There’s a scene in Iron Man 3 where Tony stark is testing out a new super-powered suit whose pieces can fly autonomously and self-assemble. The various pieces – gauntlets, chest piece, boots, codpiece, helmet, etc. – whizz across the room and affix themselves to Stark’s body. The codpiece and helmet give him a little trouble, as you might imagine, but ultimately the pieces come together to make Stark into the Invincible Iron Man we know and love.
That scene is a pretty good metaphor for the movie itself – it’s basically a bunch of unrelated pieces, some of which work better than others, that fly at the viewer more or less at random, but somehow managed to add up to a pretty decent comic book action flick. Over the course of the franchise, Stark’s suits have gone from clunky steel exoskeleton to technological wizardry that borders on the miraculous. So much so, in fact, that one begins to wonder why we even need a guy in the suit (and we learn early on in IM:3 that technically we don’t). But the self-assembling suit gag doesn’t work without Stark in the middle of it, and Iron Man 3 without the unifying charisma of Robert Downey Jr. would just be, well, a Michael Bay Transformers movie. Which is to say, idiotic.
Such is the raw power of Downey’s likeability that it doesn’t even occur to the viewer until well after the post-credits teaser that Tony Stark’s presence in the film is little more than an unnecessary plot complication. As with the first two outings in the franchise, Stark is basically just cleaning up his own mess (well, in Iron Man 2 I guess he was mostly cleaning up his dad’s mess). This time around, he gets really drunk and accidentally invents a recipe for exploding super-soldiers which ends up in the hands of an evil scientist (and really, who hasn’t done that at least once?).
It falls to Stark to deal with the evil scientist, his minions, and a spooky terrorist leader (Ben Kingsley) who is somehow connected to the evildoings the evil scientist is doing. Why does this task fall to Stark rather than, say, the FBI or S.H.I.E.L.D.? Because this is an Iron Man movie, so if there’s going to be any evildoer ass-kicking, it’s going to be done by Iron Man, even if he has to do it with a shopping cart full of weapons he made from the local hardware store. And even if it would make way more sense to just, you know, call the police.
The movie actually has some interesting political points to make, which I won’t go into because it would spoil some of the fun. Suffice it to say that Ben Kingsley’s performance as The Mandarin is the best thing in the movie.
One annoying conceit of this franchise is the apparent belief that the number of Iron Man suits must progress geometrically with each successive film. In Iron Man, it was just Stark and Obadiah Stein. In Iron Man Two, it was Stark, Rhodes, a few minor characters and a hundred or so drones. In Iron Man 3, it’s impossible to keep track of how many suits there are. Virtually every character in the film – with the exception of Kingsley’s Mandarin – puts on a suit at some point. Rhodes? Suit. Pepper Potts? Suit. Evil scientist? Suit. Henchman? Suit. President of the United States? Suit. I lost count of how many different suits Stark wears throughout the movie; I think it’s around five or six. And that’s not counting all the “unmanned” suits that are flying around, blowing things up or being blown up, with minimal guidance from Stark’s long-suffering automated butler, Jarvis. The climax of the movie, a battle between a bunch of autonomous suits and a bevy of super-powered henchmen, while technically stunning, is probably the least interesting part of the movie. It’s hard to feel invested in a scene when the guys you’re supposed to be rooting for are literally soulless automatons.
Flawed though it is, Iron Man 3 is good fun. Better than Iron Man 2, but still a far cry from the original. 4 out of 5 stars.