I'm not sure if I should call Iron Man 3 the third movie in a trilogy, or the fourth movie in a series, since the character's arc in this film had a lot to do with the events from The Avengers. Either way, this was in my opinion the best film in the trilogy, but fell just a bit short of the dizzying heights of Avengers greatness.
Three of my main issues with the first film were addressed in this one. We still got a great performance from Robert Downey Jr., but I wasn't worried about that. Still, I think this was a much more grounded turn for him, less snark and more real acting. Tony has never been so sympathetic, and well, human. The problems with the franchise have never been the main character. They always had more to do with the supporting characters and villains.
Don Cheadle finally got a chance to shine as Rhodes. In fact he finally felt more like an ally for Tony than just a joke springboard. Rhodes's suit is re-named the Iron Patriot (previously War Machine) and played a much bigger and better role in this one. Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), so frequently shoved into the background, was not quite front and center in this film, but close. She also got quite a bit more to do, which is a nice change of pace for this series. I really liked what they did with her, but for spoiler reasons I won't go into details. Special mention for Paul Bettany who plays Tony's A.I., Jarvis. He did a really great job in this one like always, and he isn't mentioned very often.
Then come the villains. In Iron Man 2, the villains were great, but were rendered modernly shallow because the plot was far too dense. All the S.H.I.E.L.D. set up overshadowed Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell's performance's, which was a shame because they were both really interesting villains. Here we have Guy Pierce (Aldrich Killian), who's this smarmy corporate scientist who's trying to rope Pepper into investing in his think tank, and he also tries to make a play for her romantically.
Then, of course, there is the Mandarin. The Mandarin is Iron Man's greatest foe (arguably), and also an incredibly complicated villain to work into a story about technology (since he uses magic in the comic books). He is the leader of the ten rings (which is the same terrorist group from the first Iron Man), and has some really amazing powers. Again I won't go into details, but the Mandarin and his super powered henchmen are really fascinating. They create a very different villain that doesn't need to wear armor to fight Tony.
Ben Kingsley did a really excellent job adding dimension to his character, and I was genuinely surprised by the directions they took him. I attribute a lot of this to Shane Black, who took over directing and writing duties from Jon Favreau. In a lot of ways, this movie reminded me of his other work (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon), with large sections of the film taking place with just Tony, or with a singular companion.
The scenes with Rhodes in particular had a very buddy cop feel, which was unexpectedly welcome. The banter crackled with wit and Tony Stark's familiar insulting edge. I can't say enough how much I liked pretty much all the characters in this one. Perhaps the only character I really wished they would've paid more attention to is Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who felt a little underdeveloped as both a secondary love interest for Tony, and as the character at the heart of the plot.
All in all I thought this was a very good installment of the Iron Man franchise. Does it stand up with some of the best in the genre? Well not quite, but it was damn good movie in my opinion.
3 1/2 out of 4 Alternate Iron Man suits.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.