Movie Review: ‘Iron Man 3’ (Spoiler Free)

Iron Man 3 IMAX poster by Jock

Iron Man 3 IMAX print by Jock

Iron Man 3

Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Shane Black
Written by Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes / Iron Patriot), a giant plush bunny rabbit (itself), Guy Pearce (Aldritch Killian), Rebecca Hall (Dr. Maya Hansen), Stephanie Szostak (Ellen Brandt), James Badge Dale (Eric Savin), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Ben Kingsley (The Mandarin), Ty Simpkins (Harley), Paul Bettany (JARVIS), William Saddler (President Ellis), 

Trigger warning: nautical rebar peril

Re-entry aint easy.

Tony Stark might have made it through a wormhole, but all the shawarma in Manhattan couldn’t settle those nerves. Agitated by the vision of an otherworldly invasion fleet no human being was ever meant to see, Marvel’s The Avengers shapes much of Iron Man 3, for better and for worseThe battle in New York rocked Tony’s world, upsetting his equilibrium and that of his solo movie franchise. That’s nothing new though. In paving the way to The Avengers, 2010’s Iron Man 2 relegated itself to connective tissue. While Iron Man 3 feels much more robust, a true sequel to both The Avengers and the original Iron Man, the same ghosts haunting its every frame do just as much to detract from the adventures.

It’s a deep shame that each Iron Man appearance, especially in his numbered outings, assume the weight of Downey’s contract negotiations and the lingering question of his further involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The last film clanked with conspicuous plumbing, writers tasked with laying pipe for the possibility of Tony’s diminished role as a “consultant” and the rise of Don Cheadle’s Rhodey as the go-to mech head in future exploits. Here, Tony’s confidence issues and anxiety resolve themselves only for a rash tidying up of threads and themes in the event that this truly is the last Iron Man. It’s a nice enough bow if we need call upon it as such in retrospect, but so much of this forced conclusion reads as a tug on the ripcord and not a masterfully stuck landing.

That’s a lot of baggage, but as with any good vacation, that’s just part and parcel with the good times.

Incoming director Shane Black doesn’t so much adopt the Marvel method of movie-making as he summons each individual piece of the Iron Man toolkit to ornament his signature evergreen. Luckily, Black has always decked the halls in a fashion befitting Tony’s own level of comfort and joy, so an armory tailored to Favreau fits just as nicely on Black. For the most part. It’s a slight distinction, but a crucial one. Fans of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will still recognize wisps off that muzzle eight years on, especially in the movie’s most successful stretch, set in small town Tennessee. It’s worth noting that this departure, both from sunny Malibu and the more familiar notes of the Marvel Cinematic symphony, serves as sanctuary for Iron Man 3‘s strongest element, the Tony Stark story. In a slightly schizophrenic plot, this core hero’s journey returns Tony to his roots, perhaps for the first time. ‘Returns’ likely isn’t the best term. On a crass and painfully obtuse level, it’s his deconstruction. Bald as the metaphor is, it’s a real opportunity for Black and Downey both to dig in to Tony the builder. As the proud son of a mechanic, I genuinely appreciated the choice to celebrate the humble virtues of a tinkerer, the very foundation, the very knack of Tony’s character. Not every inventor boasts genius, and though it pushes him to great heights it’s not genius at the heart of Iron Man’s powers. It’s his drive, his often obsessive compulsion to fix things.

Many will likely balk at the extended absence of Iron Man in an Iron Man movie, but to do so is to miss any number of points. For one, the movie’s thesis that Tony is Iron Man. Another, that the final act ripples with a convulsive release of Iron Men, and that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, the outpouring all the more rapturous.

Iron Man 3 presents the best Tony moments since the first film in addition to the bling and gadgetry. While the gluttony and excess of Tony’s endless array of armor types could hardly be topped, there’s also a case to be made for the original Iron Man as the best showcase for those two pieces of armor, lavished with singular focus.

But there’s an extended cast to think about too.

While Paltrow’s consistently impressive turn as Pepper Potts has long since demanded the introduction of her Rescue armor, she’s still woefully bound along railroad tracks from time to time. She somehow overcomes it once again with some refreshing agency, ultimately coming out of the trilogy with flare, gracefully transcending the love interest role in favor of something with greater dimension.

