RECAP: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (2013): Shane Black

Imagine a time in which Marvel let pass an entire year without releasing a movie. It happened, and as recently as 2013, when Iron Man 3 became the first Marvel movie after the enormous hit that was The Avengers. The events in New York weigh greatly on Tony Stark, and will trouble him for most of the film.

Shane Black rvteams with Robert Downey Jr., a pair that made a cult hit in 2006’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That movie’s modern noir elements creep into this Disney blockbuster. The film opens with a Stark narration. “We create our own demons,” he says, as several Iron Man suits explode. A classic noir trope (the narration, not the exploding flying suits). He wants to tell the story from the beginning, and that means revisiting a famous party night in Bern, Switzerland.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Iron Man gets a blast from the past and present, tries to find proper superhero/life balance, and uncovers a dangerous conspiracy all while trying to overcome PTSD. 

Hero (5/10)

Iron Man 3 introduces us to a Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) we haven’t seen yet: a vulnerable one. The finale of the Iron Man trilogy occurs one year after the events in New York, aka The Avengers, in which Tony disappeared into a wormhole to redirect a nuke and save New York from thousands of deaths.

Tony’s having flashbacks from that alien attack. He can’t sleep; at one point he’s been awake for 72 straight hours. He’s dating Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) now, so he has more at stake as Iron Man than his own life.

But Tony’s still Tony, and he won’t change. This time out he’s facing a terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a man responsible for several bombings across America and the world, all aimed at US interests. Tony, however, ain’t scared. He’s so not scared that he gives The Mandarin his home address.

That turns out poorly. Three Mandarin helicopters fly to Tony’s house and nearly kill him and Pepper. Tony flies to Tennessee to investigate, meets a kid, nearly dies, and learns some facts about The Mandarin.

Tony’s got some other lingering issues, stemming from being Iron Man. He’s talking to his suits as if they are alive. He’s developed a head gear that controls the suits remotely. Subterfuge is a theme in Iron Man 3.

One night the suit, through Tony, attacks Pepper in his sleep as he dreamt of New York. “I’m a piping hot mess,” he says. He ain’t wrong. After his home is destroyed Tony flies to Tennessee, unconsciously, and crashes in the snowy woods. He meets a local child and berates him for trying to help. The kid reveals that his father left him six years ago, so Tony tells him that dads leave and there’s “no need to be a pussy about it.” This after the kid said Iron Patriot was a cooler name than War Machine, so I guess he deserved it?

Tony makes a bold choice at the end of Iron Man 3, which we’ll discuss later.

Villain (6/10)

Opposing Tony is The Mandarin. But not really. We learn about halfway through the movie who rely pulls the strings–an important government contractor named Aldrich “Please Call Me Aldrich” Killian.

Aldrich first met Tony in 1999 in Bern, at a science conference on New Year’s Eve. He tried to meet with Tony on the roof of the hotel, but Tony wanted to get laid instead.

Thriteen years later, Aldrich looks great. Alpicia skin and a brutal limp gave way to a suave motherfucker who flirts with Pepper by showing her his big brain. And this guy is smooth. He’s got dragon tattoos on his chest and swoops back his hair.

Lots changed between that non-meeting in Bern and Aldrich’s work since. New Year’s Eve was the night that changed his life. Here’s the thing–his life changed because he can’t read people. In the early scenes, the brief, key moment when Tony and Aldrich became adversaries, Aldrich crams himself into an elevator with Tony and Hansen. He gives Hanen his card and asks Tony to meet him on the roof.

Tony’s trying to get laid. He’s drunk. It’s New Year’s Eve. Why would Tony give a shit about a meeting that another guy suggests? Get some social skills, Aldrich. Anyway, Aldrich stands on the roof and waits for more than an hour. Tony Stark is widely known as a galaxy-class asshole, so why would Aldrich take the “diss” so personally? That’s on you, brother.

Present-day Aldrich has drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak, in the form of regenerative cellular tech. He and his associates at AIM all have it. They received an injection, and this treatment or whatever you call it allows the body to heal at a rapid rate, including regrowing of limbs long gone.

