IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley
Writers: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Director: Shane Black

Review by Christoph Staffl

Iron Man 3. Iron. Man. Three. Say it with me: “Iron Man Three.”

What are the first things that come to mind when you think about that movie? The cinematography, the music, the performances, a particular scene, or Ben Kingsley’s voice? Whatever it might be, you sure as hell can find a heated discussion about it somewhere on the internet. No other film has wandered from Bottom to Top, up and down my personal MCU ranking as this movie. Why is that? What’s so special about it? Let’s talk about Iron Man 3.

Embrace the struggle

One major theme that can be identified throughout the film concerns ramifications. Ramifications from New York, witnessing an alien invasion, deaths of friends and colleagues–a feeling of powerlessness. This powerlessness sends Tony Stark back to his basic human instincts and to what he knows best. Trying to come to terms with all the emotions surrounding past events, he builds suits and relies on them for his safety.

But Tony also goes through various phases that come with such experiences. Be it fear, panic attacks, overcompensating, jealousy, hiding in his suite, or insane ego-trips–Tony has been there. I mean, which sane person would invite the Mandarin to attack their homes? Slowly though, he becomes someone who appreciates what he has. Learning to move past his fears, using them instead of giving in or fighting them, and therefore move forward. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a part of yourself to rebuild an even stronger version.

Before Infinity War or the upcoming Endgame, this is Robert Downey Junior’s best performance as Tony Stark. Don’t get me wrong, Civil War and Age of Ultron also have peak RDJ performances, but with IM3, he reached a depth like never before.

Staying true to… what?

The character study that is IM3 surprises me time and again when watching the movie. Especially sequences when Tony sacrifices his safety to ensure Pepper’s (Gwyneth Paltrow). Or the sequence with the young Harley who has so much of Tony in him. But as perfect as those sequences are, the movie could use a bit more seriousness between them–sometimes.

One of the most significant flaws for me concerns the character of the Mandarin. Is this the version of the character fans should have their first experience with? I was disappointed. Others might have read stories about Iron Man and the Mandarin for years, but this was my first encounter with the iconic villain. I knew little about him, just that he counts as an institution–someone you fear, a person of terror. And to hear Ben Kingsley in the trailer sent goosebumps all over my body.

One could argue that it was a clever subversion of expectations, but in the case of IM3, it goes deeper, and it has nothing to do with being a purist. I appreciate changes to originals, modernizing them. However, there is a fine line between betraying a character and staying true to its core.

I can accept this version of the Mandarin now, but is acceptance something to strive for in this case? Because the IM3 version will always be my first experience: a goofy, drunk actor who makes fart jokes. Maybe sometime in the future, they make it right, but the first version always sticks around–just as Picard was my first (and best) captain. It’s just something to think about.

The look and feel

Be that as it may, the Mandarin occupies just a little space in the overall epic that is Iron Man 3. That’s why I learned to accept it and move past it, because there are so many other great things about the movie. And it would be a shame to ignore them.

For one, we have the cinematography (John Toll – director of photography), which goes from breathtakingly epic to incredibly intimate in just a few heartbeats, and somehow it always works. Everything looks stunning. Be it Tony dragging his suit through the snow, the destruction of his mansion, or the videos by the “Mandarin.” The visual effects blend in as perfectly as the music (Brian Tyler) underlines the events unfolding on screen.

I already mentioned RDJ’s performance, but the same can be said about others as well. Happy (Jon Favreau) is always fun to watch and allowed to go deeper than just some quirky one-liners. Pepper’s journey also has flair, and she always can stand her grounds against Tony and Killian (Guy Pearce).


Iron Man 3. I could talk about this movie for hours, but that should do it for today. I still find it difficult to rank this movie, because it does so many unique things that sometimes stand in its way. The Mandarin may be flawed (or was a surprise no one expected), which in no way undermines the villainy of Aldrich Killian. He is a great antagonist, hiding in plain sight, who seems to have planned for every eventuality. If you have skipped this movie, watch it, study it, and don’t take its flaws too seriously, because the movie does not take itself too seriously as well. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I think I have to rewatch it again.

Iron Man 3




Character Arc


Music and Sound Design



Christoph Staffl

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