Back in 2008, Marvel Studios changed the comic book movie game with ‘Iron Man’. Superheroes could still be grounded in reality without being super dark like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach, but Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, and the whole gang just completely reworked the genre by building a shared cinematic universe, all starting with Tony Stark’s first big screen outing. Now, they’re looking to change the game once again with not only another Iron Man movie, but also the first movie in their second phase of films.

‘Iron Man 3’ picks up with Stark after the events of ‘The Avengers’. Because of that battle and all the emotional baggage that came with the aftermath, Tony is struggling with his life. However, he doesn’t have much time to really think about all of it because a new terrorist threat in the form of The Mandarin rears it’s ugly head and completely destroys the Armored Avenger’s life, leaving our hero completely isolated from his allies and his tech. Now set on a mission to make things right by protecting the ones that he loves and beating the bad guy that took everything away from him, Tony Stark comes back swinging to prove that he is Iron Man, with or without the suit.

Unsurprisingly, many fans were a tiny bit skeptical of the film because of the changing of the guard. Favreau, who directed the first two films, tagged out of the director’s position in favor of a purely onscreen role. That allowed Shane Black to step in and make his mark on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And let me tell you, he really left his mark. As I walked out of the theater, the first word that came to mind was “Whoa…” because I was I awe of what I just saw. Then, after thinking about it a bit, “fresh” was a better word to describe the cinematic experience that was ‘Iron Man 3’.

First of all, back when Favreau was in charge, we were never going to see a Mandarin story. While the character is universally considered to be one of Iron Man’s greatest villains, he could come off as a bit campy and outdated (and borderline racist) in a movie. But Black manages to present not only a completely fresh take on the Master of the Ten Rings, but also the Iron Man mythology in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since we get to see Tony function as a hero and a genius inside and outside of the suit.

He also takes a nobody from the comic books like Aldrich Killian and makes the audience really invested in him. Killian was totally a C-lister in the comic books to me, but ‘Iron Man 3’ presented him as a real threat to Tony and his way of life. He worked as a great foil to the hero because essentially Killian was the Anti-Tony Stark in every way possible.

So that’s two really huge threats to Iron Man in this film, plus a lot of minions carrying out missions on behalf of Killian, his think tank A.I.M, and the Mandarin, but they were all threaded in very well to the story. The amount of villains was never overwhelming and the story flowed very organically through the beats in such a way that the twists were so unexpected and very natural.

One of the absolute hardest things to do in a comic book movie is to pull one over on the comic book fans and have them accept it. As a fan myself, I can honestly say that I loved every change that they made to the source material because it all worked so well in the story that they told. Seriously, ‘Iron Man 3’ isn’t just another superhero movie. It’s an excellent movie period because of all the twists, turns, and swerves.

With all this talk of plot, I wouldn’t feel right not mentioning the incredible cast. The returning actors such as Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle were all great as usual. We’ve seen them prove that they have the right stuff, so I’m going to focus on the Marvel newcomers. First of all, Sir Ben Kingsley is a phenomenal actor to begin with, and no one was really expecting him to do badly, but to see him tackle a role like this is something that I’ve never seen him do before. I can say with 100% honesty that there will never, ever be another Mandarin like Kingsley’s. He knocked the role out of the park by flexing so many of his acting muscles in this film, which was an excellent opportunity granted to him because of an excellent script.

Next, Guy Pearce was such a smarmy dude. He really played up the douche card for his role as Aldrich Killian when he needed to. I really appreciated the range that he had to go through in the movie because of his character’s arc and he really nailed everything he was supposed to do. I felt bad for him at some points, but then downright loathed him in others. He’s played villains like this before, but I don’t think he’s ever quite done it like this before.

To wrap up the actors’ assessment portion of the review, I have to mention Rebecca Hall, who did amazingly with what she had. If there was any weak part in the movie, it was her character Maya Hansen’s role in the whole thing. She’s an integral part of the story, but instead of allowing her to develop as any good character should, she was more so only there as a plot device, which is a complete and total shame considering how awesome Maya was. She was supposed to be like the female equivalent of Tony Stark, but she had very little chance to show it. If there were anything that I could improve about the movie it would be her role in everything.

Finally, something has to be said about the action and the special effects. It wouldn’t be an Iron Man movie without all the technology, so of course the toys needed to be up to par. As we saw in trailers and posters, Tony has a whole arsenal of Iron Man suits to back him up in this movie. Each one was uniquely and beautifully designed and wonderfully utilized in the climax of the film. In fact, that’s exactly where a lot of the best CG and practical effects were shown off. The final battle was totally on par with the one in ‘The Avengers’, if not slightly better (but not by much). Fight choreography was great throughout the movie, but it really shined at the end because of everything that was going on. I would be very surprised if ‘Iron Man 3’ doesn’t get a bunch of technical awards once that time of the year roles around.

What’s left to say other than Marvel raised the bar again? ‘Iron Man 3’ wasn’t just a great comic book movie. It was a great action movie with some bits of a comedy and a spy thriller thrown in as well. This amalgamation of genres created by Shane Black, Drew Pearce, and the entire crew at Marvel has culminated in one of the best movies of the year that the whole family can enjoy. There’s been a lot of talk that this could be RDJ’s last time suiting up in the red and yellow, so if this is it, he goes out on a very high note. It’ll be really hard to top this one, but with Marvel’s continued efforts to keep their characters fresh and different, I’m very confident that they have what it takes to make the rest of Phase Two just as good, if not better, than ‘Iron Man 3’.

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