As the first post-Avengers Marvel film, Iron Man 3 feels a little peculiar. It’s a decent enough film, but it feels like a minor offering; if I feel like an Iron Man film in the future, I’ll probably watch the first one or The Avengers, and if I feel like a Shane Black film in which Robert Downey Jr. gets pushed around a lot, quips, teams up with a slightly mis-matched partner and is set during Christmas, I’ll watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 really isn’t a bad film. It’s a little light on spectacle but the script is witty, Downey Jr. is still as good as Stark as he always is and there’s enough going on to keep the audience occupied with some tricksy plotting and imaginative variations on how much armour Stark has at any one time, and how functional it is. Perhaps the story does wander around for a bit too long in the middle, with Stark disappearing into the wilderness to have Adventures with a smudge-faced moppet, but that whole section is cut through with darkly-comic moments and never feels as if it sags.
Sadly, none of this ever really amounts to much. There’s a looseness to the whole film, a sense that, while the individual scenes all play out superbly, they’re not cohesive enough to make the film great. The overwhelming impression is that there’s three short Iron Man films here, patched together as best as they could.
Iron Man 3‘s biggest weakness is that it tries to conclude Downey Jr.’s run as Tony Stark when The Avengers already did that, and more effectively. In that, Stark learned how to be part of a team and learned the value of self-sacrifice, putting himself in a place where he would die alone, not even his computer to hear his parting words and wit, for the good of others. This makes Iron Man 3‘s key theme of Stark feeling lost and dislocated a little incongruous. Where does he belong now, in this world of Gods, aliens, super-soldiers and rage monsters? Well…with the Avengers, I thought. Seemed like a solved problem to me.
The film ends on an upbeat note of sorts, but it’s one in which Stark has destroyed his stock of Iron Man suits and had the arc reactor removed from his chest; everything about the film points to the end of Stark-as-Iron Man and gets the audience used to the idea that the suits can not only function without Stark inside them, but can be used by anyone at all, with remote control, Pepper, Rhodes and Jarvis all taking a turn, even during the film’s major action sequences. Useful for future Marvel films, I guess, but left me feeling that there wasn’t enough actual Iron Man in this Iron Man film.
So, Iron Man 3 is no Iron Man, but then again, it’s no Iron Man 2 either. It’s fine. You don’t really need to see it, but you’ll probably enjoy it if you do. It’s Babylon 5 after the Shadow War. It’s Buffy after Graduation.
Maybe of more interest is reframing Stark’s “Where do I go from here?” question and asking the audience; where can the superhero film itself go after The Avengers? As the first post-Avengers Marvel film, Iron Man 3 needed to answer that and I’m not sure it did beyond a downcast ‘nowhere, really’. The film ends with Stark having made peace with himself, putting Iron Man aside. Perhaps we should follow his example.