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Review: Iron Man Three*

This review was originally posted in my column @ Towleroad

When last we saw Tony Stark he was eating shawarma in New York City with his fellow superheroes in the stinger of Marvel's The Avengers (reviewed). When we last saw Iron Man, minutes before that, he was plummeting from a cosmic wormhole to his near-death having just saved the world from an alien apocalypse. (S.H.I.E.L.D's workman's comp insurance must be pricey.) I mention Tony Stark and Iron Man separately because the franchise's new writer/director Shane Black, who previously worked with Robert Downey Jr on the underappreciated comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, seems more interested in Stark than Iron Man. This is a good sign, especially for a third picture. Time to flip this tin can around.

IRON MAN THREE takes great pains to make a distinction between the impenetrable suit and the man inside it. Tony Stark's first attempt to suit up is a comic misfire since he's engineered an Iron Man suit that comes right to him when he calls. He hasn't quite worked out the speed of his flying wardrobe -imagine a metal codpiece flying 60 mph right at your Andrew Christians. The second time we see Iron Man, if I'm remembering the sequence of events correctly, Tony Stark isn't in the suit at all. He's engaging in some prankster remote control business for girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, wonderful in this role but haters gonna hate). MORE AFTER THE JUMP

Stay alert! Dodge those sequel dangers

The film even opens with a flashback to Tony's pre-Iron Man days, further separating the man from his iron mask. Many years earlier Tony Stark dissed sycophant nerd scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and seduced genius botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) making breakthroughs in genetic healing and limb rejuvenation. Stark's actions will come with heavy consequences though we don't yet know how. Stark spells this out for us with the narrated warning that "we create our own demons." It's so emphatically stated that we assume that director and star are writing the theme down with a sharpie for us and underlining it three times. 

When Stark mentions his own demons he's not talking about the demon in a bottle. Stark's battle with alcoholism from the comic book has never transferred over to the movies. But at least they've painted Tony Stark as an addictive personality: women, toys, material possessions, adrenaline, and, uh, Pepper Potts. He can't get enough of any of them. His latest addiction is non-stop tinkering with his suit and building multiple variations of the same. There's now an Iron Man for every occasion like Stark is Batman and the suits are merely Utility Belt. The Suit may be better than ever but Stark is falling apart inside it. His near-death in The Avengers has shaken him. Thankfully the man inside the man inside the suit is fully engaged. After what felt like coasting in Iron Man 2 and a little phoning it in with The Avengers (when other stars were around to pick up the slack) Robert Downey Jr seems to have woken up again to the blessing that this role has been to his career. 

That's a good thing since he spends most of this third film outside the suit. The first of the film's two gargantuan action setpieces robs him of the armor multiple times and blows it up real good, too. At times IRON MAN 3 plays like an absurd superheroic parody of MacGyver as Tony Stark battles impossibly powerful enemies without his usual protective gear. But fear not, the suit will return, as cavalry, in the last positively insane battle sequence. It's arguably too insane -- what the hell is happening? -- but it undoubtedly already earned this series its third Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. Still and all, the film's repeated abuse of the Iron Man suit, brings us to the movie's true or at least most deftly handled theme: Identity.

In that opening prologue at the science convention while the movie is writing the "we create our own demons!" theme in bold sharpie, this other more playful theme is already in place. It's scrawled right there as a joke on Tony Stark's chest, also with a Sharpie, on his sticky name tag...

You Know Who I Am" 

"We create our own demons" gets heavy handed and awkward at times -- particularly in the first half as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins to threaten America for its past sins. But the theme of identity is always lighter, funnier, and more skillfully organic to the story. The heroes (Iron Man, his sidekick War Machine, and his girl Pepper) are all struggling to redefine or at least refine their roles. Pepper's stunned reaction to her own actions in the finale is one of the best laughs in movie theaters this year. The film even finds a neat way to sidestep the racist history of The Mandarin villain (an arch-enemy created in the 1960s comics) by letting Ben Kingsley run with this theme as only a skilled character actor could.

