Iron Man 3 armored up into theaters yesterday and it is already considered a hit, with 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and favorable reviews from some of the harshest critics. Well, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film on Tuesday, alongside other critics of Chicago.
So how was it exactly? Is it going to please the average movie-goer? What about the fans of Marvel and the comics? How does it compare to The Avengers, last year’s biggest summer blockbuster?
Marvel’s Iron Man 3 pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible, the terrorist known as The Mandarin. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
The story itself is pretty straightforward and does a good job of showing Tony Stark in a post-Avengers world. A major part of the film involved Tony struggling to cope with a form of posttraumatic stress disorder, following the Chitauri attack on New York. Where The Avengers was a summer blockbuster that didn’t take the action and adventure aspects too seriously, Iron Man 3 focused on the conflicts of a single character, creating a really great character study of Tony Stark. Though Tony is still his usual snarky self, he’s been mentally wounded and uses his armors as a way of shielding (or should i say S.H.I.E.L.D.-ing?) himself from the outside world, causing a bit of a love triangle between him, Pepper Potts, and his armors. Although marketing has played up the darker elements of the film as a way to compare it to the grittier Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, it still has the cleverness and wit of the first two films, just with a new layer of intricacy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this movie is wittier, funnier, smarter, and a whole lot more snarkier than the previous two.
This is now a version of Earth that has faced alien threats. The characters in Iron Man 3 actively acknowledge the presence of the other films, creating a great sense of continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which only strengthens each Marvel film’s association to each other. At one point, Happy Hogan (played by former Iron Man director, Jon Favreau) makes an off-hand remark about how Tony is constantly hanging out with “the Super Friends”. By acknowledging the events of the past, we’re able to follow along Tony’s character progression in a way that resembles a television show.
Iron Man 3 makes use of several comic storylines, none more prevalent than the Extremis story-arc, as my friend Murray the Bellhop can testify to. In fact, the name of the President in the film, President Ellis, is a nod to the writer of the Extremis story, Warren Ellis. Though because of the limitations of live-action films and what audiences expect, they tend to be more grounded in reality, and some of the more fantastical elements of Extremis are toned down. In the comics, Extremis is a virus that allows nanotechnology to store Tony’s armor in his bones, creating a more organic version of the armor. In Iron Man 3, Extremis is a regenerative treatment that can regrow limbs and make a person more powerful, not unlike the lizard formula in The Amazing Spider-Man.
Although I enjoyed the movie immensely, there were a few vital changes in the Iron Man mythology presented in the film that disappointed me. One of the biggest key differences from the comics was The Mandarin. Now, I won’t spoil what exactly irritated me about it, but what they did with the reveal of this villain could be insulting to the longtime fans of the comics. The Mandarin is the ultimate archnemesis to Iron Man; he is the Joker to Iron Man’s Batman. And, well, by changing the fundamentals of who The Mandarin is, where he came from, and to what extend his influence reaches, I’m left wondering if it did the character any justice. Would Batman be the same if The Joker wasn’t as maniacal as we had expected him to be all these years? What if Lex Luthor didn’t harbor a grudge against Superman? You’ll have to watch the film to see what I mean!
Overall, Iron Man 3 is a great start to the summer blockbusters (despite it still being spring). It has set the bar for this year, and I’m hoping that the other films (Star Trek, Man of Steel, etc.) will be just as good. It built upon the success of The Avengers and added a whole new layer of complexity and character development to Tony Stark. Not only is the Marvel Cinematic Universe growing bigger and more diverse (Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and Blade are now back at Marvel Studios.), but they are getting smarter. They’re showing that action-packed superhero movies can both entertain the general public and be considered an art form unto themselves at the same time. I definitely encourage all of you to go see Iron Man 3 this weekend and tell us what you thought of it in the comments!