For his part, Favreau’s Happy Hogan steps in for the dearly departed Phil Coulson to provide more comedic relief and a touching level of dignity.

Poor Don Cheadle.

As for the new additions, young Harley makes for a wonderful foil during Tony’s breakdown and exile in Tennessee, the perfect balance of wide-eyed innocence, precociousness, and cunning. With lesser abilities and charisma, we could’ve been looking at a mound of yellow snow. Instead, Ty Simpkins engages both Tony and Downey in a way that totally activated the film.

Just as Dr. Maya Hansen struggles to reassert herself in Tony’s life, Rebecca Hall seems just as incongruous an addition to the ensemble. It’s a largely thankless role, routinely forgotten, ignored, shunted off to the side and casually dispatched, but Hall also sleepwalks through two holiday seasons here with the same torpor she offered The Town.

On the full-on mustache-twirling side,  we trade the benevolent, if increasingly cumbersome influence of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the fairly dull auspices of A.I.M. Guy Pearces’ Aldritch Killian dials it back from the spray-tan soppy Justin Hammer without returning, entirely, to the boring boardroom bluster of Obadiah Stane. He’s not the most colorful villain, though he livens up once he literally start spitting fire. The most compelling rivals for Tony are almost certainly the Extremis lab rats like Brandt and, more prominently, James Badge Dale’s Savin, a thug who can’t help but steal his every scene. Dale imbues the throwaway character with the same electricity Fassbender bottled in his roles as…that guy in Jonah Hex. They’re such minor parts, but these guys simply won’t go gently into that good, ya know.

As for the Extremis plot, the depiction of the process and power sets don’t seem proportionate with Black’s interest in exploring them. Nor should he be all that interested. Still, we’re left with a number of questions about how this stuff all works, especially in how it alters character and level of fighting ability. Seriously. How did she get that nimble, that expertly lethal, that fast. It’s an especially murky bit of plot afforded too much prominence given the thinking behind it.

As for the other giant rabbit in the room, the less said about Ben Kingsley’s role as the Mandarin in this spoiler-free review, the better. It’s a delightful turn, though the reveal is telegraphed far too early.

Iron Man 3 has much on its plate and its fork doesn’t always hover over the most nutritional morsels. It valiantly attempts to return the series to a kind of normalcy while coping with the unavoidable ramifications of The Avengers. If it doesn’t always succeed in terms of the world Tony inhabits or the threats he faces, at least the character’s struggle remains compelling as ever. Downey is tasked with portraying Gene Wilder pathos and panache, a sad clown both sad and clownish. He largely succeeds, anchoring this story of remote controlled armor and incendiary humans. The film fairs better when it knocks him down, boots him into the snow, tries its damnedest to keep him from the Who-hash and roast beast.

3 Stars

(Out of 5)

 

 


 

Comments

  1. this movie would have been so much better if the mandarin was the way he should be. what happened to him in the film almost ruined it for me and I;m not even an iron man comic reader. i feel bad for the fans who love the comics -,-

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      I entirely disagree. Just wish they hadn’t let the cat out of the bag earlier in the movie before the actual reveal.

      The Mandarin seems to be a major point of contention, but the choice had next to nothing to do with my personal enjoyment/lack of enjoyment.

    • Spoiler space
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      I’m confused when was the cat let out of the bag? Maybe my theater was loud or maybe i just wasn’t paying attention but until the scene with Downey and Kingsley in the same room i didn’t suspect a thing

    • The Mandarin stuff was excellent and very well exicuted. Wasn’t telegraphed too early at all, everyone in my theatre was totally surprised and it really worked.

    • @Roi: I don’t wanna speak for Paul, but I will say that I started piecing it together when he first arrived at Killian’s compound to film the threat with the oil tycoon. Not sure if that’s what Paul’s referring to, but I thought I’d offer my perspective.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      What WheelHands said. We talk about it more on the special edition podcast, but I thought they were rolling out that reveal in that scene, especially with the way Pearce spoke about the character. Did I expect the full extent of Trevor Slattery’s character? Not in the least. But I realized there that the Mandarin was a patsy. Then they stopped just short of saying that. Then came the execution scene, which had me second-guessing myself, but the way that played out I wasn’t really surprised when he came stumbling out of that bathroom.

