Take away Tony Stark's robotic suit of armor and what do we have left? In Iron Man 3, we learn it's more than just a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.
Director Shane Black (of Lethal Weapon fame), uses the third installment of Iron Man to show us more man than robot. If you've seen Black's first Robert Downey Jr. vehicle, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, then you won't be surprised to learn that Iron Man 3 is full of the quips, banter and bravado that serve as standard weapons in Tony Stark's arsenal. But, between daring an international mega-terrorist to attack his Malibu mansion and calling a middle schooler a p****, Stark's vulnerability and mortality are on display.
Stark's regretful. Iron Man 3 opens with a Tony Stark voiceover explaining how his hubris has come back to bite him. On New Year's Eve in 1999, a wormy scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) approaches Stark looking for advice and an investment. But, Stark is drunk and too busy trying to bed a promising botanist (Rebecca Hall), as genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropists are wont to do. He tells Killian to wait for him on the roof, though he obviously has no intention of following through with the encounter.
After being big leagued by Stark and wallowing on the roof, modern-day Killian linked up with A-Rod's pharmacist and Gordon Gecko's hair stylist before joining forces with The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an international super-terrorist with some Bin Laden flare, to help turn wounded soldiers and the physically handicapped into a genetically-enhanced terrorist cell. Hell hath no fury like a wormy, fanboy scientist scorned.
Stark's anxious. Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD as he struggles to grasp the fact that a hole opened in the sky and scores of flying aliens poured into the atmosphere laying waste to New York City in The Avengers. And he still hasn't recovered from the whole wormhole thing. Iron Man 3 shows Stark stricken with panic attacks during battle sequences and wigging out every time someone mentions "New York."
Though Stark's anxiety is humanizing and serves to remind the audience that Iron Man 3 takes place in a post-Avengers reality, the insomnia and cold sweats feel a bit forced. Much like some of Stark's new armor, it could use some debugging.
Stark's ambitious. When we see Stark in present-day, he's tinkering with his machines and his love life. The Avengers fiasco raised a bunch of red flags, so Stark is hard at work trying to improve his technology.
Romantically, he's (kind of) actively working on his relationship with live-in girlfriend/Stark CEO Pepper Potts. By now, his lavish flavor of charm seems to have worn off and the whole night terrors thing probably isn't helping his case.
Stark's hot-headed. When Killian's genetically-enhanced henchmen attack Hollywood and leave Happy Hogan (John Favreau) watching the Dowager Countess of Grantham from a hospital bed, Stark gives his The Mandarin a big ol', "Just bring it!" Then he smashes a reporter's phone and ends up eating his words when his new nemesis takes him up on his offer.
Stark's nurturing. After The Mandarin's genetically-mutated cronies lay siege to Stark's digs, he finds himself traipsing around rural Tennesse with a tween whose dad went out for lotto tickets and never came back. Their interactions and banter serve as the funniest dialogue Iron Man 3 has to offer. These sequences also allow Stark—and Downey Jr.—to tap dance on the line between the political incorrectness that makes an audience groan and the heart-warming companionship that makes an audience "aww."
And, really, that's what makes Iron Man 3 a success. Practically everyone on the planet saw The Avengers (twice). Shane Black is not M. Night Shyamalan and the ending doesn't reveal that Tony Stark has been a ghost the whole time. It's patriotic and heroic and exciting and Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is in it just enough to give you a taste of the buddy cop schtick with a super hero twist.
Sure, Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen felt underdeveloped and an action climax at an abandoned shipyard isn't exactly revolutionary. But, a few well-placed plot twists, the obligatory action sequences, and the witty dialogue that comes with a Robert Downey Jr. flick make it everything a sequel to a super hero movie should be.
Though it will always live in the original's shadow, Iron Man 3 is a genetically-enhanced version of the franchise's second installment. On a scale of Catwoman to The Dark Knight, Iron Man 3 is a 7.5.