Side-effects of Extremis may include: exploding. Ask your doctor if your body is healthy enough to glow like fire. There-in lies the problem with Aldrich’s tech. He’s recruited a trial group of desperate former soldiers, many of whom lost limbs in service. Several of these people work for Aldrich today, doing his dirty work. Some of them succumbed to the side-effect of spontaneous at a nuclear temperature.

Aldrich learned something on top of that Bern hotel’s roof: the power of anonymity. That’s why he created The Mandarin. That’s right, America’s biggest terrorist threat is actually a drug-fueled London washout actor who reads lines Aldrich scripts for him. The Mandarin’s hideout is a baller mansion in Miami with fake shipwreck outside its front door.

Aldrich uses The Mandarin to create the supply of terror, while fulfilling the government’s demand to solve it, in the form of upgrading War Machine to Iron Patriot. It helps Aldrich enact his plan of killing the president on live TV to drum up more support for his think tank/weapons manufacturer.

Action/Effects (4/10)

Iron Man 3 eschews big action set pieces because Stark spends so much time investigating. Before he can investigate, perhaps because of it, Stark receives visitors employed by Aldrich, and perhaps The Mandarin (before we know they are working together, or rather one works for the other).

Stark is at home with Pepper. They receive a visit from Dr. Hansen, who Stark hasn’t seen since the night they hooked up in Bern 13 years. It was a night Hansen would never forget, but Stark would, literally, because he solved a biological problem of hers while being wasted.

Anyway, Hansen shows up alongside several helicopters, because Stark’s given the entire world his home address, which I can’t believe they didn’t already know. Most of those helicopters are media, but three of them are not.

With precious little warning, and only from Hansen seeing it on TV, a rocket streaks across the ocean to explode beneath Stark’s pad. Stark activates one suit, but he “throws” it onto Pepper, who hightails it outside with Hansen.

Stark, using sensors he implanted in himself earlier in the movie, recalls the suit from Pepper onto himself. Good thing too, because the three choppers are pounding the house with ordnance. The house is sliding into the ocean. Stark spots his Steinway falling, and he uses the suit to sling it forward and into one helicopter.

The suit has not enough energy to go full Iron Man and wipe out the enemies. He must scamper along the crumbling architecture, taking heavy gunfire. Glass and furniture continue unchecked into the ocean. Stark takes out a second chopper, but the house collapses and sends him to its basement.

Soon, all the suits and expensive cars are dropping into the sea. Stark rides the last sections of his home into the water, the camera following behind him. Cables drag Stark to the sea floor. The final helicopter, its villains satisfied, flies away. J.A.R.V.I.S. literally lends a helping hand to drag the battered body from the sea and flies Stark to Tennessee.

Short and violent. The action sequences in Iron Man 3 are punchy and brief, unlike most other Marvel Universe movies. These scraps occur in one room and are over before we know what’s happening.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Pepper gets her chance to shine in Iron Man 3. She runs Stark Industries in pristine white suits. People come to her for their needs, such as Aldrich. She gives him a hard pass on his brain tech because it could so easily be weaponized. Smart move, but it made little difference.

Pepper is at home when the terrorists attack Tony’s Malibu pad, and it’s her turn to wear the suit. She wears it well, though it’s jarring to see a person inside the suit who is not Tony Stark. She’s forced to shack up with Hansen, Tony’s one-night-stand from Bern and the person keeping Aldrich alive.

Pepper takes Hansen to secret hideout after the latter claims Aldrich is working for The Mandarin. This is all a smoke screen, because Aldrich wants to lure Pepper away from Tony so he can capture her and inject her with the healing tech. Aldrich succeeds, and Pepper nearly dies for it.

Tony gets an assist from a scrappy Tennessee kid. This kid helps Tony out of some jams, saves his life once or twice, and in return is brutally made fun of for it. He’s proof that Tony is not ready for fatherhood.

Henchmen (6/8)

A slew of glowing soldiers help Aldrich achieve his dreams of ruining America’s government and society through terror. Chief among them is a bald, Russian dude named Savin. At least, I thought he was Russian. He looks very Russian. But he’s not. Get this: he’s American.

These troops, the ones who didn’t explode, walk around cocky as hell, and why not, they are basically invincible. Savin is nearly vaporized in Los Angeles one day, and he walks away from it seconds later with a regrown body. It’s unclear if a decapitation will kill these people, but a blast to the heart will.

