As a comicbook lover from way back, and an Iron Man fan from equally way back - before the Armor Wars, before Demon in a Bottle (and if you do not get those references, you probably shouldn't be reading this) - I really wanted to like this movie. I really really wanted to like it. With all my nerdy heart, I wanted to like Iron Man 3. The first Iron Man, back in 2008, I liked. I liked a lot. In fact, until The Avengers came out last year, it was the best damn Marvel Comics adaptation out there. Then came 2010 and Iron Man 2. That film was a definite let down. Granted, it had a lot to live up to, but still, a let down. So, with the third and final (?) installment in the Iron Man franchise, I was psyched. I was hyped. It couldn't be as bad as the second one, right? It had to be better. Maybe not Iron Man 1 good, but still, quite good, right? Right? So yeah, I really really really wanted to like Iron Man 3. But alas poor Tony Stark, we knew ye well.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying Iron Man 3 is Spider-Man 3 bad, or, god forbid, Fantastic Four (any movie version really) bad, but once again, it is a definite let down. Sure, the film can be looked at as a technical marvel, and there are several quite stunning set pieces in here, most notably the attack on Stark's home and what is known in the credits as the barrel of monkeys skydiving sequence (done not with CGI, but with a real live skydiving team), but once one gets past the effects and tricks, one is left with a rather boring storyline. Yes, Robert Downey, Jr., and his inherent snarky charm, manages to save the film from being Spider-Man 3 bad, but even with him, Shane Black's film lacks in the great writing that we saw with the first Iron Man, written by Oscar nominees Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, and Joss Whedon's work on The Avengers. Even Downey, who is great fun even when he is phoning it in, which he may very well be doing here, can only raise the quality of the film so much. Sure, it looks spectacular at times, but the real emotion that we saw in the first two films, save for the scenes between Stark and a boy who is helping him, is just not there.
Then, if things weren't already bad enough, we have The Mandarin, or more aptly, some twisted cheap knock-off version of The Mandarin. For those of you not in the know (the ones who didn't get my Armor Wars and Demon in a Bottle references, but who are still reading along), The Mandarin is Ole Shellhead's arch-enemy from way back in the day. Making his debut in 1964, in Tales of Suspense #50, just eleven issues after Iron Man made his own debut in said comic, The Mandarin has always been a rather silly villain, as well as kind of a racist stereotype in the day. Granted, Iron Man has never had the best rogue's gallery to do battle with. He doesn't have a Dr. Doom or a Magneto, a Green Goblin or a Kingpin. Iron Man has never had a Loki or a Red Skull to call his arch-nemesis. The best he got was The Mandarin, though one could make a case for Fin Fang Foom, but maybe that's just me. Now The Mandarin has been updated in recent years in the comicbook world, and I expected him to get a makeover for the brave new world of superhero movies, I just wasn't prepared for what was done to the guy in Iron Man 3.
I do not want to give anything away here, but let's just say what was done to The Mandarin is the equivalent of a cop-out. It is cheap and cheapens the character. But this is merely me getting all hot and bothered over creative choices I do not agree with (do not get me started on what they did to a lot of The X-Men in their first movie trilogy), the film has more worries than just a nerd getting his panties all in a twist. Since he has no real rogue's gallery to speak of, the one thing I have always liked about Iron Man is the development of the character. Seemingly shallow on the outside (the outer shell, you might say), Tony Stark is one of the most complex characters in the Marvel Universe. This is shown in the comics, especially back in the David Michelinie/Bob Layton run in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and it was shown in the first two entries of this franchise, as well as in Whedon's The Avengers, but we do not get that here - at least not in any substantial amount. Again, the film is a technical marvel and Downey holds up his end of the bargain, and I am sure to the uninitiated, the film is a fun action-packed crowd-pleaser, but for me, it is merely another mediocre third installment (think X-Men: The Last Stand, The Dark Knight Rises and the aforementioned Spider-Man 3) in a franchise that started out with great fervor. And I really really did want to like this one. I really did.