expectation in all their media and then make the movie a parody of itself (mandarin a bad ass, tony “back in the cave” yet he does no building except charge his suit, the perceived darker tone of the movie and then just laying waste to one of the best comic characters, and heck i didn’t know JARVIS’s AI improved so much to control 36 suits), loved the first 30 mins but then it was like watching an obituary, when the end credits scene was revealed, people booed

  • Glad I only paid equal to 3 dollars to see it, in the Philippines

  • I haven’t been this disappointed since seeing the ending of the Dark Knight Rises

  • What? Sure ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ couldn’t meet our expectations for a sequel of ‘The Dark Knight’, but it was significantly better than Iron Man 3 when it comes to both plot and character development. Although Downey’s interpretation is almost beyond critic, not even him could save the movie this time.

  • You realize that the one supposed to be the Mandarin in this movie wasn’t actually the bearded guy, right? That was their pathetic attempt to: 1 – adjust the villain for today’s world; 2 – create an unexpected twist of events. I don’t even need to say that none of it satisfied me…

  • I agree with everything you said. And I know this is more personal than actually critical, but why were Iron Man’s suits so weak? I mean, they fought toe to toe against the Extremis guys, and Tony himself couldn’t even beat “The Mandarin”! Either he was weaker than in the other movies or I can’t even imagine what those guys would do against the likes of Captain America…

  • I have to say … I enjoyed it. What was done with The Mandarin was certainly audacious, and almost guaranteed to piss off his fans, but – as an act of misdirection, and possibly even a bit of real-life commentary – I thought it fairly clever.

    Of course, there are problems with it; unlike Russell, Aldrich Killian didn’t really work for me as a rounded or plausible villain – I left unsure as to his motives or even the extent/basis of his powers. (Why he did what he did to Pepper is frankly unfathomable.) This, unfortunately, has been true of too many of the movies from the Disney-owned part of the Marvelverse (or have I just been ruined by Magneto and The Joker?)

    Also, revealing that the suits can be operated remotely or by AI potentially undermines the dramatic tension from the whole franchise; why – other than just showing off – would Stark put himself inside one of the things? I’m assuming the comic – which I haven’t read for many, many years – has confronted this issue.

    But those niggles aside, it did largely what I’d hoped it would do.

  • Huh. I just read this review now, having waited to do so until after watching the movie. And I have to say, this was my favorite out of the three Iron Man movies so far.

    I’m not familiar first-hand with the Mandarin of the comics, but having heard of the issues with the character (read: racism) second-hand, I thought what was done with him was extremely clever. But then, I’m perhaps overly fond of seeing bad fictional tropes skewered.

  • Stuart

    I looked up your review so I would have an excuse to vent. This movie was terrible. Interestingly, for different reasons that you put. I LOVED what they did with the Mandarin. I was never a fan and it was one of the few times I was genuinely surprised at a twist in any Marvel movie. I also loved how they treated Pepper, especially at the end, being a super strong didnt mean she was suddenly okay with violence.

    The movie was self-indulgent, ridiculously so. And although it is cool to celebrate Stark’s inventiveness, the seemed to turn him into a superhero which I hated.

    The entire plot made no sense! Just off the top of my head:

    – They went to a huge amount of length to kidnap TS and Pepper to force him to work for them… about a day after they desperately tried to kill him.

    – Why did they specifically wait until after the 13th terrorist attack before tying up the loose end of the suicided soldier? It was so silly that they happened to be there when Stark was.

    – Why even commit all these acts of terrorism anyway? Why not just kill the president and be done with things? Or commit 1 or 2 if you have to… just seemed like they gave people a long time to stop them

    This is apart from all the things like the suits are now powered without TS’s chest/energy thing, why ever go anywhere in the suit if he can now do it remotely, the sheer ridiculousness of Stark surviving punches from the bad dudes when they can kill a suit of armour in one shot, stuff happening like the water tower falling on him and he just happens to be in them middle of debris, that people who lose limbs and find a way to grow them back suddenly have no problem committing mass murder and terrorism for the person who did it….

    eh. It was rubbish.