    • Yeah, I had the same thought that something was up when he arrived and the no eye contact thing was mentioned. I was guessing it was going to turn out he was a special effect of some sort or that Killian himself was in some sort of disguise, but then… THAT happened. I thought that was the turning point for where the movie lost me, but lots of other reasons that Paul enumerated and I agree with.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Haha, like the movie S1m0ne? That’s pretty funny actually. I like it.

    • I guess that makes sense but really when the Mandarin showed up to film the scene with the oil tycoon all i thought was “Oh man he’s working with Killian.” My assumption about their relationship was probably heavily influenced by the relationship between Obidiah and the terrorists in the first movie because i had watched it hours before this one. Never had any thought other than the two of them are working together until Kingsley stumbled out of the bathroom.

    • yeah it appears I am the only one who that almost ruined the movie for….this is not a good start to the movie summer for me:(. the “real” villian was fine but they shouldnt have called him the mandarin. Im not usually a stickler for “by the comics” but this was such a big change that i am almost insulted by it. im gonna watch it one more time to see if i will enjoy it more.

  2. A friend of a friend said he was really mad about what they did to the Mandarin and i asked him what his favorite Mandarin story was. I wasn’t trying to prove a point i was genuinely asking because I’ve never read that much of the character and i was wondering if there was a story he would have rather seen on the big screen. He didn’t have an answer for me. I got home and texted my friend Brandon who is the biggest Iron Man fan i know and he said the only Mandarin story he likes at all is Enter the Mandarin by Joe Casey which is only like 5 years old.

    • But what is anyone’s favorite Obadiah Stone story or Whiplash story? Iron Man is more of an avenger with Avenger’s villains then he is a man with his own rogues gallery. That being said I appreciate the switcheroo and that they kept it covered up as well as the Batman Begins reveal, but In this particular case I had expectations for the character and when those were knocked out from under me I didn’t appreciate the curveball I resented it.

  3. Out of curiosity Paul, what did you give the previous two films? I think 3/5 is a little low, espeailly considering how mediocre Marvel films were before The Avengers.

    • I think the score of this review is an indication of how spoiled we are in the Comics community. A movie like Iron Man 3 would have scored much higher had it been released a decade ago. Now that Comics movie events are normal to the point of “expected” we want perfection. I personally thought it was great and love every moment RDJ and Paltrow are on screen together.
      ***Possible Spoilers***
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      I also think I’m not as clever as some of the others because I didn’t suspect the Mandarin was a patsy until the home incursion by Tony when he used all of his Home Depot gadgets to whoop some body guard asses. I didn’t notice anything before then where the movie showed its cards early. I’ll be seeing it again tomorrow with my nephew/niece after FCBD festivities so maybe I’ll notice something now.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      I don’t think I reviewed the other two, but I suppose it’d be a 4 or 4.5 for Iron Man and a 2 for Iron Man 2? There were many things in this movie I loved and several things that bothered me. I enjoyed it quite a bit and look forward to seeing it again with my dad on Sunday and then picking up the blu-ray in a few months time. This review reflects my honest, objective critique though. I’d give it a 3.5 for tilt, but that just doesn’t seem accurate.

    • Fair, enough you’re entitled to your opinion (unless you thought the second film was better, then you wouldn’t be entitled to anything :P).
      I’d give it a 4/5 as summer blockbuster/superhero film.
      I think i would give the first one a 3/5, it might be higher if it had a better third act, an area the sequel also failed and the third film excelled in my opinion.

  4. Paul. I enjoyed your review, but I would go 4/5. It was story-heavy (which I love), and still had a lot of action (which wasn’t overdone). A good balance

  5. One other thing. Not a spoiler because of the trailers. Airplane scene will probably be one of the most under-rated scenes mentioned by people, but such a great metaphor of action and character development of the entire movie

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    Was I the only one that was hoping the kid that had his dad walk out on him would turn up in the end sequence as a young Star Lord or Nova?

  7. Can’t wait to go see it this weekend. From the review, it sounds like they’re still trying to figure out how to do shared universe yet still stand-alone stories. They pulled it off with the Avengers, but that was weaving strands together. This film the first to unweave a strand back out.

    • As a stand-alone story I thought this was great, I think people are complaining because it’s NOT a shared universe story, apart from a few nods.
      Which I think it just what we need, bogging down the stand-alone films in continuity and lots of characters is not a good thing, they should just tell a good story and be entertaining, which this was.

