iron man 3It’s always a dangerous thing when a movie has the number “3” at the end of its title. Trilogies are rarely successful unless they were intended from the start. When a third film is made due to profits rather than unfinished storytelling, filmmakers will often go with crowd-pleasing familiarity over interesting new ideas. In the case of Iron Man 3, the continuation thankfully did not follow the mold of “give them more of what they like,” but instead gave us the most engaging portrayal of Tony Stark yet.

Picking up an undisclosed amount of time after the events of The Avengers, this is technically the fourth appearance of the current iteration of Tony Stark/Iron Man, again played pitch perfectly by Robert Downey, Jr. However, in addition to the brass and boldness that carried him through the first two Iron Man films, humanity has at last caught up to the Tony Stark character. Sure Bruce Wayne was a billionaire, and Peter Parker may have been able to climb walls, but they were still easily relatable in their convictions and motivation. You could understand why they would put on a costume and fight crime, and you had a rooting interest for them to succeed. While Iron Man had his share of cool outfits and slick gadgets (not to mention he did save the world a few times, which isn’t a bad thing), there was always a lacking in relatability. Once he put on the suit to fight the super-villain du jour, it didn’t matter who was in the suit, Iron Man was just a faceless means to an end.

With the recent slew of quality storytelling in comic book films, something that I’ve learned is that they best parts of the movie is not when the hero is in costume and kicking butt, but rather when they are out from behind the mask; just a person trying to discern right from wrong. What makes Iron Man 3 work is that the focus of the film is not simply a person in a metal suit, but a man trying to protect the people about whom he cares. Stripped of his futuristic home base and left without a functioning suit, Tony Stark has to trade in his high-tech solutions for old fashioned detective work, and for the first time in the series, despite being a billionaire, super-genius playboy, we can connect with him as a man searching for truth.

Now of course Iron Man 3 does have an epic final battle, but it’s so much more gratifying with the extra care given to the first two acts of the film. The relationship between Stark and his love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as a very entertaining friendship with Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), provide an emotional anchor to the impressive action, reminding us that there is a man in the suit.

The appeal of comic books to me has always been in taking the power of everyday emotions such as loss, longing and love, and bringing them to life through a fantastic alternate reality. While the Iron Man films have always had an abundance of fantasy, they had struggled in finding the heart behind it all. However, by taking off the mask, we are at last able to see Tony Stark as the hero — a man not just putting on a suit and saving the world, but saving his world, and most importantly, the people in it.

My Rating:   3 stars