I feel like talking in details so... spoilers »
There were so many specific things to like in this film, it’s hard to know where to begin. Shane Black has the lowest of my star ratings, not because he did a bad job but because there were just one or two small things I didn’t love and I couldn’t put them anywhere else so they got thrown into the Directing rating.
I’ve already mentioned that the script is brilliant, and it is. I loved that there were things folded into the beginning that paid off later. But even more than that (because that’s like screenwriting 101) I loved that the pay off surprised me. Since that is screenwriting 101 when I see certain things I expect the payoff. If it never comes that’s bad screenwriting. When it does come, usually I see it from a mile away. But the empty suit totally surprised me and I loved that.
I also didn’t see the twist with the Mandarin and Trevor coming, so much so that I didn’t believe it at first. But well done. I liked that the movie was funny. And that, maybe, is the clearest place where Joss’ influence shines through (other than a really smart, tight script). Because the humor in Iron Man 3, like The Avengers, is funny because it’s surprising. You don’t expect the laugh, you don’t see the line coming and then you’re startled by how smart and unexpected and sometimes irreverent it is. That’s humor I really enjoy. And I like that it wasn’t just Robert Downey Jr. who got the funny lines, but between the twist with Trevor and Rhodey and Harley (how awesome was Harley?!) it’s like the whole film had an undercurrent of humor.
The other place I really saw Joss was the way in which the film was just enough meta to make it less ridiculous, not more. The majority of comic book/superhero films use meta references to try to be funny and it makes the whole thing feel cheesy. But just a line here or there acknowledging how over the top something is or how ridiculous it would look from the outside makes the whole thing seem even more realistic. Which may not seem logical, but it’s true.
The action was also really good between the barrel of monkeys and Tony fighting with only one hand and one foot it was dynamic and new.
The characters were absolutely the strongest asset of the film, though, and not just because Robert Downey Jr. is so good at being Tony Stark. I’ll admit I didn’t love Guy Pearce or Happy. There was something oily about Pearce and maybe the character was supposed to be like that, but when it just makes him unlikable it’s icky. And Happy just seemed, slightly out of place in the whole thing; good emotional motivation for Tony but just not quite in sync with the rest of the film. Maybe a part of that is my slight bias against Jon Faverau, I don’t know. Anyway, the Performance rating took a hit for them.
But Pepper and Tony were amazing. I loved the depth of their relationship. I loved that it wasn’t just a stable relationship in a superhero film but that he was truly devoted to her. You saw it in the way he wrapped her in the suit in the first explosion and at the end the way he held her and destroyed all the suits for her. And his focus throughout the whole film was in wrestling with his demons and stopping the bad guy but she was always there and a part of it was always protecting her and how much he cared about her. It was so fantastic and so rare in a hero film.
I also really liked that Pepper got to be a little badass. There was a moment at the end where, for reasons of my own, I expected Pepper to show up and get a hit in with Killian but just enough to distract him so Tony could stand up and finish him off. Because Tony’s the hero and that’s the way these things go. But for her to get to deal the killing blow (in a very cool way) was very, very awesome.
But mostly, Tony’s arc was just brilliant. And it should be, it’s his movie. Dealing with feeling inadequate after The Avengers; needing a suit on to feel safe and kind of becoming obsessed about them. It was very realistic and interesting to watch his character struggle with. But, from a screenwriting point of view, it was also kind of the perfect struggle to give him because of the resolution. Seeing him outside that car in the snow realize that he’s more than the suit – that his power isn’t in the suit’s ability to blast something but in Tony’s mind and his ability to build things was the sort of epiphany that so rarely happens in summer tent poles. And it truly was exactly what Tony Stark needed to go through. Because not only did he change as a character, the audience changed with him. Because that last line is telling us that this icon of the Marvel world isn’t what we always thought it was. Iron Man isn’t the suit. Tony Stark is Iron Man.
It was powerful in it’s own way. Having read this article the scene at the end where they remove the shrapnel was even more interesting.
“What does this mean if we wind up doing an Avengers 2? Kevin looked at me and said, ‘That’s Joss’ problem to solve.’ I was like, ‘Good man.’”