Iron Man 3 (2013)

Posted on October 23, 2013


Way back in 2010, I wrote a short post about Iron Man 2, titled Iron Man Boo (hey, I thought it was clever).

My problem was that Tony Stark seemed to get away with inflicting huge amounts of property damage and risking countless human lives. In fact, he got a medal for it. I thought the third movie should force Tony to deal with the consequences of being Iron Man, and force him to take responsibility for his actions.

Short Version

In a way, I got what I wanted.


Longer Version

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is an alcoholic billionaire who, in the first movie, was captured by Afghan forces after a weapons demonstration for the US military. To escape, he built the first Iron Man suit. The suit itself was pretty nifty, but its power source was revolutionary.

In the climactic battle at the end of the first movie, he almost destroys all of Southern California because an old family friend built a larger version of the suit’s power source, and then they had a big fight. Fortunately, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) stepped in and saved the day.

I argued in my post on Iron Man 2 that, in that movie, Tony let the US military steal the latest version of the Iron Man suit, knowing full well that this competitor, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) would get the contract to weaponize the suit.

Then Tony and Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) have a huge fight, first at Stark Expo and then in and around Los Angeles, with a whole bunch of humanoid drones controlled by Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) using technology stolen from the Iron Man suit. The one that Tony let the military, and thus Justin Hammer, and thus Ivan Vanko, have. Property gets destroyed, people are injured or killed, etc.

After Iron Man 2, we got The Avengers. Tony Stark joins Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to defeat an invasion by the alien Chitauri, instigated by Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Tony Stark, as Iron Man, averts the invasion by traveling through a wormhole and delivering a bomb that destroys the mechanism keeping the wormhole open from that end. Somehow he gets back to Earth before the wormhole closes.

Got all that? Because that’s the background for Iron Man 3.

Let’s move on to character.

Tony is terrified, and trying to hide it from everyone around him. His experiences in New York during the alien invasion have left him prone to panic attacks. At the root of this is the idea that he no longer knows who he is. Admitting that he is Iron Man has left him confused as to whether he is Tony Stark or Iron Man, and what being either one could mean.

He is, in fact, terrified that everything he thought that he was is meaningless, and he doesn’t know where to turn to find meaning.

The movie hands him an out, when Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) kidnaps Pepper Potts. At that point, he knows that he must be the genius inventor Tony Stark if he is to rescue her.

The script rams home the need for Tony to develop a sense of himself separate from the Iron Man armor. In the climactic battle, for example, his super soldier foes, including the Extremis-enhanced Killian, keep stripping him out of his armor.

So I think the movie does a good job of building character, context, and conflict from the previous films.

In addition, Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow build a believable relationship between Tony and Pepper. Both are unbelievably wealthy and powerful people, but their relationship is real and relatable. That’s important, because that has to make us care what happens for the rest of the movie.

Spoiler Warning

It’s tough to talk story structure without revealing plot points. So if you keep reading, you do so at your own risk. Of course, the movie is out on DVD & Blu-ray now, and it’s release date was five months ago, so maybe this warning is pointless.


Act I of this movie ends when Tony is stranded, in Tennessee, without his armor and without Jarvis. He doesn’t know if Pepper is alive after an attack on their home. He’s not sure he can keep himself together long enough to repair the armor or accomplish anything.

Act II of this movie ends when Tony learns that Pepper Potts has been kidnapped. He knows what Extremis is, and what a threat it poses, but that’s all he knows.

In Act III, he unmasks the Mandarin, learns what Killian’s involvement is, and must stop the plot and rescue Pepper – who winds up using her Extremis-granted powers to save Tony.

So, all in all, it has a strong three-act, roller-coaster, story structure.


Even more spoiler-ific than the previous section, I’m going to talk about some of my complaints, and some complaints I’ve heard or read.

First, it bugged the crap out of me that Tony Stark threatened the Mandarin, directly and publicly, and did not think to take extra security precautions. In fact, it bugged me that helicopters could get that close to the Stark mansion without a bajillion alarms going off. You would think that, after declaring himself Iron Man and making some enemies, he would have better security.

It didn’t bother me that the reappearance in his life of Killian and botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) was insignificant to Tony. He’s lost in his own little world of fear and insecurity. However, that didn’t translate into any action. He didn’t beef up security, that we can see. However, this movie is all about Tony paying the consequences for his decisions, so we get this:

Then, SHIELD. This script moves fast and throws a lot at us, but even as I sat in the theater, I wondered: How the Hell does Tony Stark go missing and SHIELD doesn’t do anything? Stark Industries built most of their gear. Stark is Iron Man, a founding member of the Avengers. Yet, in the middle of this movie, he’s in the middle of nowhere and no SHIELD agent stops by to ask how it’s going, or if he needs anything. Really broke my suspension of disbelief.

Third, Iron Man. I was talking about how much I enjoyed this film and someone said they heard there wasn’t enough Iron Man in it. Okay, I grant you there is not much Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit. Nor is there much of Rhodey in the War Machine suit. However, there are over 40 Iron Man suits in this movie and all of them are in the final battle. There is plenty of Iron Man here.

Also, the whole point of the movie is Tony figuring out, in the wake of The Avengers, who he is when he’s not in the suit.

Fourth, the Mandarin. Okay, I totally get being upset with this. In the comic books, the Mandarin is an “Oriental” villain, a Chinese mastermind, not to be confused with Fu Manchu (to whom Marvel briefly owned the rights). That’s tough to pull off in a more enlightened time. Plus, we want this movie to do well in China (actually, I don’t care, but Marvel apparently cared), and the Mandarin as written in the comic books would not go over well at all.

The twist that (and here’s a huge spoiler) the Mandarin is just an actor pretending to be a villain and acting as a front for Killian’s Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), makes the movie more marketable, even if it did piss off the Fans Of Ol’ Marvel. Personally, I liked the twist. I was bored by the idea of a white guy playing a Chinese character and being the obvious mastermind. The fact that he was a completely different character worked for me.

Finally, there are the ten rings. Or rather, there are not. For those who are not comic book nerds, the comic book Mandarin wore a ring on each finger (that’s ten rings, for those who need help). Each ring was a technological marvel that let the Mandarin go toe-to-toe with heroes like Iron Man.

The first two Iron Man movies made a big deal about the ten rings. Iron Man 3 drops the idea. For comic book fans (like me), that was kind of a big deal. It would have been great to see Killian wearing the ten rings, instead of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley). Even some throwaway dialogue would have been okay.


I am a huge Shane Black fan (The Monster Squad, Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), so seeing him working on Iron Man made me happy. I would have loved for Jon Favreau to stay at the reins, but Shane Black was a great choice. I thought the film was tight, well-written, and well directed.

Of course, my criteria for “well directed” might be different from yours. I want to follow the story, follow the action, and not get distracted by camera angles. In that sense, I thought Black’s direction was fine.

I wasn’t expecting Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Robert Altman, or Sam Peckinpah, so I wasn’t disappointed.


Tony Stark spends Iron Man 3 paying for his sins, just not the sins of which I think he is guilty. That said, I think he earns the redemption at the end of the film, and I enjoyed myself.

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Posted in: Movies