    • What kzap said. Only Avenger 2 can attempt to top Avengers… so what needs to be done, and done well w/ IM3, was to take the individual films and take a step back away from Avengers. Whoever’s (Kevin Feige?) orchestrating all this is on point for sure.

  8. the movie was fine but it is kind of fucked up to show a character from comics and have its fanbase ready to see this character in action and just make it an actor. it was a successful ruse , and i can appreciate that but come on, you wouldnt have a batman movie with the joker just be an actor. its bullshit and it ruined the movie for me.

  9. Was it ever explained why he was called the Mandarin? I can’t remember if ever it was…

  10. I feel a lot of people aren’t giving this movie enough credit for what it has to be. The greatest strength of the marvel studios movies is the shared universe. But this is also a great weakness in that we have to maintain believablity of the scale of the problems and the fact that time passes in the real world and we don’t get 50+ years of revisits. I think any changes to characters were made with the idea that this is a movie universe where gods, giant alien armadas and other fantastical things occur and if we are to believe that we need team to confront these issues we have to settle for less on the individual level. This is part of the reason I don’t care for the justice league because unless its darkseid or a giant alien armada coming to level the plant I don’t see why any one hero can’t take care of the villain like they did X years ago.

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man 3. I’d give it a 4/5 stars.
    *****SLIGHT SPOILER************
    My girlfriend got extremely excited to see Pepper kick butt at the end.

    • The crowd in my theater cheered and i heard some kid yell “Pepper!” at the top of his lungs. He was very excited. Such a great moment.

    • SPOILER HERE
      don’t read me… I spoil.
      Spoiling in 3…2…1…

      I turned to my friend and said “I wish Pepper could keep her new powers… and become a member of the Avengers!”

  12. I was hoping we’d get an iRonman iFanboy banner out of the hoopla.

  13. Wow what a disappointment of a movie.
    I really didn’t appreciate making Mandarin into ” I’m just the beard” joke from Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose.
    Marvel comics is stepped with history of the Mandarin as a villain against Iron Man many times.
    I’m sure all the fancy gadgets and funny one liners from Tony will amuse new comers to this film franchise.

  14. spoiler
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    …….
    The Mandarin struck me as somewhat reminiscent of the Batman Begins turn with Ras Al Ghul, and I actually didn’t mind it once I started accepting Guy Pearce as the “real” Mandarin instead of Ben Kingsley. It was an odd turn but really, I can’t say I’m that bothered by it.

    Great review, Paul

  15. My biggest problem with this film was the assault of jokes, gags, one liners, and physical comedy. I want Tony to be humorous in his wit and charm but this had moments that were meant to be sincere that were ruined by one off jokes. Even the intense final battle had gags and It just took me out of the moment.

    • Meanwhile, PRIOR To IM3 when all anyone had to go off of was the teaser and trailer… people were b*tchin about it ‘looking too dark’ and “Why do all hero movies have to be dark wah wah wah… what other stupid s*** can I assume and complain about before seeing the actual movie? now wheres my bottle to suck on?”

      Ah. Sorry for that mini-rant. Not directed at you… .just, after seeing IM3, I really hope all those jerks deriding it for being ‘too dark’ before seeing it realize they are flaming morons.

  16. ***
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    I see the Batman Begins parallels. Also reminds me a bit of the end of BBC’s Sherlock Season 2. Another variation on the theme.

  17. The Iron Man movies have kind of mirrored themselves after The Dark Knight Trilogy except from different angles & with a more humorous & lighthearted atmosphere. Iron Man 3 for instance (SPOILER) The Mandarin shoots Tony’s house down & pretty much leaves Tony out in the open without his technology to fight with. Now thats not exactly The Dark Knight Rises verbatim, but in essence it is a very similar story of a villain having the huge upper hand half way through the film & then the hero is left extremely vulnerable (albeit Bruce a lot more so than Tony) to collect himself & fight back against his foe. So with the description Paul left with it being “The Deconstruction Of Tony Stark,” I immediately thought of the Deconstruction of Bruce Wayne as well with TDKR. Now with the Mandarin angle, although it could’ve been played out differently like having him be more of a Bin Laden figure like the 1st Iron Man kind of set him up to be, but really they did that super terrorist angle already with TDK & TDKR. So if Shane Black were to have gone on to doing The Mandarin that way, it would be too reminiscent of TDKR with Bane being an already established super terrorist. Now I also believe that there is much more to be seen with the Mandarin as they did end the film quite openly I might add, perhaps Ben Kingsley actually is the Mandarin & only did all that as an act to rise up once again in the future like Iron Man 4 perhaps, now THAT would blow people’s minds.