Ben Kingsley's as Iron Man's arch-nemesis from the comic books "The Mandarin"

Like most noisy visual extravaganzas, some details are already starting to fade but this is great popcorn fun. It's frequent twists and surprises and humor give it something like its own identity in the overly crowded superhero genre. I know what Iron Man 3 is: The best of the trilogy.


Grade: B+
*About the Title: "It's Iron Man Three... not 3. It's spelled out in the credits!" - purist geek
Oscar Chances: This should easily make it three-for-three with Visual FX nominations but given that it's so much better than the second film in the trilogy maybe it can compete for the Sound Editing nomination again like the first film?

Takeaway Question: Is this the first Marvel film to pass the Bechdel Test?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bechdel Test it's a simple and simply brilliant pass/fail test of a movie's sexism. All that's required to pass is to have an onscreen conversation between two women that is not about a man. You'd think this would be easy but so many films fail, either by not having more than one female character (half the human race, filmmakers! step up your game) or never putting them in scenes together that aren't reductively about men. About halfway through this picture Pepper (Gwynnie) and Maya (Rebecca)  speak to each other... ALONE. And though they're thrown together because they both have slept with Tony Stark he is only the beginning of the conversation. They actually talk about scientific ethics! Well done, Shane Black. You've passed the test.

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Reader Comments (23)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was in my top ten for the last decade, and while this isn't on the same level, it's a big step up for the series. Black was definitely the right call.

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I met Gwyneth Paltrow on set! The movie was filmed very close to where I go to school, and I was an extra. She was soooo sweet, which I was maybe a little surprised by given the persona the media has created for her. And no, she never once brought up organic eggs or DeGournay hand painted wallpaper. ;)

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I can't wait, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I really hope it doesn't outgross Titanic, though. Once was enough!

I didn't like this one at all, and I love the first two movies. It felt like Shane Black had no idea how to handle Iron Man and his world and had no respect for it. Sure, it was entertaining and funny but not a good story. And the super soldiers thing was beyond lame, IMO. It's also poorly paced and structured, and big plot points are resolved or not resolved like they didn't matter. I honestly felt a lack of respect for the fans.

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

You know it was great to see tony without the armor but what was up with the mandarin?? This role was hyped up forever and he turns out to be an actor??? Come on man you have to do better than that!!!!!!

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergene

James Badge Gale, guys!

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

Nat, out of curiosity, did you stay until the end of the credits to see the post-credits scene. It's not a necessary scene for the movie, but it is pretty funny (and has an appearance by a character I know you were a fan of (at least in that incarnation). By the way, I loved the twist with the Mandarin, mostly for how committed Ben Kingsley is to it (I haven't seen him have this much fun in a long time and I love it).

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

The worst movie of the year so far. Come on, the screenplay was soo bad and the villain a b-rated story.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel B.

Is anyone fed up with htis sort of film dominating,i enjoyed no 1 but no 2 was awful and this looks like more of the same although witha bit more time spent on the script,if i see one more plane falling out the sky or car blowing up i'm am gonna start eating my feet.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

Thor was the first Marvel movie to pass the Bechdel test, right? Jane (Natalaie Portman) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) talked multiple times over the course of that movie about things that weren't men.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

This movie is an interesting case, as we're seeing a lot of people who are angry about this movie due to feeling lied to. It's not the first time this has happened (Drive comes to mind), but it's definitely one of the higher profile cases.

People who have issues with the movie seem to come down to two things:
- The Manadarin: I've heard "they wasted a great character from the comics" and "the trailers/posters made him seem like he was a big deal and then he wasn't"
- "He spent too much time out of the armour".

Both complaints are about people having expectations of what the movie owed them and then the movie not delivering. Is that fair? I'm not sure, but I find it fascinating.

Personally, I'm a huge comics fan (even have a comics podcast) and I loved the movie. But this is something that is definitely worth exploring.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

Alice -- ah, right. okay. Thor wins.

Owen -- i guess i can see that but then that points to the whole problem the cinema is having. If audiences only want one thing things will only get worse and worse. I loved that this Iron Man picture was about Tony Stark, not Iron Man.

