It's the first post-Avengers film, that's the unique distinction for Iron Man 3 as well as it being the first film in Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. As an American, and especially working around these parts, avoiding spoilers has been incredibly tough. However, aside from the twist concerning the film's main villain, I managed to avoid any other spoilers. So, not knowing any of the particulars of Iron Man 3 beforehand, I entered the theater incredibly optimistic and giddy at the prospect of viewing this year's first Marvel Studios' film. I left the theater slightly pissed off.
From a fan standpoint, expectations and excitement for this film were centered around The Mandarin as the main villain and the prospect of potentially getting a few lingering questions answered about The Ten Rings. (More on that later). As for the casual (non comic book reading) moviegoer, there has to be some disappointment here as well. The charm, appeal and intense fandom centered around Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is built entirely around the incredible spectacle of the first Iron Man film. Hell, everything for Marvel tracks back to that film, which worked so well because from start-to-finish, it felt like the events that occurred could truly happen in real life. Aside from all the pop-culture references, Jon Favreau really conveyed a sense that to be Iron Man, all you had to be was really smart. In every Marvel Studios film since, that element of realism has slowly eroded away. You simply can't have that same interaction with the movie audience in a film centered around a Norse god, a genetically injured super soldier or a hulking rage monster. Marvel has tried and to some extent been successful but they've yet to duplicate the realistic, 'hey, this could happen' quality of the first Iron Man. In comparison, The Avengers didn't go for that,it fully embraced its approach of 'We know this could never happen in real life - just sit back and be entertained.' Iron Man 3 returns to the Marvel motif of trying to inject just the right amount of realism in their superhero films. Naturally, those looking for The Avengers experience are going to be dissapointed but that doesn't make Iron Man 3 a bad film. What makes Iron Man 3 a bad film starts with the marketing- which consistently pitched the film as a dark and serious undertaking when it's actually a comedic romp that never takes itself seriously no matter how much danger the characters are in. What makes Iron Man 3 a bad film starts with needing the marketing to pull off a Kansas City Shuffle - the film is set-up on an artificially crafted twist that does it a huge disservice. What makes Iron Man 3 a bad film is the time spent with moronic and unlikable characters - Rebeca Hall as Maya Hansen brought nothing to the film. Were we supposed to feel something for her character? Did she have a change of heart, was she really a good guy or a bad guy - I guess we're supposed to decide for ourselves? Once again, War Machine served no purpose in this movie. The government turns to one, singular individual to hunt down the world's biggest terrorist? Really? You're telling me S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow, Nick Fury, etc. wouldn't be all over this? This type of situation is precisely what they were created for, hell would S.H.I.E.L.D. even let things progress that far? Predictably, Rhodey not only fails miserably at his task, he gets his suit stolen rather easily and ends up needing to be saved by Tony. In fact, this might be the worst depiction of Rhodey in all three films as he's nothing but a bumbling, inept bruiser that's often the butt-end of the joke. There are a few bright spots like the casual evil of James Badge Dale's Savin and Ty Simpkin's Harley but the film simply didn't balance the right amount of screen time for its supporting characters.
Character aside, the film asks you to forgive some pretty big plot holes and never truly gives answers to some of the questions it raises. The science and mechanics of Extremis were only loosely defined, what made some people go explode and others not? Why are the Extremis soldiers shown to be able to survive explosions and dismemberment in one scene and in the next, a repulsor blast finishes them off for good? And why would A.I.M. simply allow it's test subjects to wander around America and randomly blow-up? Wouldn't an outfit like A.I.M. have tighter control over its test subjects if not outright dispose of them immediately after experimenting? Speaking of A.I.M., what was Killian's true motivation? He wanted Extremis to improve his own physical condition, then to weaponize and sell it? Seems like that would be pretty easy to do without creating an international figurehead of terrorism that hijacks broadcast signals across the world. We've had quite a few Marvel films were the U.S. government is looking to create scientifically enhanced soldiers, seems like they would just give Killian and A.I.M. a fat defense contract, the kind they were giving Tony in the first Iron Man film.
In terms of tone, of course this movie can't match the spectacle of The Avengers but it should strive to achieve the same caliber of execution. Joss Whedon knew exactly what he wanted to do and thus the film we got in theaters WAS the director's cut. Shane Black reportedly has a 3+-hr long director's cut , that's over 50 mins of footage left on the cutting room floor that the director feels better explains the story. Another tonal issue is with the Stark-speak, the witty, egocentric, monologue-esque rants that prove that Tony Stark is just too-cool and above all the petty concerns of the average person. Why are all the characters suddenly doing Stark-speak? Ok, Pepper can adapt to that because she lives with Tony and interacts with him on a regular basis so she's probably learned to adapt to his banter and style of communication. But when did Rhodey pick up that trait - or Killian, Maya, Harley? Instead of being overwhelmed by Stark they're giving it right back to him, that deflates a pretty exceptional aspect of the Tony Stark persona.
Everything isn't a failure, however. Robert Downey Jr. delivers an excellent Tony Stark despite the surrounding elements. And while every scene is tinged with comedy, there are a few standout quips and moments that will have the entire audience laughing. And of course the VFX are top notch, the Extremis footsoldiers look pretty cool and the visual assault of the Iron Man Army are incredible to witness in action (why would Stark randomly decide to blow them all up at the end of the climatic battle?) . However, this isn't enough to elevate the film beyond the level of mediocre. It's one thing to aim for a film to play upon preconceived expectations but it's quite another when those preconceived expectations are artificially created. "Aha! You though it was this but it's really actually this" does not make for a satisfactory viewing experience by itself. That's simply a gimmick and one that's rings especially hollow when it's the only thing inside the candy wrapper.