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Iron Man 3 (2013) - MCU Retro Review

Heading into the final few chapters of Marvel's Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we decided it was time to take a look back at the last ten years worth of films (18 in all) and re-evaluate them based on how well they hold up today and how connected they are to the greater MCU now that the films have advanced so far into the timeline, which culminates in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and it's untitled sequel. Are they as good as you remember? Do they still hold up today? Are the deeper MCU connections even deeper than before or weaker? Join us as we attempt to answer those questions and take another look at the last decade of Marvel Studios with our Retro-Review Series!

DIRECTED BY: Shane Black
WRITTEN BY: Drew Pearce & Shane Black, Based on "Extremis" mini-series by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Iron Patriot), Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian), Ben Kingsley (Trevor Slattery), Rebecca Hall (Maya Hansen), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), James Badge Dale (Savin), Paul Bettany (Jarvis), William Sadler (President Ellis), Miguel Ferrer (Vice President Rodriguez), Ty Simpkins (Harley Keener), Stephanie Szostak (Brandt)
STORY: When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

After a disappointing follow-up to the original IRON MAN, the pressure was on to get past those sophomore blues and deliver something special. The success of THE AVENGERS let the world know that there was plenty of desire to see more of these characters, especially the man who started it all; Tony Stark. Or, should I say Robert Downey Jr.? At this point, is there a difference? RDJ is unquestionably the glue of the MCU and the patriarch of it all (next to the Godfather that is Kevin Feige) so of course we anticipated seeing more from him in the role. But, the question remained; could Stark be interesting again on his own without a superhero team in tow? The gauntlet was thrown and RDJ's KISS KISS, BANG BANG director, Shane Black, picked it up, ready to look past the mistakes of IRON MAN 2, while returning Tony to the roots that made him so compelling in the first film.

Having Shane Black onboard is an absolute bonus, but the writer of such hard-boiled actioners like LETHAL WEAPON, THE LAST BOY SCOUT and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT would most certainly have to "play ball" with the confines of the MCU model. All said, I think we got the most Shane Black superhero film we could get with a PG-13 rating and a business model for guaranteed superhero success. Is it the best Shane Black film ever made? No. Not even close. But, it was a step forward for him and a step forward from the lukewarm entry that was the sequel. While that's a great thing for the character, the fact is that IRON MAN 3 still shows its cards in trying to elevate the material; it's just slightly too obvious. The whole "strip the hero of his toys" thing has been done many times over and while it works here, that doesn't mean it comes off as something wholly original or compelling. The thing is, we ALL know that Stark can overcome the assets he has at his disposal with seemingly infinite wealth at his disposal; we saw him do it in the first film. It's what MADE him Iron Man. So, recycling that journey in a different story doesn't exactly make the third entry some slice of vibrant material. It makes it a fun ride with some clever Shane Blackism's that fits the Marvel model.

RDJ is in top form as Stark here, having found his stride back when his journey began. You have to give it to him; he never loses his Stark charm (say, like Bruce Willis trying desperately to find some shred of John McClane in the post Die Hard 3 films). He's the whole show and even if the movie sucked, he'd still deliver. Fortunately, the movie doesn't suck and is full of some great action pieces, a slogging middle act, an exciting finale and a slew of characters that dip in and out of Stark's story that don't quite pay off as much as they serve as a sounding board for his plight. Suffering from PTSD after the events of New York (THE AVENGERS), Stark is consumed by his work, even injecting himself with technology that allows his armor to fly to him and assemble in place. His obsession is a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts, who is now his live-in girlfriend, as well as CEO of Stark Industries. Meanwhile, a terrorist threat emerges in the form of a man calling himself The Mandarin, who attacks numerous military and political targets, eventually gaining the attention of Stark when his old bodyguard (Favreau's Happy) is injured in a blast perpetrated by former military personnel injected with the Extremis virus, which gives them augmented strength and the power to...heat shit up.

What follows is the destruction of Stark's Malibu mansion in a clever sequence that serves to take him down one notch at a time. He's saved, of course, by his suit, which jettisons him to a small town in the South where he meets a snarky, resourceful kid (Ty Simpkins in a staple Shane Black kid role) and confronts two of Mandarin's agents, Savin (James Badge Dale) and Brandt (Stephanie Szostak). This is where the sag in the film hits. After the thrilling sequence of Stark's mansion destruction, the film kind of slogs along in a mystery/thriller aspect until Stark is captured and the real villain is revealed; Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian, a geeky tech guy from A.I.M. who, it turns out, has helped create the Extremis virus alongside his assistant, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who once had a fling with Stark and resurfaces to use and double cross him. Then comes the big twist that shook fans to the core; The Mandarin wasn't really The Mandarin. Ben Kingsley may have LOOKED the part, but it turns out he was just a patsy; a British actor named Trevor Slattery that played the part of The Mandarin for money, drugs and women. While some loved this twist, many found it to be obnoxious and groan-worthy. Instead, we are to believe that Killian is actually The Mandarin, as he claims to be at the end, simply because he concocted this whole plan to create and use the Extremis virus to make unstoppable soldiers that could win the war on terror and serve to make him lots of money and personal acclaim. Or, something like that. Or, maybe it was just revenge for nobody taking him seriously when he was a long-haired, pimply-faced nerd. Whatever.

