After the events in New York a year previously, Tony Stark isn't the same man. He's isolated himself, holing himself away in his lab with Jarvis, building a variety of Iron Man suit variations, and suffers from anxiety attacks whenever he thinks back to New York. But he needs to pull himself together when two problems rear their ugly heads. Firstly, The Mandarin, an international terrorist, has been taking over the airwaves and promising a series of attacks on America and the President. Secondly, Aldrich Killian, a scientist who Stark spurned years previously, has re-emerged touting his new regenerative therapy called Extremis. However, Pepper Potts fears Extremis could be weaponised, and her fears are confirmed when a series of super-fighters begin making Tony's life a living hell...
Welcome to Phase Two. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has entered its second stage. Phase One was all about leading up to the assembling of The Avengers, with Iron Man playing a key role; Iron Man 1 was ground breaking and was the first film made and released under Marvel's own production studio, establishing them as a cinematic force, and Iron Man 2 being the first film to begin the long lead up to The Avengers once and for all. Now, Marvel returns to its most successful franchise so far to kick-start the next phase and to wrap up the Iron Man trilogy. However, Shane Black has replaced Jon Favreau in the director's chair, but this is a new phase, it should be all about new beginnings, right? If Iron Man 3 is anything to go by, then yes, yes it is.
Iron Man 3 was always going to be a crucial film, because it's the first Marvel effort to follow the highly successful and universally acclaimed The Avengers, so it's of no surprise they've returned to their most successful franchise to start the post-Avengers phase, and I think they've gotten things right. The most praise-worthy aspect of Iron Man 3 is that it's grounded in what reality the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer. The events of The Avengers isn't something easily forgotten, and Iron Man 3 sees Tony Stark almost as a shell of his former self as he tries to deal with what happened. You get the feeling Phase 2 will, for the foreseeable future, be focused on the fallout and consequences of The Avengers (I can only presume Thor 2 will deal with much the same given the key roles of Thor and Loki in The Avengers). I like that they're considering how big an event The Avengers was, and how much it will affect the individual characters. Also, I'd like to praise the plot to Iron Man 3.
The main antagonists, The Mandarin and Aldrich Killian, work well together and combined give Tony Stark the biggest fight of his life so far. I really liked the plot twist (no spoilers), even though it's gathered some negative reactions. I appreciated how it made Iron Man 3 a reflection of modern day terrorism, and I think it makes this film one of my favourite films that Marvel has produced. However, it's not all sunshine and lollipops. The writing in Iron Man 3 is, unfortunately, awful. I like the plot structure and how things unfolded, but the execution of the events made the film extremely predictable right from the beginning. If they only could have worked a bit harder in masking its plot twists and revelations, I would have enjoyed it even more, instead of feeling triumphant that I guessed what was happening or going to happen about 30 minutes previously. That's another thing too, Iron Man 3 is long, because they cram a lot into this. Imagine how long it would have been if the Pepper Potts sex tape sub-plot was included? Or the Bullitt-esque car chase sequence? Or the other three antagonists that were to appear alongside the other two?!
All of this aside, the film's held together by its actors performances. Robert Downey Jr has perfected the suave, cool, cocky billionaire philanthropist, but here he also gets to show Stark's vulnerable side and does so with aplomb. It isn't just about watching a self-indulgent billionaire come good by building an awesome suit any more, it's about the human inside, as there's more on-screen time for Stark rather than Stark in the suit. Pepper Potts comes into her own in this film as well, as she's given a more pivotal role than previously, and Gwyneth Paltrow steps up. At first, she seems she may be lost in a bigger role, but by the end, she owns the role and maybe even the film. Guy Pierce is fantastic as Aldrich Killian, a real world villain without the over the top eccentricities of many previous superhero film bad guys. Ben Kingsley also gives a good performance as The Mandarin, a role which carries with it a lot of expectation from die hard Iron Man fans given the mythic ethos surrounding the character, and Kingsley does exactly what he needs to do with the role.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man 3, I liked where they went with the characters and with the storyline, even it was highly predictable. I liked that Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan were given key roles in the film as well as Stark, and that the film felt more like a collaborative effort, rather than a focus on a single, larger than life character, even if it is someone as infinitely cool and likeable as Tony Stark. What I didn't like was the execution of the plot. It's all very predictable, as once you figure out one element of the story, it kind of leads you to figure the rest of the entire film, and while it's more thrilling than previous instalments, in no way is this ground breaking cinema. However, I am and always will be a superhero film fan, and if this is the beginning of what Marvel has lined up for Phase 2, I say bring on Thor 2 and Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy. I'll be there for all of them if they entertain me as much as Iron Man 3 did.