#14 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
This movie has large sections of it that work quite well in isolation, but the movie as a whole doesn’t really come together like it should.
I realized something was wrong pretty early. Tony has been tinkering ever since his close encounter with a nuclear weapon in New York, losing himself in his work and developing dozens of Iron Man suits. When confronted by the events of that day, he has anxiety attacks. Meanwhile, a terrorist called The Mandarin has been setting off explosions around the world and delivering messages to the American devil. One explosion occurs in Los Angeles and Tony’s former bodyguard Happy gets grievously harmed because of it. This is where I realized something was off. Tony has an emotional reaction that is way too much for the situation, and his unveiled threat to The Mandarin in response is too angrily directed at The Mandarin himself.
Wait, that doesn’t make sense, does it? Happy has been at Tony’s side since the beginning of the first movie. Of course an attack on him is going to piss Tony off. And here’s where the difference between the intention of a movie and its actual execution becomes important. Happy is barely a character. He was largely a source of mild laughs in the middle of light sequences. He had never developed an emotional connection with Tony or with the audience, so to see Happy in danger and to have his injury drive Tony’s next series of actions that are meant to be powered with high emotion feels unsupported by what’s actually come before. Injuring Pepper, Tony’s girlfriend, though, would have done it. For all the faults of the first two Iron Man movies, they did manage to sell the relationship between Tony and Pepper well enough so that if Pepper had been injured and Tony had delivered the exact same speech it would have landed emotionally.
The reverse of that are ideas that seem curious but end up being executed fairly well all while feeling isolated from the rest of the story. Tony getting isolated in Tennessee with the plucky kid is an example of this. The plucky kid is a trope of movies, especially sequels, in order to artificially heighten stakes and create a new dynamic for the characters to explore. The kid here, though, gets treated like an adult by Tony. He doesn’t soften at the kid’s doe eyes, nor does he learn his lesson in abandonment through him, he’s there to help Tony in a time of need, and I think it largely works. However, it’s done in isolation and feels extraneous at best.
The other major element that I really like on its own but doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the movie is The Mandarin himself. Now, fans of the comic hate this interpretation of The Mandarin because it turns a terrifying and evil character into a joke, but I am not a fan of the comics, I think lack of adherence to source material is a junk criticism, and I quite like him. The subversion of the big bad being the main target, leaving the guy we’ve thought is the bad guy as the actual antagonist, is a fun one, and I think it’s handled well. The Mandarin gets built up very well throughout the movie with his video messages to the world, and the sudden deflation of that image to find out that he’s a drugged out cockney actor named Trevor is really funny. However, it feels like just extra stuff, like material you could cut without much trouble.
So, yeah, I have some problems with how the movie’s constructed. There doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong throughline for the whole story, though by the end of it, it becomes obvious that Tony’s supposed to be learning to say goodbye to the suit. I think the movie largely supports that, though. He doesn’t have a full working suit in the whole movie. In fact, he spends most of the movie having to solve his problems without a suit. From the moment he lands in Tennessee to when his suit flies to him in Miami (which is about an hour or so), Tony is just Tony. He has to solve his problems without the high tech gear he encases himself in all the time. In fact, he has to go out and get analog in finding ways to beat down badguys by running into a hardware store and collecting a couple cartloads of stuff to make offensive weapons. He’s learning that he can live without the suit.
However, that core idea is hidden behind a bunch of other stuff (like Trevor, the kid, and some political talk that never goes anywhere). The movie looks fantastic, though. This is the first standalone Marvel movie that got seriously huge wads of cash thrown at it, and it shows. The attack on Tony’s cliffside mansion is one of the most beautiful scenes of pure destruction I’ve seen. The final battle with the few dozen Iron Man suits flying around it detailed and inventive.
There’s great fun to be had in this movie, but the movie as a whole is disjointed and full of distractions. In terms of construction, I think a couple more drafts might have smoothed out the whole experience and created something more successful.
Netflix Rating: 3/5
Quality Rating: 2.5/4