The regeneration tech makes these troops stronger. Savin meets Happy in L.A. and throws his 250 pounds through glass. He also heats up enough to melt the metal of a Tennessee water tower. These heat troops are scary and unbalanced.

Aldrich and Hansen combined to create these rogue troops doing their bidding, sewing terror across the world. Why? They’ve developed a technology that can heal almost everything in a person’s body at rapid speed while alleviating pain. Every cancer patient in the world would ask for this. No more heart surgeries or brain surgeries. Broken bones can heal in seconds, not weeks. Why stay secretive and outside the law with this tech? Sell it to the highest bidder!

I give Aldrich a solid villain score because he can breathe fire. The henchmen suffer instead for his piss-poor reasoning.

Stunts (2/6)

The big set piece in Iron Man 3 involves Air Force One. Aldrich’s Number Two, wearing the suit of Iron Patriot, boards the president’s plane and causes some problems, killing Secret Service agents and throwing them off the plane. He kills everyone but the president, who he ejects from the plane in the Iron Patriot suit.

Iron Man joins the fray and attacks Savin, who is heating up. He’s also blowing the rear door, sending about a dozen people out the plane without chutes. Iron Man grapples with Savin, knowing he can regrow his missing parts. But can he regrow a melted heart? Iron Man uses his chest reactor to blast energy through Savin’s chest. His day is done.

Iron Man bursts from the plummeting jet to save the falling civilians. J.A.R.V.I.S. tells him he can only carry three. The first person he grabs is a flight attendant. Tony says he’ll electrify her arm so she can grab hold of the next guy. Behind them Air Force One explodes.

With 18,000 feet to go Iron Man gathers more fallers. Next you know there’s 6,000 feet and then 1,000 feet. He’s collected all the people in a chain like Blue Angels. They slowly smack into the water and cheer Iron Man away. He flies onto a bridge only to be smashed apart by an 18-wheeler. Flash to Tony sitting on a boat, wearing his visor.

This is a fine scene, but I could have done with more length to it. People falling from planes is as nerve-wracking as it gets. Give me more tension.

Climax (3/6)

Tony and Rhodes ride a speedboat from The Mandarin’s hideout to a large port near Miami, or possibly in Miami, I don’t know. These two guys creep into the bustling complex armed only with handguns. They scout the place and find that most people are carrying flamethrowers for some reason, especially confusing because some of their Extremis brethren are literally flamethrowers.

Tony and Rhodes are quickly spotted skulking among the metal stairs and gangways. Not much cover on offer here. Tony is not built for unsuited stealth storming of compounds like his pal is. Rhodes shoots a light bulb at 50 yards ager Tony tells him it’s impossible.

That’s about all the work they get to do together. Dozens of super soldiers surround the pair. The heroes are done for. BUT, good thing Tony instituted House Party, in which all versions of his suits fly from Malibu to Miami to assist him in disabling the Extremis soldiers “with extreme prejudice.”

The suits engage in explosive struggle with the Extremis soldiers. One suit breaks into constituent parts to beat down some enemies before reconstituting. Troops rip heads from suits that are empty of human combatants. Three troops gang up on one suit. Another pair of fighters flies into a phalanx of gas canisters and causes a massive explosion. A heavy armor Iron Man suit runs to hold up a loading crane, previewing the behemoth Hulkbuster suit in Age of Ultron.

Tony gets a suit for himself and looks for Pepper. She’s received the Extremis injections right there on the dock. Tony finds her easily as he heat signature stands out. She’s trapped beneath metal debris caused in a explosion. Tony reaches for her and tells her that this is what happens when she meets his exes.

Next thing we know, Aldrich is melting his arm through the floor, popping in to say hello. With ease he rips free the arc reactor powering Tony’s suit. Tony’s underneath Aldrich, doing nothing. Aldrich, his arm heating again, strikes at Tony, who reveals his plan. A blade protrudes from his outstretched right arm, slicing through Aldrich’s arm. he’ll grow it back, of course, but it’s enough to allow Tony to escape.

