Review by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale
Running time: 130 minutes
Iron Man 3 is all about battling ghosts. Plagued by the monstrous events in The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is losing himself to PTSD, unadmittedly, of course. Instead, he's channeling his nervous energy into ironing out the kinks of his latest invention, the ability to telepathically summon and manipulate his Iron Man suit (a nifty trick that comes into play during some of the most exciting scenes in the film), the only thing he can control these days.
Despite his usual witticisms, delivered with Downey Jr.'s trademark cool confidence, Stark is refreshingly not his typical egomaniac self. He's broken, and is finally grasping the idea of love and loss, which has resulted in his obsessive need to protect his now live-in girlfriend, Pepper Potts (played by an endearing Gwyneth Paltrow).
It certainly doesn't help his nerves that the United States is under the attack of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, with a weird southern-drawl-meets-voice-box accent), the untraceable leader of a ruthless terrorist organization gunning for world domination, naturally. Through fear-mongering via hijacking television airwaves, the villain has forced the entire country into a constant state of anxiety, declaring that his attacks will be unforeseen. But defeating a bad guy whose motivation seems to be taken out of the Dummy's Guide to Creating a Super Villain, arguably the weakest point of the otherwise solid film, isn't Stark's only concern.
In comes a couple more personal demons from Stark's past: scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) a former one-night stand who'd been working on a regeneration serum for broken body parts, and uber-nerd-turned-sexy-playboy Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the leader of Advanced Idea Mechanics whom Tony turned down a partnership with and whose nearly perfected upon Hansen's invention, resulting in Extremis, which allows him to "hack into the hard drive of any living organism" and recode their DNA. And trust us, their bitter return is felt in kind.
Of course, to overcome his own issues, Tony can't, and doesn't, hide behind his armor. And this is when we're gladly reminded that Tony Stark is a superhero, in all its iterations, at his core. It's as if the Iron Man suit literally takes a backseat to him in this film, the genius at one point resorting to improvising his own weapons out of tools that can be purchased at a local hardware store, and enabling his unsuited self with nothing but a handgun, alongside Colonel Rhodes, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), to save the kidnapped President and his lady love from the hands of the Mandarin.
But that's not to say the film turns into some buddy cop movie between Downey Jr. and Cheadle. OK, there's a slightly worrisome feeling that that might happen but it's quickly resolved. Instead, the sleepless nights Tony spends in his basement lab payoff in a spectacular final battle both more liberating for the hero and more thrilling to watch than all of Iron Man 2. If the Iron Man franchise was haunted by the second installment, then consider this third entry its exorcism.