Haunted by his experience during the Battle of New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) loses himself in building suits so he can protect those he cares about. But when a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) becomes a threat, Tony must come to terms with his own issues in order to defeat this seemingly omnipresent force.
Iron Man 3 is the first film post-The Avengers and it very much focusses in on the emotional affects being a part of a battle against enemies from space has on our hero. Typically in the superhero genre, while each film might be a part of a series, they are also very much a stand-alone piece. Here we have the first example of how effects from previous movies in the MCU, whether they’re a team up or an individual character’s film, can have lasting effects on other characters and films.
In Iron Man 3 you’ve got a Tony Stark who is trying to go back to his version of normality after what he experienced in New York. That’s not going so well for him as he’s plagued by nightmares, has anxiety attacks, and obsessively builds suits of armour. His inability to deal with his PTSD and his aversion of asking for help means that he pushes away girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle). Surprisingly, or maybe not because this is Tony Stark, he starts to make a breakthrough when he’s without his friends, home and tech and instead must rely on a child (Ty Simpkins) whose garage he broke into. Most of the time we spend with Tony during this film, he’s out of the suit and must rely on his own wits and mechanical ability to save himself, never mind the rest of the world. The scenes of Tony making gadgets to take on the bad guys really reminds the audience just how smart and capable this guy is – after all, he’s the guy who built a miniaturised arc reactor in a cave with a box of scraps.
As well as the supposed Mandarin threat, something that Tony takes personally when his friend and former bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) gets caught in an explosion, there’s shifty businessman Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who is interested in getting Pepper to be a part on his company instead of running Stark Industries.
Now #SpoilerAlert but there have been complaints about the Mandarin reveal ever since the film was released in 2013 but I think it’s genius. By having Sir Ben Kingsley really be playing drunken actor Trevor Slattery and having Guy Pearce’s Killian as the real villain pulling the strings, the film both sidesteps and addresses the troubling racial aspects of the Mandarin character. Naturally, the character from the comics was a product of its time and there’s no way filmmakers in this decade could’ve translated the character to screen without making any changes and not receive any backlash.
How the Mandarin looks, his voice, and his supposed evil deeds are all constructed by Killian. Killian and his media team make a threat to the US that looks exactly what a threat to the US is “supposed to” look like. It embraces America’s focus on and fear of the Middle East in order to have a face of terrorism that then is the cover for Killian’s actions.
Naturally, some fans of the comics would be annoyed but flipping what we think the Mandarin should be and instead having a white male businessman as the real terrorist is a smart move. Iron Man 3 was the start of the MCU twisting what you think you know about these characters and their world and then pulling the rug from under you.
Along with the Mandarin debate, some people make comments about how Iron Man 3 is more jokey than the previous Iron Man films but, as the post-credits scene reveals, Iron Man 3 is told from Tony Stark’s point of view and Tony Stark is definitely the kind of guy who uses humour to deal with stressful and upsetting situations. Also, by having the film told from Tony’s point of view it means that Rhodey, Pepper and even Happy are given more heroic moments because in Tony’s eyes they are his heroes. Those three are his best and oldest friends, and they see the real Tony Stark rather than the playboy, showman armour he puts on. So it makes sense that if he was recounting events in his life, they would get pride of place and he’d take the backseat. Which also corresponds with the idea that Tony Stark doesn’t think as much of himself as the media, and he himself when he’s in performance-mode, presents to the world. “I’m just a man in a can” anyone?
There is a lot going on in Iron Man 3 both in terms of character and story, but the film never loses track of where it’s going. It is a lot darker in tone compared to the previous Iron Man films, but it is also a lot funnier thanks to a script from Shane Black and Drew Pearce. The action sequences are impressive, with the standout being the attack on Tony’s home – and yes, I will cry over a couple of robots because they’re Tony’s family too. The final showdown is a spectacle and it’s wonderful that in amongst the fights and explosions, the characters and their relationships are never forgotten.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Ty Simpkins