Mark -- this is MILES better than Iron Man 2

Richter -- I did. and enjoyed it. but i imagine some fanboys will not since they're so into those stingers being about OOOH, THE NEXT MOVIE! teases.

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I forget the particulars of the Bechdel test, or whether Bechdel ever clearly outlined the rules on this particular issue, but I'm not sure how legit Thor's passage of the test is because I think all of the conversations Jane and Darcy have are about either Thor himself or otherwise they are scientific conversations that are actually conversations between Jane and Eric, with Darcy basically throwing in her two cents in comic relief. Does the conversation really count if it's two women and a man?

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

owen -- where is your comics podcast?

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Had a lot of fun with this, but then, that's par for the course with the Iron Man films (I even had fun with #2, even though it was a pretty marked dip in overall quality), mostly due to RDJ's perfectly pitched take on Tony Stark. I LOVED that he spent so much time out of the suit in this one, and his scenes with the kid were some of the best of the series (they were certainly the funniest). Loved that Rebecca Hall and James Badge Dale were in this, and thought Ben Kingsley was an absolute riot. I'm not sure if it's better than the first Iron Man, but it's certainly at least on that level. B+ seems just about right.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Bechdel test:
1 It has to have at least two women in it,
2 who talk to each other,
3 about something besides a man.

This does not mean the movie is bad when this is not applied or even able to be applied if there are no women characters or just one female character. To me it just highlights if when given the chance do certain screenwriters write women well, namely not have them be defined by men. Not everybody sees it that way and decides to over-states the importance of the test to whether a movie is good or not and wave it around like it is a fatal flaw.

My issue with people who use the Bechdel test in that way happened with how so many female bloggers were disappointed that Joss Whedon's The Avengers didn't pass despite the fact his writing and conception of Black Widow was one of the most fully-realized aspects of the movie. Whedon was working with a sausage fest, it was kind of amazing that even in their separate, brief moments Pepper Potts and Maria Hill came off pretty good as well.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

At least the eyewear was as cool as it was in Iron Man 2...especially the initium London Calling

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteramy

Nathaniel: I agree. I think it's a real shame when people don't get what they want/expect and to them it immediately equals bad.

And thanks for asking about my comics podcast! It's called Panel Culture, and is downloadable on iTunes or streamable at http://panelculture.podbean.com/.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

Owen -- i'm testing it out now. You have a good radio voice!

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Thanks so much for checking it out! That means a lot, I've been reading your site for close to ten years now!

