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Robert Cartagena is a boxing correspondent for SFBay.ca. He graduated from SF State in 2011 with a B.A. in journalism and spent more than a year contributing monthly articles to The Hudsucker, an online magazine with a blog twist. He has a passion for sports journalism -- particularly boxing -- as well as film reviews. He also enjoys blogging and aspires to be a professional actor one day.

‘Iron Man 3’ delivers gritty, but compelling superhero tale

There’s a moment in Iron Man 3 when Robert Downey Jr. (in a voiceover as Tony Stark) says that you can take away his home and suits of armor, but there’s one thing you can’t take from him: He is Iron Man.

Since first donning the iconic red and gold armor in 2008’s Iron Man, Downey has truly embodied everybody’s favorite playboy billionaire and inventor with each stellar performance – making him a superhero we can all believe in. His superhero transformation has been quite amazing to watch since the first film, from his days as narcissistic chief weapons manufacturer to his rebirth as a hero built with a new purpose in life.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios.

His transformation comes full circle in Iron Man 3, arguably the most intense chapter in the blockbuster film franchise. This time around, Stark must come face-to-face with his greatest adversary: His inner demons. Set during the Christmas season, the film catches up with Tony after the events of last summer’s superhero blockbuster, Marvel’s The Avengers. His epic encounter with Tom Hiddleston and his alien army has caused him to experience anxiety attacks and lack of sleep – and the nights he does sleep, he has intense nightmares.

Because of the film’s nature, Downey is given the opportunity to display Stark’s vulnerability on screen, doing so effectively through his emotions. His previous appearances in The Avengers and the previous two Iron Man films have always been a treat to watch because of his flamboyance and charm, which are once again on display in Iron Man 3. But this performance is quite compelling because while he may have the latest high-tech gadgetry at his disposal, Mr. Stark is not invincible. The realistic looks of panic in his face during those anxiety attacks emphasize how tortured of a soul he has become. Such realism makes the performance probably Downey’s finest as Tony Stark since the first Iron Man film.

Iron Man 3 is also the darkest entry in the trilogy due to its harrowing depiction of terrorism, punctuated by Sir Ben Kingsley’s sinister turn as the ruthless terrorist, the Mandarin. A recent string of bombings has put the world in a state of fear and Stark must race against time to save millions from the Mandarin’s crippling grip. The terrorist attacks depicted on screen are quite intense for a PG-13-rated film – including a deadly explosion aboard Air Force One – and definitely gives it a 9/11 feel. The situation becomes quite dire when Stark becomes incapacitated that the president is forced to introduce a new symbol of hope: Col. James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) as the newly rechristened Iron Patriot.

The on-screen terrorism should not take away from Sir Kingsley’s fine performance as the villain, who considers himself to be more of a teacher. He simply instills fear into the hearts of millions by delivering Osama bin Laden-style sermons with no remorse. In fact, the Mandarin would give bin Laden a run for his money. Halfway through the film, however, there is a certain revelation made regarding the character that is guaranteed to catch moviegoers off guard. Though I was quite disappointed at this surprise the first time I saw the film, I must say I enjoyed watching it a second time simply because of Sir Kingsley’s performance (which is all I can say without spoiling the film).

Despite such intense nature, the film’s storytelling is quite compelling and much superior to its predecessor. While Iron Man 2 is still a fun comic book sequel, it lacked the “it” factor that made the first Iron Man film so stellar. Iron Man 3, meanwhile, focuses on one man’s journey towards redemption – and how his past actions ultimately affect those around him. There are certain instances in the film where Stark must find his way out of certain predicaments without the use of his Iron Man armor. Sounds like a daunting task, but those predicaments ultimately help him realize what makes a true hero.

Robert Downey Jr. (as Iron Man, left) and Gwyneth Paltrow share a tender moment in “Iron Man 3” (Image Credit: Marvel Studios).

Speaking of suits of armor, Stark’s lack of sleep has forced him to constantly create new ones – ultimately creating a rift between he and girlfriend Virginia “Pepper” Potts (the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow). Paltrow and Downey have always had perfect chemistry together since their first pairing back in 2008 and they do a fine job here illustrating the toll Stark’s personal conflict has taken on their characters. The film also delves further into their relationship and while her screen time is limited, Paltrow’s performance emphasizes that Pepper is more than just Tony’s girlfriend and the CEO of Stark Industries; she’s the person who makes his life complete.

Stark is also reacquainted with ex-flame Maya Hansen (the equally lovely Rebecca Hall) and a flashback shows how they first met on New Year’s Eve 1999 – and how their encounter with scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) ultimately set the stage for the events that unfold. Pearce plays quite the polar opposite to Downey: a flamboyant businessman who’s also cunning in his own conniving ways. His character may seem out of place with all the chaos that transpires throughout the film, but Pearce stands out as somewhat of a dark horse through his performance.

As the first superhero film released by Marvel Studios since The Avengers, Iron Man 3 definitely had much to live up to. There’s no question that Joss Whedon’s acclaimed masterpiece is in a league of its own. But Iron Man 3 holds its own as a superb entry in the series under the direction of Shane Black (who worked with Robert Downey Jr. in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). The stellar cast – including 11-year-old scene stealer Ty Simpkins as child sidekick Harley – is simply a blast to watch on screen.

Like the previous films, Iron Man 3 serves up plenty of thrilling action, culminating with a frenetic – yet explosive – grand finale involving Stark’s arsenal of Iron Man armor. The action also gets inventive during certain scenes, particularly the aforementioned Air Force One scene where Stark must rescue (get this) 13 civilians who were onboard!

There has been speculation regarding the possibility of Iron Man 4, especially since Robert Downey Jr.’s contract with Marvel Studios expired after the film’s release last month. If Iron Man 3 is indeed the final chapter in the franchise, it definitely serves as a fitting conclusion to a highly entertaining trilogy.

Whether or not he reprises his role as his famous superhero alter ego, Robert Downey Jr. has proven through each marvelous performance as Tony Stark that it’s the man (not the suit of armor) that defines a hero – and he is the right (Iron) man for the job!

Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. Running time: 130 minutes.

Overall: A-

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Robert’s Top 10 Films of 2013 | The Hudsucker - December 30, 2013

    […] (Read Robert’s review of Iron Man 3 here.) […]

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