Road to Infinity: ‘Iron Man 3’ (2013) Review

Film #7 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man 3

“The end is near.” Avengers: Infinity War is set to hit theaters at the end of the month. Each weekday FilmExodus will be spotlighting a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the buildup to Infinity War. Don’t expect a Stan Lee cameo though. This is… The Road to Infinity.

The post-Avengers landscape had an impact in the both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and our universe. For us, the idea of a cinematic universe became a must-have for a studio and within the next three years there was everything from a DC Extended Universe to a Sony Spider-Man Universe to a Transformers Universe to the Dark Universe. Frankly, it got a bit much. However, inside the MCU the impact was much more profound. The Battle of New York became their 9/11.

No one was affected more than Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). He was still a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist of ole, but he was now suffering from PTSD brought on by his brief heroic sacrifice at the end of Marvel’s The Avengers. The audience was able to see a side of Stark that was new. In many ways, Iron Man 3 is the end of the old Tony Stark and the beginning of the Stark we see throughout Phase 2 & 3.

Set about six months after The Avengers, Iron Man 3 picks up around Christmas —because it would not be a Shane Black film if it was not set at Christmas— with Stark suffering from panic attacks due to the Battle of New York. This causes him to become an obsessive tinkerer, building numerous different Iron Man suits, which inadvertently causes friction with his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). However, numerous bombings have taken place across the United States tying back to the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), leader of the Ten Rings terrorist group from Iron Man.

Basically, to make a long story short, Stark calls out the Mandarin, has his Malibu home destroyed, is presumed dead, and ends up in a rural Tennessee town with his Iron Man suit out of commission. There he meets Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young boy, who sort of becomes Stark’s new sidekick. The back-and-forth banter between Harley and Stark is a highlight in the film. I know not everyone was keen to see this kid so much in the movie, but there was a nice pseudo father/son bond between the two.

Meanwhile, remember that flashback to 1999 with a pre-Iron Man Stark and Yinsen (!)? Well, good, because the guy Stark stood up, a Mr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), just became relevant again. Killian is the founder of Advanced Idea Mechanics (or A.I.M.) and the creator of the Extremis formula with Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). They work under Kingsley’s Manda–ah, screw it! You have all seen the movie. The Mandarin is a front. Ben Kingsley is just Trevor Slattery, an actor. Killian is technically the real Mandarin, but let us not divulge too much into that.

The Mandarin Reveal is one of Marvel Studios‘ more ballsier moves. Fans had been waiting for the Mandarin, arguably Iron Man’s most famous villain, to appear on the big screen ever since Iron Man, so for the character’s initial badass portrayal to be dismissed as acting, it was essentially pulling the rug out from under the audience. I think it was a smart decision. Sure, Kingsley would have made a great Mandarin, but the reveal added a whole new level to the film. It made Iron Man 3 a much more personal story for Stark. The bombings, the killings, everything the Mandarin had taken responsibility for could be traced back to Stark’s actions the night of 1999.

Alright, diverging just slightly to talk further about the Mandarin hoax and Tony Stark infiltrating the Mandarin’s Miami mansion. That whole scene is probably my favorite part of Iron Man 3. First, the Mandarin line, “You know who I am. You don’t know where I am. And you’ll never see me coming,” is one of my favorite quotes from a film. I used to say that quote about once a week, delivering it exactly as to how Kingsley said it. As for the Miami mansion break-in, it showed why Tony Stark is the second smartest individual in the MCU (you got him there Shuri). He took everyday items you could find at your local convenience store and turned them into a set of badass weapons. Also, even when he is caught, his escape is one of the best parts. The 5-4-3-2-1 countdown before his suit arrives piece by piece is awesome; the “honestly, I hate working here… they are so weird” line is hilarious; and, really, anything involving the Miami mansion is just pure gold.

The Miami mansion scene also reunites Stark with Rhodey (Don Cheadle) kicking off a Lethal Weapon inspired vibe for the remainder of the film. Stark easily falls into the wild and loose Mel Gibson role while Rhodey takes on the more serious, and professional Danny Glover role. It is really a shame that Cheadle is not given much to do in Iron Man 3, and I remember thinking that this could be the last time we see Rhodes and how he goes out is lackluster. Of course, Cheadle has since gone on to reprise Rhodes/War Machine in multiple Phase 2 & 3 films, but at the time I wanted to scream, “Why can’t Rhodes hop in an Iron Legion suit, Stark! MK43 fit Pepper!”

Ah, the Iron Legion. This huge ensemble of self-propelled suits proves the only real plot hole in the whole film. Stark has no reason to be bummed that MK43 is out of order when he could call upon numerous suits. However, it is a minor issue when the payoff is seeing Stark activate and operate various suits to defeat Killian and the Extremis soldiers. There is also that bit with Pepper being injected with Extremis and totally finishing off Killian, but this movie has so much going for it that I cannot talk about it all.

Iron Man 3 gets a lot of flack for ending with Tony Stark, sans arc reactor, seemingly giving up the Iron Man identity remarking that he is Iron Man even without the suit; however, then showing up in Avengers: Age of Ultron suited up. I think that Stark’s closing lines in Iron Man 3 hold more meaning then some give them credit for. Iron Man 3 closes the chapter on Stark’s evolution into a man worthy of operating an Iron Man suit. When Stark first became Iron Man, he was still a genius playboy that had only just had his eyes opened to the world he helped create via Stark Industries. By the end of Iron Man 3, Stark has developed into a character with the intentions of the world on his mind. He is far less self-centered, he is looking for the betterment of society, and he is in a better place, overall.

Anyone can operate an Iron Man suit, this film makes that abundantly clear. However, not everyone has the character worthy of operating one. The Tony Stark we see in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming has learned from his past mistakes and realized that he can do just as much good as Tony Stark than as Iron Man. Iron Man 3 closes the chapter on the origin story of Tony Stark, a man who, like his suits, is able to adapt and evolve over different updates. The Tony Stark seen in the 1999 flashback would not have had the balls to fight Thanos in Infinity War. The Tony Stark seen at the end of Iron Man 3 through to Spider-Man: Homecoming sure as hell can though.

Tony Stark is not just Iron Man. Tony Stark is Tony Stark. Iron Man 3 just had to show us that.