(Image: The Hollywood Reporter)

(Image: The Hollywood Reporter)


With the red carpet arrival of Iron Man 3, the words of Tony Stark from Iron Man 2 feel appropriate.  "It's good to be back."  While The Avengers could have been a miniature Iron Man 3, we all know that Tony Stark doesn't play well with others.  He, as well as his embodiment Robert Downey, Jr., are in their rightful places hogging the spotlight all on their own.  With a huge $195 million foreign debut last weekend, Iron Man 3 is a decent success completing this trilogy with gusto and flair to still keep us guessing and entertained.  

After starting as a grounded-in-plausible-reality superhero, Tony Stark now lives in a world reeling from the knowledge that aliens, gods, and outside threats exist after the thwarted Chitauri invasion of The Avengers.  That heavy knowledge and those high-pressure experiences will rattle a man, and it's done just that to Tony Stark. Ever since those events in New York, our quick-witted billionaire playboy philanthropist genius has been afflicted by insomnia, rough dreams, and panic attacks.

With his squeeze Pepper Potts (co-headliner Gwyneth Paltrow, with more to do this time around) reluctantly by his side, Tony keeps himself busy the best way he knows how: building and creating.  Fearing an inevitable return threat, Tony has built over forty new Iron Man armor variations in his immense Malibu pad, each remotely autonomous if necessary.  His latest "piece de resistance" is a khaki-looking armor (sorry, it looks more Dockers than 2 Chains, folks) that deploys on its own and follows sensors injected into Tony's arm.

We also quickly learn, through a hilarious 1999 flashback that opens the movie, that one of Tony's ex-flings, Maya Henson (an underused Rebecca Hall of The Town) has developed experimental DNA-based regenerative treatment named "Extremis."  Tony declines to back up her research while wooing her at a dazzling millennium New Year's Eve party.  At the same event, he gives a stronger dismissive rebuke to one Aldrich Killian (the always good Guy Pearce), a crippled scientist looking for a financial backer/partner for his nerdy Advanced Idea Mechanics.

Back in the present day, the latest threat to American safety comes in the form of a violent foreign terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and his deadly string of seemingly untraceable bombings around the world.  When the Mandarin turns his cross-hairs on the U.S. with a bold public bombing, the President (William Sadler) puts the nation on high alert.  The former War Machine, piloted by Stark friend Colonel James Rhodes (the returning Don Cheadle), has been re-branded as the Iron Patriot and tasked with finding the Mandarin. Stark publicly calls out the Mandarin for a showdown.  The Mandarin's connected minions, led by James Badge Dale, promptly respond by assaulting and destroying Tony's Malibu mansion with he and Pepper still in it.

Pepper is spared, but Tony is feared dead, though he too escapes into seclusion to repair and reload.  It's in this wide middle portion that the plot takes quite a few turns for the wacky.  Iron Man 3 writer/director Shane Black, who's previously worked with Downey on the very non-superhero Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, begins to throw many ingredients into the cauldron and things becomes as darting and schizophrenic as its main character to a certain degree.  However muddled the soup gets, all of it is charismatic fun.  While Downey has played this role three times before, he's really given a great deal of leeway to explore and take over the dance floor with his own shenanigans.  This is Tony's show before it is Iron Man's show.

The wackiness never lets up and carries over into the course of our villainous conflict. Iron Man 3 is, without a doubt, the most comedic of the Marvel superhero films to date.  The hit-or-miss humor is always bubbling up to the surface.  That affable effect tries often to mask many of the really preposterous events and flaws and still keeps the whole of Iron Man 3 extremely likable and entertaining.  Like every fantasy film and superhero flick, the required grain of salt will vary in size and bitterness for every viewer's tolerance level.  Die-hard fans of the comic book series and the "Extremis" storyline are probably not going to like this movie's revisionist tangents and non-canon treatment of the Mandarin.  No comic book movie has ever matched the book and it's not going to start here.

With The Avengers included as an extra entry in the journey, we've come to the trilogy point for Iron Man and Tony Stark.  Even though the end credits (stay to the very end of course) present the James Bond line of "Tony Stark will return," if the current press junket rumors become true and this indeed becomes the end of solo adventures for Downey as Shell-Head, Iron Man 3 shapes a feasible ending that fits this endearing character.  When it's all said and done, Iron Man 4 or not, the combined efforts of directors Jon Favreau and Shane Black, Marvel Films overseer and producer Kevin Feige, and their resurrected and glamorous star Robert Downey, Jr. will be a celebrated trailblazer for a long time.

LESSON #1: HAVE A HOBBY-- Tony Stark's hobby is tinkering and building cool things ranging from garden section weapons from Home Depot (you'll see) to sophisticated suits of armor that defend mankind.  What's yours?  Everyone needs an outlet or place to flex their creative muscle.  This blogging and writing is mine.

LESSON #2: ALWAYS HAVE BACKUP-- Here's the easy cliche lesson that comes from a narcissist with connections.  While Lesson #3 after this will go into Tony's habits a little more and Lesson #4 will take a shot at the big picture, you get the whiffle ball lesson of "always have backup."  It must be nice to have a billionaire's bank account, an armored serviceman friend with the President's ear, and 40-something extra "changes of clothes" for any spill, stain, or occasion.

LESSON #3: THE NATURE OF A "FIXER"-- Let's dig a little deeper into Tony's hobby and habits.  Like many of us men, Tony is a "fixer" in life.  End results matter more than the process.  Beyond just his technical and scientific skill, he is reactionary, not precautionary.  Tony's narrow focus and selfishness causes him to miss potential problems and mistakes before they happen, both as the hero Iron Man and the doting lover of Pepper Potts.  When the reactionary type tries to learn from one of those mistakes with the first effort and ounce of prevention and structure, they tend to overdo it, putting them back in "fixer" mode.  Making dozens of just-in-case suits is overdoing it.  Buying lavish apology gifts as a billionaire is overdoing it.  He gets by on talent, resourcefulness, and quick-thinking ingenuity when he could spare a little of that to be wiser instead of just smarter.

LESSON #4: THE HEIGHTENED PANIC OF THREATS THAT COMES AFTER THE INITIAL THREAT OR TRAUMA-- Whether it's anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, or plain-old panic, the ever-calculating Tony still can't entirely wrap his head around the trauma that was the alien invasion of The Avengers.  It was then, in one destructive afternoon, that the world Tony lives in went from normal to a place where the unbelievable became believable and the unheard of made deafening noise.  Think of the parallels to incidents like Columbine or September 11th.  The first incident is always jarring and ferociously memorable.  All we can do is react.  After that, the rabbit ears go up and it re-tunes our radars to be aware and cognizant of the possibilities if what we witnessed or experienced could ever happen again.  Sometimes then, the panic or anxiety of the NEXT threat, even if it's smaller in scale, can hit as hard, if not harder than the first one, because we have seen the ramifications and fear what could be coming.