Rating: 4 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Tony Stark has always been the smartest man in the room, and, since he developed the Iron Man armor, also among the toughest. But during the Battle of New York (in The Avengers), Tony was confronted with something too big even for him to understand, and too powerful for him to face alone, and it’s made him skittish. He can’t sleep, gets panic attacks, and stays up every night developing more and more different versions of his Iron Man armor, trying to anticipate any possible danger that could threaten him or his girlfriend, Pepper.
The emergence of the Mandarin, claiming responsibility for the bombing that put one of Tony’s friends in a coma, gives Tony a target he thinks he can understand. Isn’t this guy just like the terrorists Tony dealt with in the first Iron Man? He even uses the same ten-rings imagery. A bit of “Bring ‘em on!” bravado ends with Tony’s house destroyed, Pepper almost killed, and his precious armor sets either disabled or inaccessible. Everything Tony has feared has come to pass, and he’s now forced to figure out who he is when he doesn’t have his wealth or his tech to protect him.
Iron Man rescuing the people falling from Air Force One is not just the greatest scene of this movie, but one of the greatest scenes in any super hero movie. It has both a great premise—hero must beat the clock to solve an impossible problem and save lives—and an incredible execution—this is not just a green screen and a big fan, they actually got a bunch of stuntpeople jumping out of a plane over and over again and then compiled the footage. A wonderful moment.
The final action scenes, set on an oil platform and depicting an army of empty Iron Man suits against an army of extremis soldiers, are thrilling. I particularly loved any time Tony would jump off something and land inside another suit. His battle with Killian, with Killian slicing away pieces of armor always just a moment after Tony moves his actual body parts out of the way, was terrifically choreographed. Even Rhodey and Pepper get things to do, with Rhodey swinging on a cable to save the President while things explode around them, and a super-powered Pepper saving Tony and landing the final blow on Killian.
I’ve been reading comics on and off for 30 years and I actually really loved the Mandarin reveal. Maybe it’s because I was never a big Iron Man reader and I don’t have any personal connection to the Mandarin as written, but I thought the twist was perfect for the story they were telling, and it fits in great with Shane Black’s general tendency to take an action movie cliché and put a little twist on it.
“Don’t shoot! Seriously, I don’t even like working here. They are so weird.”
“Alright, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna spot. Ready?” Tony peeks over the barrier.
“What’d you see?”
“Too fast, nothing.”
“Which happens. Dads leave. No need to be a pussy about it.”
“Einstein slept three hours a year. Look what he did.”
So the movie doesn’t always make sense. It often felt like there must have been more scenes at some point that provided connective tissue but they were cut out. Like Maya Hansen’s heel turn with Pepper at the hotel is fine, but then Maya has a face-turn in her very next scene that seems to come out of nowhere. And what exactly is Harley, the kid mechanic, doing with the Iron Man armor that’s somehow helping to repair it? And what does he use to get the Iron Man armor out of the locked barn? Acid? Why is an old wooden barn door the armor’s only weakness anyway? Then later Trevor tells Tony and Rhodey that all he knows is the Vice President is involved in the next phase of the plan, which leads them to the Air Force One scene, but how did they then know where to find Pepper? Trevor definitely didn’t tell them about the oil platform.
It’s just a bunch of little nitpicky things that you can kind of ignore, but it’s distracting during a movie to constantly be saying to yourself, “Wait, what?”