  18. I would certainly give this film a positive review. What it does, it does well. The plot is tight, the dialogue is sharp. I think “Iron Man 3” will entertain a lot of people, and be a financial success, which is a good thing, because it maintains the viability of the Iron Man franchise. Tony Stark’s cinematic incarnation will live to fight another day, hopefully in a movie that I like better. Here are developments that I would like to see in future Iron Man films: I hope Tony and Pepper break up. I prefer Tony as a billionaire, playboy womanizer with Pepper looking on with irony and a little sexual tension. For this to happen, Tony and Pepper need to be recast. Robert Downey always looked old for the role, and now he looks past the age where a man would “settle down.” Taylor Kitsch would be a sexy actor who looks the role. A single Tony would open the door for the introduction of characters like Madame Masque and Bethany Cabe. I would love to see Madame Masque and her dad, Count Nefaria, as the villains in the next Iron Man film. I would also like to see more character development, which “Iron Man 3” lacks. PTSD, panic attacks, could happen to anyone. They don’t expand the character of Tony Stark. A relationship with an emotionally and physically scarred Whitney Frost would lead to an examination of Tony’s psyche. Why would he be attracted to her? I would also introduce a Mandarin closer to the comics version, in some later film, when the current film version is no longer fresh in the audience’s memories.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Luckily none of this will happen.

    • Won’t happen unless Invasionforce is actually like, JJ Abrams or somebody. After I write this I’ll just click to see what his real name is on his profile page.

    • There goes the next Joel Silver.

    • Paul Montgomery said, “Luckily none of this will happen.”

      Why not? All of my suggestions are canonical. As far as I know, Tony and Pepper only did the nasty once, during Matt Fraction’s run, and when Tony was literally losing his mind. Fraction’s issue where Tony meets up with Madame Masque is really quite poignant, and could be adapted into a powerful scene in a film. The Tony Stark-Madame Masque relationship is Beauty and the Beast with the woman as the beast.

      As for Robert Downey, c’mon! The guy did no shirtless scenes in this film for a reason. You could see, even under his clothes, that Downey has developed a little paunch. Time to recast with a younger, sexier actor. That’s the tragedy of being a performing artist. The careers of actors, dancers, singers decline as they age. Downey made $50 million off of “Avengers.” Now he is financially secure and can go make the kind of “small” films that he says he’s interested in doing. Maybe he can do some Henry James or Jane Austen adaptations.

    • Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      The film franchise has its own canon. It’s not beholden to the plot points you’re suggesting. Subjectively, I’m not hugely interested in the Michael Bay refurb you seem to be requesting. I understand the appeal on a totally backwards movie exec perspective, but not from a creative one.

    • Taylor Kitsch? I think you’re letting your desires overtake your logic.

  19. Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    I rather enjoyed the film and my wife liked it even more than me. However, I couldn’t help wonder as I watched it where S.H.I.E.L.D. was. The president has been kidnapped, a terrorist is on the loose, and only Tony Stark can save the day? Maria Hill was too busy to help out?

    Of course, I get it. It’s an Iron Man movie and I need to turn off my brain to that type of continuity. It wouldn’t do for Tony to be upstaged in his own solo story. That makes sense. But there were so many references to The Avengers and Thor that I couldn’t not remember that they also exist in this universe.

    That said, I really enjoyed it. A few too many “Jump into and out of the Iron Man armor in mid-air” sequences for me, but enjoyable none-the-less.

  20. Great review Paul!

    I’ll be discussing it more in the ‘spoiler’ section on the site but I agree with everything you said. Honestly I just think the magic that was in Iron Man (and the fun that was Iron Man 2) is completely gone. This felt like a factory churned film with virtually nothing remarkable to remember. I want to see Downey Jr. in Avengers 2 because I wanna see the original cast one more time teaming up. But after that, let’s just end this series for good. This film ended nicely for Stark so why bother continuing?