In the end, Stark of course perseveres and we're treated to a very Shane Black-like finale where Stark calls all his suits of armor to his aid and jumps from suit to suit to take out Killian's army of Extremis soldiers and take down Killian. Don Cheadle is back, this time as Iron Patriot, and serves to assist Tony in his mission. Cheadle continues to hold onto the role that Terrence Howard vacated after the first film and makes a good partner here (even if he becomes kind of a dick in CIVIL WAR). The action is swift, cool and crafty and the final takedown of Killian with an Extremis-laced Pepper Potts is a cool scene that shows she's not just a pretty face, but also someone that can come to the Rescue (natch) if needed. The endgame for IRON MAN 3 had Stark ordering J.A.R.V.I.S. (again voiced by Paul Bettany, who you can't help but imagine how his journey will seriously change three films later) to blow all his suits up. Stark then has the surgery to remove the shrapnel from entering his heart, thereby taking away the technology he created to stay alive, the arc reactor in his chest, and leaving the future to the man, rather than the machine. It's some on-the-nose symbology, but that's not really a bad thing. If anything, IRON MAN 3 is the perfect clean up for IRON MAN 2 and the fitting chapter to advance Stark in being part of a bigger picture, particularly the more tragic trajectory he faces with the follow-ons of AGE OF ULTRON and CIVIL WAR and, most certainly, INFINITY WAR.

READ THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL REVIEW!

I know I'm beating a dead horse with the Shane Black-ism's, but they can't be avoided. Also, I love Shane Black. Anyway, there are some great moments scattered throughout, despite the lull that sags the middle act. The opening piece with Stark injecting himself with the tech that calls his armor to him is a cool sequence that serves as an ode to the first film and just how badass Iron Man looks when he's punching his fist into the ground.

The Malibu House attack scene is the one that was played up heavily in the trailers and it delivers as a great takedown of Stark as well as a show of his prowess when under duress. It's also the first time we ever see Pepper Potts in an Iron Man suit, which is a great nod to her turn as Rescue in the Iron Man comics.

After slogging through the middle act of Stark's hunt for Mandarin, he finally makes it to the supposed leader's hideout in Miami and uses his smarts to create a bunch of crude James Bond-like weaponry to infiltrate the compound and take out the bad guys. It's a fun sequence that ends with his confrontation with The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery, as well as getting captured, then breaking out again when he gets only his right arm and left leg armor sent to him, using only those pieces to take out the bad guys.

The next big set piece is certainly one of the coolest. Stark confronts and kills Savin (Come to think of it, there's A LOT of straight up murder in this film, which paints an interesting portrait of ol' Stark), who stole the Iron Patriot armor and infiltrated Air Force One, then is forced to try and rescue presidential staff that are blown out of the plane and falling to their deaths. It's a great creative sequence and showcases one of the most important aspects of superhero films; saving innocent lives. This isn't seen quite as much as it should (and it doesn't need to be in EVERY sequence) and it's cool to see the moral aspect of Stark using his powers to do good (even if he's rather cold-blooded in offing bad guys here). 

I hate to be cliche and highlight the ending as that's almost always where the big guns were saved, but IRON MAN 3 boasts a pretty big one (even with fireworks!) with Stark calling all of his suits to his aid in order to take out Killian and his Extremis goons, while rescuing both The President and Pepper. Seeing all the various suit designs in action is cool enough (and even served to be a tease of things to come in AGE OF ULTRON when we'd see the Hulkbuster for the first time). Having Stark jump from suit to suit, while engaging the bad guys and then the main bad, was a total blast. Then, having Pepper do the final kill while wearing just a bra and an armored hand was kind of great. For all the reasons.

Tony Stark (To Harley, the kid): "You know what keeps going through my head? Where's my sandwich?"

Brandt: "Is that all you've got? A cheap trick and a cheesy one-liner?"
Tony Stark: "Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography."

Aldrich Killian: "The early bird gets the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese."

Tony Stark: (after killing Savin) "Walk away from that, you son of a bitch."