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

The movie starts in 1999,opening on tony stark being an ass, so basically same old, same old. You then return to the present, where the antagonist is shown immediately, as the story progresses you see people who are super strong exploding, and pepper being a total bitch. During an explosion Starks old body guard is hurt, thus resulting in stark uncharacteristically flipping out, but i can accept this odd reaction because the movie expresses his stress from new york, also uncharacteristic. The real problems occur deeper in the movie when stark, after foolishly announcing his address on tv and threatening an extremely dangerous terrorist, is taken off guard by a missile headed to his house. This is a ridiculous idea, stark who is a super genius never considered fortifying his house? the missile litterally just hit his house, thats it, there was no alarm or warning. This man is focused on protecting pepper and is extremely paranoid, dont you think that he would have some kind of radar for inbound weapons? some form of alert? After the house is hit, thats it, its a goner, there were no advanced defense systems, nothing. This is literally the key point in the movie, its used to render stark without any suits. If that isnt enough, when stark is blown back from the initial hit of the missile he throughs hes brand new prototype suit on pepper, but this doesnt make sense because at the end of t5he movie starks black friend, whos name escapes my memory, asks for a suit but stark replies "no they are only fitted to me" (this is likely not a precises quote but it is used to show that stark must battle on his own). So, a brand new prototype that stark just built magically fits pepper? and this contradicts the prior movie when starks black friend could put on an iron man suit and stop drunk stark. Once pepper is safe stark is able to retrieve the suit and fight off the bad guys. After successfully beating the bad guys stark decides its nap time, he falls asleep and wakes up flying over Tennessee with only five percent power left in the suit. he crashes and is able to drag the suit to a nearby town where he finds a shed that conveniently has everything he needs to fix the suit, he also meets a little boy who threatens him (implying that he doesnt know who he is). the boy backs down after stark moves to reveal the iron man suit.) They had som small talk and then starks says "im iron man", the boy then magically pulls out a news paper and says "according to the news you're dead". The article had a photo of tony on the front that took up at leased 30% of the page. The boy had the paper and had obviously seen the article due to the fact that he told stark that the news paper told of his death. So the little boy new exactly who tony stark was and what he looked like. Why act like he was oblivious to the fact? Also stark flew out of the water just beside the enemy helicopter which was only a mile or so away from the house. the helicopter had just attacked starks house which was surrounded by reporters, dont you think the would have been video taping it leaving and, i dont know, maybe seen a metal man flying out of the water? but i digress, stark continues to fix and build the suit, about 30 minutes are wasted on filler and boring back story. then suddenly the villains find stark and attack him, conveniently taking him on one at a time. after some fighting stark kills the first and then knocks out the second by using his hand held laser beam shooter, this also doesnt really make sense because stark knew the public thought he was dead, and as far as he was aware no one was looking for him, the villains only found him by coincidence. some stuff happens, stark drives to Florida in a car that he sole from one of the bad guys, he is then told that he should just build something by the 10-12 year old kid, thus showing that stark had not yet thought of that (-.-). It then goes into a hard core shopping montage, thus showing that stark some how has enough money to buy all these things, and enough gas money to drive from Tennessee to Florida. (i know he is rich but they thought he was dead, wouldnt some one notice him withdrawing all that money?). the movie then cuts to stark at the enemy base. stuff happens... a bad ass fight sene and some unfitting humor. stark then meets the expected antagonist who turns out to be just a face for the real antagonist to hide behind. more stuff. the villains take the president hostage, more stuff. Then Pepper is on a freighter, and stark and his black friend are able to sneak onto it with out being detected until they are on the boat itself. more bad assary, stark uses jarvis to activate a shit ton of hidden autonomous iron men to help them. stark thinks that pepper dies. then the black friend finds the president who was strung up in the iron man suit..... no let me stop here for a second..... This super genius villain who was able to kidnap the president, puts the man who he just kidnapped into a flying piece of advanced weaponry, wish is later shown to be fully powered and capable of flight..... WOW..... just.... wow....... but i digress once more. Stark does a little fighting, jumps from one suit to another for a while. Now this is when the, there is a little comedy that rendered this dramatic scene completely useless. some more comedy. Then stark using the the iron man suit "mark 42" explodes the antagonist by putting him in the suit, this totally contradicts the prior statement of the fitting requirement. the villain guy doesnt die pepper reappears, unharmed thanks to he super powers.. i must stop again.. this guy gave his enemy super powers on purpose..... and he new it would make her virtually invulnerable.... but what ever... so pepper is alive and the bad guy survives the explosion of the mark 42. now we see pepper and the villain, with stark defenseless a fey feet away. pepper inexplicably masters he powers and then uses the hand of an iron man suit to explode a small canister just in front of the villain... pepper shoots a canister with point blank accuracy that is only a foot longish and is using a device that she has never used before.... this small explosion kills the villain who was able to survive the self destruct of an iron man suit. This brilliant movie ends with stark destroying all of the iron man suits using a command called clean sweep, he does this even though he has no idea if any enemies are still alive. this magnificent motion picture ends with stark having his light heart thing removed and all the shrapnel taken out (he is able to do this by using the super power serum to regrow his new heart) thus resulting in him no longer having the iconic light on his chest and making every one who ever bought the iron man shirt with the light up led light in the middle look like idiots. Thank you marvel for ruining one of your best super heroes.

May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I saw this movie first on 2D and after only one day I went to see it in 3D. I think it was wanderfull!

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblaky

Iron man 3 was extraordinary. It was the best movie I have seen in my entire life. Just do us the big fans one favor, HURRY UP AND MAKE THE FOURTH ONE!!!!

June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGhost22

Iron Man 3 was a little bit of a let down but still an entertaining flick.

August 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIron Man Wallpaper

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