    (Psst….They’re gonna continue for money)

  21. I don’t want to be a big downer, so: I guess it was slightly better than Green Lantern. I guess.

  22. Mrs Vinylhed and I took ourselves to see Iron Man 3 this morning, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked that we saw more of Tony Stark out of the armour. I’ve never read an Iron Man story with the Mandarin, but I loved Sir Ben Kingsley’s turn. Compared to Iron Man 2 this was Citizen Kane, although it was about 20 mins too long.

    What interested me most was the Chinese influence. I understand that China had a substantially different cut of the film, and you could see all the Chinese actors who would have had larger roles. I wonder if the Chinese scenes might find their way onto the DVD release? I doubt it.

  23. What I find interesting is… no one mentions the connection back to IM1? Or am I just stating the way-too-obvious?

    Stark’s kidnappers in IM1 = ‘The 10 Rings’, and one of the captors or fellow victims mentions the Mandarin as well(?)
    At least that’s what I remember… I know for SURE they mention ’10 Rings’ in IM1 at least.

    So, you get to IM3 and you find out that The Mandarin is…. and that 10 Rings are….. so think about it. Who really helped create Iron Man? Who, as a result, was actually responsible for their own downfall? I think that’s a pretty good ‘full circle’.

  24. The whole “I knew it the whole time” reaction to the Mandarin reminds me of the “Sixth Sense” when nearly EVERYONE wanted to point out that they had seen the twist the whole time. Hindsight is 20/20 for a reason. I’m sure there were hunches, guesses, suspicions, etc but the film did a great job not tipping their hand too early. I was looking forward to a battle where it is magic vs tech, but since we kinda saw that in Avengers already I was ok not having to watch Sir Ben Kingsley’s stunt double go mano y mano.

    Knowing that Extremis was going to be the big powerful bad-guy creator dampened my enthusiasm a little but I guess not seeing The Blizzard, Boomerang, or Titanium Man was good. Shellhead’s rogues gallery is a little anemic so finding a good matchup is tough.

    Out of the three films this ranks 3rd on my list. I would have preferred to watch Tony’s journey go back toward a “Demon in a bottle” type story-line or even better a complete crash similar to when he lost the company and the suit and Rhodes had to take over for him. I like the fact that he does feel outclassed after fighting alongside legends, gods, and monsters against aliens and nearly dies during the experience, but his journey to discover his inner-hero and then have him destroy all the suits, remove the arc reactor, and be the richest smart guy again was a disappointing way to end the film. Obviously Robert Downey Jr. can’t be Tony Start for another 40 years but watching his possible obituary made me leave the theater feeling cheated.

    RDJ will be in Avengers 2 because he is a great lead even if it is an ensemble piece. I know they are going to milk the life out of the concept and make more Iron Man films, but as long as he does the next Avengers it should be all good….when they jump to A3 and beyond he can do little parts after the trailers and tease everybody.

  25. Hated it (in David Allen Grier & Damon Wayons voice). No I actually enjoyed it for the most part and this article points out my main gripe with it and that was letting the cat out of the bag on Mandarin so soon without even making it hard to figure out but a blatant in your face prank. Guy Pearce was more interesting on the flip side then his role appeared from trailers but just think it would’ve been even better had he only used Mandarin’s name as a scare tactic/ scapegoat/decoy…whatever and Pearce truly be a whole other villain while still having Mandarin exist out there as the supernatural figure he is, imply his threat level, save it for another day and focus on Extremis and Guy Pearce. Outside of that, like you said RDJ playing the proud son of a mechanic/engineer/inventor and showcasing that ultimately Tony is IronMan, he makes the suit, the suit doesn’t make him. This was a well executed portrayal of a character study on the tinkerer, innovator character of Tony Stark mixed with some sweet action sequences and treats like a Hulkbuster suit, nods and obvious repercussions from the Avengers New York battle being a main factor in his character study at this point in time. All good stuff on Tony’s side, not enough on Extremis, or zeroed in armor sequences, but Pepper got to shine so I’d go with 3 &1/2 outta 5. The last line says everything full,circle from the end of the 1st movie but with a much deeper and broader meaning, it just didn’t feel that way when it was the end of the movie.