The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery: "Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher. America, ready for another lesson? In 1864, in Sand Creek, Colorado, the U.S. Military waited until the friendly Cheyenne Braves had all gone hunting. Waited to attack and slaughter the families left behind. And claim their land. Thirty-nine hours ago, the Ali al-Salam Air Base in Kuwait was attacked. I, I, I did that. A quaint military church, filled with wives and children, of course. The soldiers were out on maneuvers. The 'Braves' were away. President Ellis, you continue to resist my attempts to educate you, sir. And now, you've missed me again. You don't know who I am. You don't know where I am. And you'll NEVER see me coming."

Tony Stark: (to J.A.R.V.I.S. in final attack) "It's Christmas. Take 'em to Church."

Aldrich Killian: "No more false faces... You said you wanted the Mandarin? You're looking right at him! It was always me, Tony, right from the start! I AM THE MANDARIN!"

Both Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) are in the comic book Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, who are given a story credit here. While Killian kills himself in the comic, releasing Extremis to terrorists, Maya plays the double-agent and is revealed to have been in cahoots with Killian at the end. Both characters are given slightly different twists here, most notably with Killian revealing himself to be the real Mandarin.

But, is he, though? In the Marvel One-Shot "All Hail The King" we follow Ben Kingsley's Trevor Slattery to Seagate prison where he's treated like a king, until it's revealed that the REAL Mandarin knows about his impersonation and is none too happy about it. Many felt this was an answer to fans being peeved about Killian's "reveal" as the real Mandarin and not being the traditional one with the Ten Rings, powers and Asian heritage.

A.I.M. is the company run by Aldrich Killian and in the comics it's a staple evil organization, typically characterized by the villains wearing yellow suits with masks. The term stands for Advanced Idea Mechanics and was originally a scientific branch of Hydra.

In the opening of the film, there's a flashback scene that shows the initial meeting of Tony Stark (drunk off his ass) and Ho Yinson, once again played by Shaun Toub, who is the scientist that helps Stark build the Mach 1 in the first IRON MAN film.

President Ellis (as played by William Sadler) is a staple "President" in the MCU. Based off of writer Warren Ellis, who wrote the Extremis story, the name would again pop-up in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER at Cap's Smithsonian installation in the form of a quote on the wall.

The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery wears a Captain America shield tattoo on the back of his neck.

War Machine becomes Iron Patriot in this film, the armor being colored red/white/blue. This is pulled from the Dark Avengers comics run, although it was in a very different (and much cooler) way. In the comic, Norman Osborn AKA The Green Goblin wears the Iron Patriot suit, forming his own (Dark) Avengers team that poses as superheroes when they are actually still villains.

As mentioned earlier, in the Malibu Mansion attack scene, Pepper is given the Iron Man armor to wear, which is a nod to her taking on her own suit of armor in the comics and calling herself Rescue.

Roxxon is again mentioned here, as in previous IRON MAN films, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix Marvel shows. Here they are mentioned in reference to an oil spill.

Stan Lee makes his requisite appearance as a beauty pageant judge.

Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen appear, both characters from the Extremis original comic.

The Mandarin...kind of appears. Trevor Slattery is a patsy that is pretending to be him and while Killian claims to be the "real" Mandarin, the Marvel one-shot "All Hail The King" says otherwise, leaving the real Mandarin in the MCU proper and yet to be confronted.

Outside of usual contenders RDJ as Stark/Iron Man, Don Cheadle as Rhodes, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, there aren't many new characters introduced. While the original Ho Yinsen makes a brief cameo and Stan Lee does his Stan Lee thing, the only real cameo is by Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in the post-credits scene.

Man, this was a controversial one, eh? I have to admit that I wasn't exactly thrilled at the bait and switch of Trevor Slattery. It felt more like being trolled than surprised and that always bothered me. While some love the switcheroo reveal (just like some love Tupac Skywalker in THE LAST JEDI), many others (myself included) would've appreciated seeing a proper incarnation of The Mandarin, who has been a key villain in Marvel comics for decades and deserving of a true origin and intro. Perhaps Marvel Studios were apprehensive to have another villain depending on jewelry (a la Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet) to be the main factor in his villainy and opted for Black's take instead.

Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian is fine, but he never quite comes full circle. He's basically more of the same, only with a nerd-seeking-revenge backstory that feels a bit more cheesy than anything. When he's revealed as having dragon tattoos and calling himself The Mandarin at the end, I wouldn't fault you if you're making raspberries and swatting at the screen. He's not the worst villain ever, but hardly a memorable or a truly menacing one.


 

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IRON MAN 2 - RETRO REVIEW

THOR - RETRO REVIEW

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER - RETRO REVIEW

THE AVENGERS - RETRO REVIEW

Source: JoBlo.com

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