3 Stars – Exciting
The lighthearted interaction of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 with the previous Iron Man and Avenger films is well played. Recognizing that Marvel’s franchise is based on a comic character with viewers who have come to see a fantasy tale, Black’s skill as a storyteller showcases this genre. Understanding how to create tension as he did in the Lethal Weapon trilogy, Black has us sitting on the edge of our seats as he also weaves together human motivations and fears with insanity and love. Clearly another chapter in the ongoing story, we look forward to what will happen next.
Working together with Drew Pearce to write the screenplay, Black shows skill as a director. Although this is only his second film in the director’s role, the choices he makes in allowing us to understand the humanity within the action reveals his understanding of the importance of character development even in a comic action tale. But having said that, the visual action is still overwhelming.
Recognizing that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a superhero only because he is a technical genius, we see Stark experiencing an anxiety attack from a post traumatic reaction caused by the alien invasion experienced in New York, which was shown in The Avengers. The awareness that there is a thin line between genius and insanity is further portrayed in the villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Having sought Stark’s help to fund research for restoring human flesh to assist his own handicap, he is not only denied assistance but he is also played the fool. This experience unlocks an anger that becomes sociopathic as he uses the same research to create a deadly evil. It is both this megalomania and personal hatred that blend together in such a way that Killian wants to conquer the world and destroy Stark.
In contrast, romance is present between Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Tony Stark. Beginning where the previous films left off, Stark is no longer a player and instead he has given his heart to Pepper. But this love also gives his enemies a weapon to use against him. Thankfully, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) shows up to assist Stark as he inhabits an iron suit of his own. Like all faithful sidekicks, Rhodes doesn’t begin to have the genius, charm or physical prowess of Stark.
Beginning the film with a voiceover observation by Stark that “we create our own demons”, the primary moral message of the story agrees with the biblical message that “we reap what we sow” as well as the Buddhist teaching of karma. The fact that Stark’s disrespect for Killian compelled him to came back to destroy him speaks to all of us. The use of fiery eyes and hellish heat to depict a demonic evil resonates with biblical images just as the decision to create the terrorist Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) speaks to our current fears. This chilling evil allows the good in Stark to flourish as he demonstrates how he has changed. That our hero can make positive moral changes allowing him to become capable of self-sacrificing love and making a commitment to another person is hopeful, but to truly stop evil requires that we all protect one another. That is the message the final battle of this film demonstrates in an unexpected but compelling way.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The anxiety Stark experiences is mitigated by breathing deeply and focusing his mind on a project. Do you find you can overcome anxiety by taking deep breaths and changing your thoughts or is more required?
2. Did you realize that The Mandarin was not what he appeared to be? How much a part do you believe that theatrics play in actual terrorist threats? How do you think we can best counter that?
3. It is sometimes believed that evil is simply sociopathic mental illness. Do you believe there is evil that is larger than the flesh and blood of humanity? Why do you answer as you do?