Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow
Colonel James Rhodes: Don Cheadle
Aldrich Killian: Guy Pearce
Maya Hansen: Rebecca Hall
Happy Hogan: Jon Favreau
Savin: James Badge Dale
The Mandarin: Ben Kingsley
Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures present a film directed by Shane Black. Written by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Don Heck and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Running time: 130 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content).
Despite the temperatures outside, it is finally summer blockbuster movie season again; and with the finest “Iron Man” movie yet out in theaters, everything somehow seems right again. Iron Man returns to solo work after his involvement in “The Avengers” movie last year, and it is once again easy to see why everyone seemed to want more of the Avengers; they make for such rich movie characters. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark serves as one of the most original superheroes the genre has ever seen. He’s a hero with a brain, not just a knack for blowing things up.
Picking up close on the heels of where “The Avengers” left off, we find a Tony Stark who is perhaps more disturbed than he has ever been before. Haunted by the events at the climax of “The Avengers”, where aliens invaded the planet via a wormhole located above Manhattan, Stark’s self-sacrificing gesture of flying a nuclear missile back through the wormhole and into a whole unknown universe has him shaken to the core. He barely sleeps anymore, has almost nothing to do with his company Stark Enterprises, which is run by his girlfriend Pepper Potts, with whom he also is having trouble communicating. He spends all his time tinkering with new Iron Man armor technologies in his basement lab.
Meanwhile, an Osama Bin Laden type of terrorist named The Mandarin has been dominating the news cycle with civilian bombings where no evidence of a bomb can be found in the aftermath. He appears on videotaped messages espousing anit-American sentiment and threatening the President of the United States directly. When Stark’s lifelong friend and former bodyguard Happy Hogan is caught in one of these blasts outside the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, it becomes personal. What do these bombings have to do with a nearly forgotten one night stand Stark had with a botanist named Maya Hansen? And how does a nerdy hero worshiper named Aldrich Killian and his technology developing conglomerate, A.I.M., fit into it?
The movie uses much of the “Extremis” storyline from the “Iron Man” comic book, which has been called one of the best “Iron Man” story arcs in the 50-year history of the character, elements of which were also used in the two previous films and “The Avengers”. It is this respect for the comic book history of the character that has helped to make this film series such a success. Director/co-writer Shane Black takes the reins from the first two films’ director Jon Favreau, who reprises his role as Happy again in this film. Black doesn’t miss a beat with the momentum here. Stark is more manic than ever, fueled by his genius and newfound anxiety, and the world around him reflects that.
Black’s story, with a screenplay co-written by David Pearce, has more to it than the downfall of a hero though. They insert elements that seem like action movie clichés as they begin to develop, but then move in directions that are completely original. As is the tradition with the third film in hero trilogies, Stark begins this movie on the verge of self-destruction, but instead of being broken down by having his life upended and his powers taken away, Stark finds new reserves of power in his mental prowess and resourcefulness.
The villain is not who or what he appears. This is not merely a twist, but rather an examination of celebrity, which has played a large role in the presentation of Tony Stark as an atypical superhero. It’s really an examination of power, however, which is something that is also examined through the use of Stark’s Iron Man armor technology. His armor is a mask for whoever is inside it, even though Stark himself has confessed from the start that he is Iron Man. Yet, in this film Stark himself is often not in the armor, in more ways than one might think. That anonymity provides a different kind of power than the celebrity. This is something the villain understands, but Stark must come to learn.
Black puts other conventions on their heads as well. He chooses to increase Pepper Potts’ role in a way I won’t discuss here, but also in a way that levels the gender dynamics that have been in play throughout most modern action films. For decades the woman has become a more powerful force in action movies as they have in our modern industry. Black uses Pepper as an example of this on both levels. Throughout the series she has taken on the modern business role for women, taking over as CEO of Stark Enterprises in the previous film, now she takes over another role from Stark, that of savior. Early on in the film she is nearly attacked by Stark’s latest Iron Man suit. Then in a spectacular sequence when Stark’s sea cliff mansion is being destroyed, that same armor protects her by encasing her in itself. She then becomes Tony’s protector wearing the armor. Later in the film this development evolves even further.