Robert Downey Jr. is living proof that there’s such a thing as an enjoyable comic-book protagonist in cinema. Iron Man 3 simply piles more proof on top.
I’m not sure what I like about RDJ’s performance as billionaire hero Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) the most – his quirky personality, his entertaining body language, or the ease with which he fits the role and makes a lot of the other heroes and villains of the Marvel movie universe look very two-dimensional and melodramatic in comparison. He’s effortlessly funny, complicated and deserving of your interest and sympathy. Inside the armour lies a soft, fragile mind and body, and that’s clearer in the third instalment than ever before.
The reason Iron Man 3 is more notable than most Marvel films isn’t just because it’s RDJ’s chance to outshine other Marvel stars once again. It’s also because it’s the first to take place after The Avengers. Tony Stark is a very different man. Suffering from what is arguably PTSD after what took place when he fought alongside the Hulk, Thor and the others, he has retreated into his lab and created many of the suits made famous by the comic book franchise. The Hulkbuster (made for fighting The Hulk), the Mark XLII (can assemble itself from the individual parts), the Godkiller (spaceflight, funnily enough) – you’ll recognise a lot of these suits, and while they only get a handful of fleeting appearances throughout the film, it’s a nice nod to the range of suits Stark actually employs.
Alongside RDJ, Gwyneth Paltrow (Se7en, Shakespeare in Love) returns as long-suffering partner Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven, Crash) reprises his role as Col. James Rhodes/War Machine/Iron Patriot, and Guy Pearce (Memento, Prometheus) stars as Aldrich Killian, a weapons specialist spurned years ago by Stark who goes on to become a formidable villain.
Which leads us to the plot, where a PTSD-afflicted Stark attempts to save his relationship with Pepper while fending off a series of terrorist attacks. The latter is standard fare for Stark, but seeing him suffer through anxiety was a refreshingly realistic take on what it must be like to go through the events of The Avengers Assemble and try to adjust to life after discovering the sheer amount of mind-blowing civilisations and intelligence beyond Earth. The gods Thor and Loki were surprising enough, one would imagine.
The story has some impressive twists and a lot of humour, but that’s part and parcel of RDJ’s take on Tony Stark. Stark is known as an arrogant character, but RDJ adds a delightful eccentricity that combines with a quiet resolve and builds over the course of the film until, by the end, you’re pretty sure he’d be fine with taking on the bad guys with or without his suit. Iron Man 3 is a must for comic book movie fans, and definitely a great way to kick off the post-Avengers run of films before yet another all-star extravaganza hits theatres.
When discussing Batman, director Kevin Smith once said the reason Bruce Wayne is such an impressive hero is that there’s nothing “super” about him – he’s just a man in a suit. Admittedly a billionaire in a suit, but still a normal mortal human being. That’s one of the things that’s so amazing about Iron Man as a character, and why he’s more impressive than The Hulk or Thor – he’s just a man. An extremely intelligent man, but a man nonetheless.
Marvel’s recent take on superheroes has been interesting. Thor was their most noticeable change of pace, as it’s a quirky comedy for the most part after the Asgardian god loses his powers and has to adjust to life in a small town. This isn’t the sort of film Marvel would’ve let out of the door ten or twenty years ago, and Iron Man 3 not only keeps this sense of humour, but also keeps the film serious where it needs to be – there’s no Tim Burton’s Batman vibe here, thankfully. Iron Man 3 is required viewing for Marvel fans – there’s no question about that at all. In fact, it’s arguable that at this point there are no Avengers-era Marvel flicks that aren’t worth watching.