The UnPopular Opinion: Iron Man 3
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
You might think it odd that IRON MAN 3 would be up for the UnPopular Opinion treatment based on the fact it has a 79% positive rating at RottenTomatoes.com and the incredible $1.2 billion in worldwide box office, but there seems to be a great deal of hate for the film emanating from the online community, especially amongst you Schmoes. Now, as the guy who hated THE AVENGERS, you may not take my opinion seriously, but I am here to tell you that IRON MAN 3 is the best film in the franchise as well as the best portrayal of Tony Stark to date.
IRON MAN 3 had the difficult task of following up the instantly beloved THE AVENGERS. What Joss Whedon’s film was able to do was pull together four distinct and different franchises , all unique in tone, style, and setting. Whedon was able to unite these heroes in an organic manner for a mega-film the likes of which we had never seen. But, after that and knowing they would reunite a few years later for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, how do you send them on their own adventures without relying on this team dynamic? While CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and THOR: THE DARK WORLD took their own approaches to making this work, IRON MAN 3 had a different challenge.
He's right behind me, isn't he?
IRON MAN 2 was a f*cking mess. There is no doubt that it was Marvel's first misstep in their cinematic universe. Jon Favreau hit gold with Robert Downey Jr and a great origin film with the first movie, but the second felt like it suffered from sever sequelitis. Everything was bigger, louder, and better budgeted, but it still felt hollow and flat. There was no true progression of the characters aside from the introduction of War Machine and the villain felt underwhelming. So, what do you do when your third film absolutely has to succeed? Bring in new blood behind the camera. Shane Black, RDJ's buddy from KISS KISS BANG BANG came in and took the Iron Man story in a darker direction without sacrificing any of what made the character great: one-liners, comebacks, and a sense of humor.
What worked so well with IRON MAN was that it defied convention. It went with a character who was, until that point, not a top tier Marvel hero and made him the cinematic equivalent of how Captain America was looked at in the pages of the comics. So, instead of making IRON MAN 3 bigger and louder than the second film, Shane Black actually scaled it back. Sure, the destruction of Tony's cliffside home, the air rescue of Air Force One, and the closing Iron Corps battle all provide big screen grandeur, but in between are truly developed moments that give us insight into Tony Stark as a man and the after effects of what happened to him during the Battle of New York. Much of this is a credit to Robert Downey Jr and his amazing turn as Stark. I know the role may eventually be recast, but I cannot envision anyone being Iron Man or Tony Stark in the same was RDJ has.
Never met a supervillain who wasn't a soccer fan.
I could go on and one with how great the existing cast is in the film: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle, and Paul Bettany are all amazingly solid and their characters are all given more to do this time around, but it is the new cast members who really shine. Rebecca Hall, James Badge Dale, and Guy Pearce are all strong and fully realized additions to the Iron Man franchise, but it is the featured villain who steals the show. From the moment we first heard him in the teasers, everyone knew Ben Kingsley was going to be amazing as The Mandarin. His menace and delivery of his threats is imbued with such a level of evil that there was no doubt he was going to steal the show. But, that is also what left to the incredible letdown many felt when the Trevor Slattery reveal was made.
At the time, the Mandarin twist because the biggest topic online as everyone and their mother took a side on the plot twist. Initially, I understood why everyone felt short-changed at the notion that Guy Pearce's Aldritch Killian would be the "true" Mandarin, but upon repeated viewings, I have no doubt that Marvel had been planning this all along. Writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black of course have admitted to coming up with the plot device, but I think the overall future plan for the MCU includes the possibility of the real Mandarin coming in the future to either battle Tony Stark or The Avengers as a unit. But, what this plot twist also drove into everyone's mind was that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not Marvel Comics. If you want to see your favorite characters, story arcs, or images come to life, this is not the place for you. The MCU is an alternate reality, a place where the comics serve as a jumping off point but there is no binding requirement to make the movies exactly like the comics.
A little Ultron foreshadowing?
And that is why IRON MAN 3 is by far the best IRON MAN film and one of the top movies in the MCU to date (for my money, only WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY are better). There are so many perfect moments in this film that cannot be rivaled: Tony's friendship with Harley, Happy Hogan's burgeoning romance with a fellow DOWNTON ABBEY viewer, the way Extremis was visualized, all the way to the closing moments where Tony finally eliminates what forced him to become Iron Man and thereby evolving the character into something else entirely. The accomplishment of IRON MAN 3 is in that it progresses Tony Stark in a way the prior film did not while also putting pieces in motion for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
Marvel Studios are responsible for creating products. To call their movies "art" in the traditional sense may be an overstatement, but there is absolutely a master plan that makes these movies work as independent series as well as one massive ten film franchise. With each successive film, the culmination of each phase comes into focus and we sit back in awe as to how the hell Kevin Feige and a crew of thousands managed to make it all work. IRON MAN 3 launched Phase Two of the MCU and did so in grand fashion. Whether or not Robert Downey Jr and company return for a fourth go-round at Stark Enterprises remains to be seen, but if IRON MAN 3 ends the franchise, they did so without peer.