  • Anon of Holland

    I completely agree with you man. The Mandarin in this movie was a slap in the face and so was the plot.

  • Jason Streitfeld

    I assume anybody reading at this point doesn’t need a spoiler warning, but just in case . . .

    I had no expectations re The Mandarin as a character, but after seeing the movie and reading your post, Russell, I looked him up. I think they could have paid better tribute to the character without changing the basic bait-and-switch they did with Kingsley and Pearce. Killian has at least some of the powers traditionally attributed to the Mandarin. They could’ve just given him a few more abilities and worked the rings in somehow. I attribute the failure to laziness. But I like the idea that Killian was The Mandarin all along–a point which Killian inexplicably and ridiculously announces to Stark at the end.

    I may be the only person I know who thinks the second Iron Man movie is better than the first. This last one is by far the worst, though. I’m not much of a fan of any of them. I probably enjoyed the second the most because I went into it with very low expectations. I had been disappointed by the first Iron Man, which strained credulity beyond the breaking point, and even thematically seemed utterly confused. So I went into Iron Man 3 with very low expectations. Given that, I was surprised at how disappointing it still was.

    The biggest problem I had was that the charisma and charm that carried the first two movies is almost nowhere to be found in this installment. That made the rest of the film’s weaknesses that much graver. Here are some of them:

    There is no reason to give Tony Stark anxiety attacks. They never get worked into the plot. Strangely, he never has an attack that makes any difference at all to the story. He never has any problems engaging his enemies, or getting from point A to point B. Furthermore, he never actively tries to deal with his anxiety. His anxiety attacks have no function in the movie whatsoever, except as a gimmick. But for what? To make him more sympathetic? We don’t need any gimmicks to make Tony Stark sympathetic. We’re already invested in the character by now. The anxiety attacks are a distraction, plausibly an attempt to make the movie seem more character-driven than it really is.

    The attempt to make Stark into a sort of father figure was not convincing or compelling.

    There is no explanation for the villains’ powers (apart from the power to regenerate). Why do their eyes turn red? Why are they able to burn things? Why are they super strong?

    How is Pepper able to kill Killian by shooting a curiously shaped grenade she kicks at him, but Stark can’t kill him by exploding him inside of one of his robotic suits? (And did the serum give her sensational martial arts skills, too?)

    We are led to believe that Stark perfects the science behind Killian’s project, leading to its reasonably safe application as well as a viable process for reversing its effects. (He reverses the effects on Pepper, and he uses the process on himself to get rid of his chest problem.) And then what? Stark destroys a technology that would cure the human race of all disease and ailment? What does he do with it? Nothing, apparently.

    Why, with an army of JARVIS-controlled robots waiting to be deployed, does Stark spend half the movie more or less out of service (or out of robotic suit, at least)?

    How did Favreau’s character survive that blast? How did he survive it without major burns covering his entire body?

    How is Stark able to save 13 people from falling to their deaths when JARVIS says he can only carry four? Is it supposed to be because they’re all “carrying” each other? That doesn’t make sense, physically speaking. Stark is the only one able to resist the force of gravity. The fact that they’re all holding hands doesn’t make one whit of difference. He tried to carry 13 when he could in fact only carry four. They all should’ve died.

    Those are some of the more ridiculous plot holes that annoyed me as I watched the movie. Plot holes don’t generally ruin a movie for me, unless the movie exists primarily because of the plot, or unless the holes are so numerous and gaping that they take me out of the story. Superhero movies don’t generally rest on the integrity of their plots. They’re more about character and action. So I’m usually able to forgive a large number of gaping holes. I think you have to, if you’re a fan of the genre. In this case, the action and characters weren’t strong enough to keep me happy, so the plot holes were a major nuisance. The action in this movie was okay. Nothing special, nothing original, but not particularly boring. The biggest problem was the characters. I just didn’t believe them. They had some moments, but rarely engaged me enough.

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