Skip to main content

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.

Related Videos

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Paul Rudd and Peyton Reed will return for Marvel’s Ant-Man 3
marvel ant man 3 paul rudd peyton reed news cast release date

Paul Rudd will return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for yet another outing as Ant-Man, the shrinking (and growing) superhero, joined by series director Peyton Reed.
Rudd is expected to don the Ant-Man suit as Scott Lang for a third Ant-Man film, according to The Hollywood Reporter, making it the 5th movie in which he has portrayed the character.
Peyton Reed has also signed on to direct Ant-Man 3. Reed directed both Ant-Man in 2015 and its sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018. It's not clear if Evangeline Lily will return as The Wasp.
Rumors point to the film being shot at the end of 2020 or at the beginning of 2021 with a planned release date sometime in 2022; however, Marvel Studios has yet to make an official release announcement.
If you were on the internet this weekend you likely saw photos of Rudd out in costume with his daughter, was dressed as The Wasp from the films. Rudd was dressed ass Weird Al. The photo was actually from last year, but it still brought the fate of the franchise into the limelight.

Ant-Man made his last appearance in Avengers: Endgame earlier this year. That movie topped 2.79 billion at the global box office making it the highest-grossing movie of all time. The previous record-holder was James Cameron’s Avatar.
During San Diego Comic-Con in July, Marvel laid out its plans for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  That will officially kick off with Black Widow, a prequel starring Scarlett Johansson on May 1, 2020, followed by The Eternals on November 6, 2020, and then Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which is slated for February 12, 2021.
After that is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is expected to debut on May 7, 2021, and finally, the last upcoming Marvel film to get a release date is Thor: Love and Thunder which will hit theaters on November 5, 2021, just in time for the holidays. Neither of those movies has begun filming yet.
There are also several new Marvel shows on the horizon that will premiere on Disney+, including a live-action Hawkeye series starring Jeremy Renner, a Loki show featuring Tom Hiddleston, WandaVision featuring Scarlet Witch and Vision, and Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which reunites Anthony Mackie as the new Captain America and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, also known as the Winter Solider.

Read more
Gemini Man review: Stunning visuals can’t mask a weak story
gemini man review young will smith close up

On paper, Gemini Man is as close to a sure thing as Hollywood gets. It stars Will Smith in not one but two roles: An aging assassin and the assassin's young clone. It's directed by Ang Lee, who's won Best Director Oscars for both a visual effects extravaganza (Life of Pi) and an intimate character drama (Brokeback Mountain), and it's produced by blockbuster king Jerry Bruckheimer. To top it all off, it features next-level visual effects and a groundbreaking 120 frames-per-second picture that's unlike anything you've ever seen.

In all of those aspects, Gemini Man lives up to the hype. It's the film's script that simply isn't up to par. While the special effects and souped-up frame rate make Gemini Man a true spectacle, the film is plagued by poor dialogue, sloppy plotting, and thinly drawn supporting characters. Visually, it's a blast. In every other aspect, it's a missed opportunity.

Read more
Why Sony and Marvel sharing Spider-Man could be a win for everybody
spider man doesnt need the mcu tom holland as

Those cheers you just heard? That was the sound of millions of Spider-Man fans celebrating the news that Marvel Comics' beloved web-slinger is likely to get at least one more movie set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sony Pictures and Disney's Marvel Studios are reportedly near an agreement to team up for another film featuring Tom Holland as Spider-Man that will unfold in Marvel's interconnected movie-verse. The news arrives mere weeks after a highly publicized split between the studios that would have ripped Spider-Man out of the MCU -- his home since the franchise was rebooted and Holland took over the role -- for the foreseeable future.

Read more