Iron Man 3 might seem like the most random of all of these films to start with. By that point in a trilogy, the writers normally assume that you've seen the rest and are familiar enough with them to identify with the characters and worry about what happens to them without wasting time on establishing a backstory. Handily, I brought along my friend Connor, who I went to see Flight with in January and who has seen and enjoyed all the other Avengers movies. He came in helpful when the film brought up references to stuff that happened before.
This was something that happened rather often as, in fact, some might regard the third Iron Man film more as the seventh Avengers film. From what I've heard, the events of each of the films all interlink, with characters from some appearing as cameos in other before all finally coming together under Nick Fury in Avengers Assemble, the climax movie that managed to become the third highest grossing film of all time. Clearly, I've been missing out on something huge, and Iron Man 3 takes the fair assumption that everyone who sees it has also already seen that. Tony Stark isn't quite as charmingly arrogant as he (apparently) was in the first two films, as he has been hit hard by the dramatic events in New York and suffers anxiety attacks when those nasty days are mentioned.
As such, the film mainly focuses on the struggle of Stark to return to normality in the face of another terrorist threat who appears to be almost completely oblivious to the superhero-versus-aliens Battle of New York which was broadcast around the world. After an admittedly bloody spectacular attack on his cliff top mansion, Ben Kingsley's Mandarin leaves Stark homeless and suitless, and he is forced to escape to the snowy middle of nowhere and rebuild himself to the point where he can face this terribly dangerous man. It was a Nolan-like attempt to get to the deep core of the character, which unfortunately wasn't accomplished quite as well as the character isn't nearly as identifiable and sympathetic as Bruce Wayne. Connor was disappointed. As I said before, Marvel's there to provide for the people who just want to watch someone with super strength beat up arseholes, not an in-depth character study. The narcissistic and flamboyant Iron Man was the epitome of that type of film, as you could just enjoy his one-liners and metallic punches. As Connor said, it made a good film, it just wasn't a good Iron Man film at all.
I thought The Mandarin was a bit wasted, too. A lot of people were getting excited over his appearance, as he was the biggest villain running through the comics, much like The Joker or Lex Luthor. However, he hardly appears at all apart from a few videos sent to the US government, filmed as if MTV did Bin Laden's messages. A monumental twist is pulled off pretty well, but it doesn't distract from the feeling that the story is in the wrong film. Every character is played as typically as possible, with no real imagination given to each interpretation, with the possible exception of The Mandarin himself. Perhaps it's my fault for choosing the most awkward possible Avengers movie to start with, but it wasn't my ideal introduction to the modern Marvel phenomenon.
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