Review: ‘Iron Man 3’ rewrites Marvel’s winning formula (but still wins)

iron man 3 review 03
I like to imagine that Disney and Marvel have a Scrooge McDuck-like vault somewhere, filled with crumpled-up dollar bills that execs and stars take the odd swim through. Maybe they bring the family and a picnic basket to make a day of it, lazing around on the shores of cash. Every once in a while the levels recede, like when $4 billion was taken out to buy Lucasfilm, but then a movie like Iron Man 3 is released and it’s back to frolicking.

Iron_Man_3_theatrical_posterThis is a ridiculous image, of course. The bills would be too difficult to swim through easily and the buoyancy would be a major issue. But it could happen, and it would be due in no small part to Marvel’s silly lucrative franchises that began with Iron Man in 2008. Fast forward five years, and once again Disney and Marvel are looking to Iron Man to make sure the cash will flow as the Phase Two of Marvel projects begins. That includes Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and culminates with The Avengers 2 in 2015.

That makes Iron Man 3 a crucial truss in the larger house of cards Marvel has been building. But surprisingly for a film with so much riding on its shoulders, Iron Man 3 shows that Marvel isn’t afraid to mess with the proven formula. It’s told with a zeal and a familiarity with the characters that can only be born of experience. Downey knows Tony Stark, and Iron Man 3 allows him to take a more introspective look at the character than we’ve seen in the past.


Historically, when huge budgets are on the line, studios and filmmakers want to stick with what works.  Details change, but the main core values remain the same. You don’t often see a director come in and take the characters down paths that significantly change them, but Iron Man 3 does just that.

The events of the past have begun to weigh on Tony Stark. In his own words he is a “man in a can” fighting aliens and gods, and that combined with his near-death experience has left him damaged and distant. His bravado and swagger are gone, even if his humor isn’t. When an attack by the terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) leaves Tony’s friend in the hospital, he vows to get revenge, unknowingly stepping into part of a bigger plot he is already involved in.

Fans of the Iron Man comic will recognize then name “Extremis.” The film very loosely adapts that storyline and combines it with Iron Man’s oldest enemy, the Mandarin. In the film, the Extremis project begins with inventor Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). His goal is to reactivate the healing qualities in the body and help to fix damaged bodies, going so far as to regrow limbs. It has side effects, however, and Tony finds himself battling superpowered enemies because of it (best exemplified by Rubicon and The Pacific’s James Badge Dale in a memorable performance).


The movie is far more about Tony Stark than Iron Man, and much of the combat takes places sans armor, forcing Tony to out think his opponents. It all leads to a CGI- and explosion-heavy finale, however, that will satisfy the action fans looking to see pretty things explode.

The film does have plenty of action, and director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) in only his second directorial outing acquits himself well in these. Black is known more for his character work though, and you can see that at play in Iron Man 3. Black and Downey prove once again that they work well together, and they cut right to the heart of the character. Stark is funny and brilliant, but his life is also fraught with problems. The film analyzes that, and at this point in the franchise it makes sense and works.

The rest of the cast compliments this approach. Paltrow as Pepper Potts is more of a plot point than a character, but she does well in her role. Pearce, however, shines as Killian, a dark reflection of Stark himself, and he embraces the role with glee. Cheadle does well with the surprisingly limited role he is given, and hopefully he will have earned himself a spot in the next Avengers film. Kingsley steals the show, and he and Downey play well off each other. The less said about his character the better.

Oddly, the trailers for Iron Man 3 are misleading. They make the film look dark – and it is a bit, but it also features some genuinely funny moments. The dialogue is crisp and well written, and often the humor is unique to the impossible and original situations the characters find themselves in.


If you pick apart the plot, you will find plenty of errors, including one that seemingly contradicts the larger story Marvel has been building. It is easy enough to overlook, but when creating this new universe, it’s hard not to wonder where the other heroes are throughout Tony’s troubles. Marvel went out of its way to make the point that this film is one piece of a bigger universe, so to exclude most references of it is bizarre. At least SHIELD should be represented, even if it is only as an explanation of why they aren’t there.


Iron Man 3 is better than the last Iron Man film, and on par with the original. It may even be better, but as a middle piece of a larger story arc, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s a much more introspective film than its predecessors, and it shows that Marvel knows what it is doing.

It would have been easy to succumb to the temptation of just making another film with the same formula, but even the modest change here feels refreshing. Marvel’s decision to let characters grow should serve it well across its franchises, preventing them from turning stale as they wear on through movie after movie.

Despite his good reputation, hiring Black was a huge gamble. It’s only his second film, and his previous film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was much smaller in every way. Black hasn’t even worked in Hollywood for eight years, but after this he should have his choice of jobs.

Hopefully this isn’t Downey’s last film as Tony Stark, now that his contract is up. If it is though, he will go out in style.


Print your heart’s desire: Enter our giveaway to win a free Monoprice 3D printer

We’re giving away a $400 Monoprice MP Voxel 3D Printer. It's easy to use, especially for beginners, with its simple menu system and touchscreen display. It comes fully assembled so you can spend more time printing instead of setting up.

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.
Movies & TV

A ‘Venom’ sequel is on its way, and Spider-Man could play a role

'Venom' screenwriter Jeff Pinker confirms that a follow-up to Sony's Spider-Man spin-off is in the works. Could a certain friendly neighborhood webslinger join the action? Pinker says that it's "not impossible."

Surf’s up: Enter to win a free Body Glove Dynamo stand-up paddleboard

We're giving one lucky reader the opportunity to score a Body Glove Dynamo inflatable stand-up paddleboard (a $999 value) totally free. This contest starts on December 11 with the winner to be announced on Digital Trends Live next week, so…
Movies & TV

'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' is one of the hero's best movies ever

One of Spider-Man's most memorable big-screen adventures, animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse simultaneously feels like nothing we've ever seen before and a tale that feels familiar in all the best ways.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Streaming services blast past networks for the most scripted TV shows in 2018

For the first time in history, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, produced more original scripted series than broadcast or cable channels, setting a new record for the number of TV shows on the air.
Movies & TV

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of ‘The X-Files’ with the show’s 10 best episodes

The X-Files premiered 25 years ago, so here are the 10 best episodes of the award-winning sci-fi series. From alien-abduction drama to hilarious satires, these are the best episodes from all 11 seasons of the hit series.
Movies & TV

Can't get enough lightsaber action? Here's how to get your Star Wars fix online

Few of us want to deal with DVDs or Blu-ray discs anymore. Unfortunately, the Star Wars movies are few and far between when it comes to streaming. If you want to watch Star Wars online, check out our guide on where to find the films online.

Psychedelic 'Spider-Man,' Superman goes evil, 'Star Trek: Discovery' trailer

This week on Between the Streams, we'll talk about the wondrous, psychedelic adventure that is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. We'll also discuss Dr. Strange 2, the freaky trailer for Brightburn (Superman goes evil?), and more.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in every genre for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Movies & TV

Do you have questions about Hulu? We’ve got answers

Not sure which Hulu subscription is right for you? We're here to help. This is your complete guide to Hulu and Hulu with Live TV, including content offerings for each service, pricing, internet requirements, and more.
Movies & TV

Why ruin a good thing? These are some of the worst movie sequels ever made

A sequel that doesn't compare to the original film isn't worth making, right? Unfortunately, this is Hollywood we're talking about. We've picked out 12 films which will go down as some of the worst follow-ups ever made.
Movies & TV

How VFX magic conjured the fantastic beasts of ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’

Visual effects studio Rodeo FX and VFX supervisor Arnaud Brisebois explain how the colorful creatures and amazing cityscapes were created for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.