“I’m going to offer a choice. Do you want an empty life…or a meaningful death?”
– The Mandarin, Iron Man 3 Trailer
I think I deserve a round of applause: for the first time since November, I’m reviewing a movie the same weekend it came out! Unfortunately, this review isn’t nearly as positive as most people are probably hoping for. There are spoilers, but I give warning before I get into those.
Dare I say this was the worst movie in the Iron Man series?
Why yes, I dare.
The premise: set after Avengers, this movie features Tony Stark facing anxiety attacks in addition to a terrorist known as the Mandarin, who is threatening to unleash chaos on the world. But at the same time, someone else is manufacturing a virus called Extremis, which creates near-invincible fighters for Iron Man to face.
Oh, the pain it cost me to write that summary. Because that sounds like an awesome movie, right? We’ve got Iron Man from a new point of vulnerability, all the characters really involved now, references to past movies, and best of all, Iron Man’s arch-enemy, played by Sir Ben Kingsley!
In the past, I’ve made the mistake of expecting too much of movies. I did that going into Dark Knight Rises, and despite how brilliant the movie was, I was actually a teensy bit disappointed because of my unreasonably high expectations of it. Only when I watched it for the second or third time did I really love it.
Unfortunately, I know that won’t be the case here. My list of issues with Iron Man 3 is too long to be whisked away by a second viewing.
First of all, I’ll focus on what I liked. Robert Downey Jr., brilliant as always. I loved all of the action scenes, especially the home attack seen in the trailer.
I liked the barest skeleton of the plot: hero is trying to get by, gets majorly attacked, has to come to terms with who he is, then comes back to save everyone and put things right. Same formula as most finales, including Dark Knight Rises. But this carried out that formula entirely wrong.
I had two overarching issues with the whole thing. Two items on the no-no list that make me strongly dislike the production team. And honestly, I can’t decide which issue is worse.
Issue 1: This did not feel in any way, shape or form like an Iron Man film.
Good try, team, but no. You can’t open the film flashing the Marvel logo to the song “Blue [da ba dee]”, catchy as it is, and make it feel like the previous two installments. Nor can you have Tony Stark narrate the whole thing. Maybe some people liked that, but to me, it was a complete change-up. How different would Avengers be if Nick Fury had voiced it over from start to finish?
Minor issues attached to this include the stunning lack of witty dialogue (I didn’t laugh or snort even once, if that puts it in perspective) and the music. The music wasn’t bad by any stretch, it just was the complete opposite of that from the first two movies. Instead of being action-y, guitar-filled rock music, this score was gentle and mellow. That worked for the one or two emotional moments of the movie, but for the rest, it just felt icky.
Issue 2: The Mandarin disappointment
Hang on, no spoilers quite yet!
Alright. Remember that epic part of the trailer where the Mandarin talks about eradicating Iron Man? He delivers awesome lines like the one at the top of this post, and one of my favorites, “Some people call me a terrorist; I prefer to think of myself as a teacher. Lesson one…heroes. There are no such thing.”
None of that is in the movie, because the Mandarin himself is barely in the movie, and never once does he confront Tony Stark.
[And spoilers…NOW! Though I should say this is a spoiler I would’ve liked to know going into the film.]
Lesson two…the Mandarin. There is no such thing.
Sadly, I’m not joking here. I wish I was. Let me explain, to catch up anyone who hasn’t yet seen the movie.
You’re expecting the Mandarin to be like Bane in Batman or Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes, right? The complex, driven villain with their own master plan and their fun ways of carrying it out.
This movie couldn’t have missed the mark more. We see the Mandarin in two or three brief TV broadcasts in which he calls himself a terrorist. The next time we see him is when Tony Stark confronts him about 60% into the movie…and we learn that there is no Mandarin at all. Instead, there’s a drunken British dude who was paid by a terrorist company to dress up in Chinese garb and give threatening speeches on TV.
The movie tries to save its skin when Iron Man confronts the head of this terrorist company, who calls himself the “true Mandarin all along.” Except he’s just a scientist working on a virus. No rings, no complex motivation, no anything that makes him remarkable. And of course, he’s not Ben Kingsley.
If you want an example, then—apologies for all the Batman references—just picture the end of Dark Knight Rises when you learn who Bane is working for. Except, instead of that, add on the tidbit that Bane is just a random dude paid by his boss to dress up and give threatening speeches. Can you imagine how different that would have been?
I was expecting a villain who said things like those bits from the trailer. Someone who broke Iron Man and forced him to come to terms with his very origins. An elaborate backstory wouldn’t have hurt either. Instead, Iron Man’s greatest villain was blown off, Wizard of Oz style (“pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”)
I want to end this review on a positive note, though: I did like the ending. Very much. The final battle was the most epic of the three Iron Man movies, and the wrap-up after that had a warm and fuzzy feel. I won’t spoil that, since it was actually good, but I’ll just say I loved how everything was neatly tied up to the point where even if this was the last movie with Tony Stark in it, we see him get to the place he’s been trying to get to ever since the first movie.
Also, I liked the post-credits scene. Because yes, there is a post-credits scene, as always.
In Conclusion: this movie has some egregious flaws, in my opinion, and I won’t remember it with extensive fondness. But, its positives are a formidable match for its negatives, and if you go in with low expectations, you just might be impressed.
Rate: 5 out of 10.