Pepper falls through metal and dangles from the corner of the building high above the ground. Again Tony, now out of his suit, reaches for her. “You gotta let go,” he shouts to Pepper. She falls. Pepper disappears in a fire below.

Let’s check on Rhodes. He’s without a suit, armed only with his gun. He’s over there atop a container dangling above the concrete. Two Extremis soldiers jump onto the container. Rhodes shoots each three times. They just smile at him. Rhodes stumbles and falls over the edge, grasping the edge to keep from falling to his death. He tries another move, shooting the cables holding the container.

With only two cable attached, the container goes vertical. The Extremis soldiers weren’t prepared, and they fall off to splat below. Whether or not they died is not mentioned. Rhodes swings over to the president and gets him out of the area. Hooray! We were all concerned about the president’s welfare.

Now it’s time for Aldrich, shirtless and slick, and Tony, suites and vulnerable, to battle. They face each other on a gangway and run toward each other. Aldrich leaps to strike as Tony slides underneath like a sprinting baserunner. Tony’s able to get parts of suits on to attack Aldrich, or rather to defend against Aldrich, who is white hot with rage and heat.

Aldrich is so fire that he slices through parts of Iron Man. Tony has the smarts to remove his body when in the path of a hot punch or karate chop, and the camera is careful to show us this. Aldrich cuts off legs and arms, even slices a full suit in half.

Tony’s got a final trick left. He kneels before Aldrich, calling in Mark 42, the latest and greatest suit. It flies toward him until it hits a piece of metal and breaks down. The dead pieces clatter to a halt beside Tony. “Whatever,” he says, as one would after a being beaten in a sparing match. This ain’t no sparing match. Aldrich thinks he’s got him, but it was a ruse. Tony directs the suit 42 to attach onto Aldrich, and then he orders it to explode.

A huge explosion topples the crane. Tony barely escapes to the ground. He watches his mask catch fire. Aldrich emerges from the fire. How can he live? He’s shouting, “I am The Mandarin.” Then BOOM it’s Pepper. She’s glowing real good, smashing a pole into Aldrich’s face and delivering an Iron Man hand blast that finally kills him. “That was really violent,” she says, still glowing. “Who’s the hot mess now?”

Tony enacts Clean Slate program, and all his suits explode like fireworks, which makes sense because it’s Christmas. He also goes under the knife to get his shrapnel removed and throws the chest reactor into the ocean among the wreckage of his home. Tony doesn’t need the suit’s metaphorical armor anymore. He’s still Iron Man.

Jokes (2/4)

Tony’s full of dozens of non sequiturs, as per usual, but there’s perhaps none better than this one: “You’ve met Slattery?” Aldrich asks Tony, regarding the actor hired to play The Mandarin. “Sir Lawrence Oblivi-eh?”

I mean, that’s an all-timer. Give someone an Oscar.

Setting (1/4)

Stark’s mansion is destroyed, signaling a rebirth for the character later. He visits an old Miami mansion to antagonize The Mandarin and learn Aldrich’s Evil Plan. There’s a trip aboard Air Force One, and the finale occurs on the docks.

The standout part occurs when Stark takes a side trip to rural Tennessee. In a small town he visits the local dive bar, the local forest, and the local bullied kid. Is there a water tower? You bet.

Commentary (0/2)

Despite a conspiracy/coup at the highest levels of American government, the creation of super soldiers, and the notion that America’s greatest terrorist threat might be a smoke screen for an American citizen, Iron Man 3 makes no political significant statement. Stark comes out and says, “No politics, just good, old-fashioned revenge.” The movie should get a point for degree of difficulty.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Just a typical Hollywood blockbuster in the new millennium. Take that as you will.


  • Tony should contact the NFL, because he’s never sustained a concussion during his countless crashes flying suits near the speed of sound. Even J.A.R.V.I.S. got one after the Tennessee crash.
  • Do Secret Service agents carry guns on Air Force One? I would think twice about shooting bullets on a plane.

Summary (35/68): 51%

More murder mystery than action movie, the final Tony Stark standalone still grossed $409 million, second for the year, and more than Frozen. It grossed more than any other single-character Marvel movie except Black Panther. It was a gold hit. No, a platinum hit. No, it was an iron hit.