“Phase Two” of the MCU kicks off in the same way the previous one did: with an Iron Man film, though one that’s now part of a much bigger whole. Iron Man 3 is a controversial film, mostly in the way its villain, The Mandarin, is treated and can get a very marmite response of loving it or hating it. What about the rest of the film? I quite like it myself, so why do we just look at the whole thing so I can stop skirting around spoilers, eh?
Plagued with worry and insomnia since saving New York from destruction Tony Stark is now more dependent on the suits that give him his Iron Man persona — so much so that every aspect of his life is affected, including his relationship with Pepper. After a malevolent enemy known as the Mandarin reduces his personal world to rubble, Tony must rely solely on instinct and ingenuity to avenge his losses and protect the people he loves.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Iron Man enjoys the sunset… as his house is destroyed by attack helicopters.
As with all the Iron Man films before it the first thing that has to be mentioned is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man. He still nails it and elevates any scene he’s in with natural charisma, but now he gets to add an extra wrinkle of vulnerability as Tony suffers from a form of post-traumatic stress after having popped into a wormhole into deep space before falling back down to Earth (understandable, to be fair!). It’s the kind of after-effect from a major event you normally don’t see, and one of the things I love about the MCU, seeing the fallout from the major events pop up in other areas (like the Netflix shows mentioning the attack on New York, if they still count…) Tony has found himself almost hiding in the Iron Man suits, or controlling them remotely from his lab so he can continue to work on yet more suits, basically he’s panicking in case something like that ever happens again. This is putting a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and eventually leads him to make a rather big mistake when a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) takes out the Chinese Theatre and Tony’s pal Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) gets hurt.
Tony calls out the Mandarin on national TV, even giving his home address, which rightfully unnerves Pepper quite a bit! The two get visited by Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), an old one night stand Tony had in 1999 who was working on a method of regrowing limbs and other amazing healing abilities of something called Extremis, and now it turns out its being used by the wrong people. Before she can explain Tony’s house is attacked by several armed helicopters and completely destroyed, with Stark himself only just escaping after saving Pepper. Tony arrives in Rose Hill, Tennessee where he was going to investigate the Mandarin’s bombings more closely anyway, but his suit breaks so he’s left wondering alone, eventually befriending a local kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins). He manages to piece more of the story together, encountering a deadly duo of Extremis infected ex-soldiers attacking him with not only crazy healing but the ability to super-heat their own bodies to the point of melting metal or even breathing fire. I have to tip my hat to Ty Simpkins, who manages to be a legitimately entertaining child actor, something very hard indeed. Tony returns (to what’s left of his) home and finds Pepper kidnapped and that’s when two truths are revealed: The Mandarin is actually an actor named Trevor Slattery who’s a bumbling idiot, and the true mastermind behind both the Mandarin videos and the Extremis soldiers is Killian Dane (Guy Pearce) who was a scientist Tony treated like crap back in that same party in 1999 who went on to create Advanced Idea Mechanics and hire Maya, who yes is working for him. While this is happening Rhodey (Don Cheadle) who was rebranded Iron Patriot instead of War Machine, is assaulted and stripped of his armour.
Hey look! It’s a child actor in the “Good” section! Such an enjoyable rarity.
Tony is eventually also kidnapped by AIM and watches as Maya has a change of heart before being killed off just as quickly, then manages to escape alongside Rhodes as the two discover that Killian had kidnapped the President (that’s some old school stakes right there!) This leads to a final showdown at a dock, with Rhodey saving the President and getting his armour back and Tony assaulting a bunch of Extremis soldiers with an entire army of AI controlled suits (that idea won’t come back and bite him at all…) before taking on Killian. A few “is Pepper dead?” teases are well done, with her being injected with Extremis and seemingly falling to her death, before Tony himself is saved by a now super-powered Pepper, who kills Killian in an instinctive rage. Once it’s all said and done Tony detonates his suits to show he’s not relying on them any more to Pepper, then even finally has surgery to remove the metal shrapnel from his heart so he no longer needs the arc reactor in his chest.
It’s a fine ending to the “Iron Man Trilogy”, but less satisfying when you think a few films later he’s back in a suit fighting people again, but hey-ho…
Damn it… I mean, occasionally funny, but still! Damn it…
I fall on the side of not really liking the “Mandarin is a joke character” twist. It’s not because I love the comics and things must be accurate, it’s not because I grew up on the early 90s Marvel cartoons where Iron Man was always facing the Mandarin every week (though that was one of the reasons I was looking forward to the film) but instead because I really liked the reboot of the character and Kingsley’s preacher voice he put on for it. All the trailers advertised him as the lead threat using the clips of him as the Mandarin and it made me really excited to see this character face off with Iron Man… instead he’s a joke and we get yet another slick arrogant business man enemy, making it three for three in the Iron Man films (even if in Iron Man 2 Justin Hammer wasn’t the final enemy fought) Now obviously in 2021 we now know they pulled back and revealed there is a “real” Mandarin who kidnapped Slattery from prison for smearing his name and indeed will appear in the up-coming Shang-Chi film, but I still think Kingsley’s Mandarin was a really unique and interesting foe, even if I did find Slattery himself funny it still seems like a waste.
This screenshot doesn’t have much relevance, it just made me laugh when I captured it…
Iron Man 3 is a good two-ish hours, full of plenty of spectacle and a deeper look at Tony Stark’s psyche and relationship woes with Pepper. The villain is generic, made worse than a better villain ending up as a fake out, but it doesn’t detract too much from an otherwise fun time.