As a film, it cannot be denied that Iron Man 3 is a much more introspective and exciting film than Iron Man 2. The action scenes, in particular the climactic battle sequence with the multiple armor suits, are top-notch and riveting. It is delightful to see Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts leave the sidelines and actually kick ass both in armor and in the throes of Extremis power. The latter in particular gives us a glimpse of how great a super-powered female (Ms. Marvel, perhaps?) would look in Avengers 2 or any of the Phase 2 or 3 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
But after opening up a glorious can of cosmic worms in The Avengers and essentially giving the MCU the license to be as bombastic and epic as comic book movies have a right to be, Iron Man 3's take on one of Marvel's most cinematic and powerful of villains is an upsetting step in the wrong direction.
I was already prepared to look past the change in the Mandarin's ethnicity, what with the glorious thespian Ben Kingsley taking the role and seeming to properly chew the scenery with a majestic malevolence in the trailers. My doubts were dispelled almost completely when he made his sinister appearance in those terrorist broadcasts. He scared me, as the Mandarin should, and so I was excited to see how Tony Stark would go up against such a diabolical power.
And then it happened. Until the last moments, I was hoping, expecting, for the actor named Trevor to show that he was an even better actor than he pretended to be. I waited for him to shed his silly performance and pounce on Stark with a ferocious attack that he did not see coming.
But it did not come. The Mandarin in the broadcasts was really just a facade for a bumbling British idiot (played to absolute perfection by Kingsley, I must say). It was nothing more than a ruse, a misdirection. What Christopher Nolan and his team did in Batman Begins with the Ra's al Ghul switch was done to us again. Only this time, we ended up getting one of the lamest and least memorable of the MCU villains, in place of what could have been one of the most awesome ones that we've seen, an arch-enemy fit for Iron Man. To make matters worse, the writers just had to make the cheesy, low-tier, 90s TV-movie villain Aldrich Killian declare that he was "the real Mandarin." Umm, no. Having dragon tattoos and breathing out fire (which conveniently enough he stops doing during his biggest fight) does not make one the Mandarin.
Many other people have issues with what Stark did to himself at the end, essentially giving up what makes him Iron Man, but by that time, I honestly did not care anymore. The post-credit sequence, which I suppose would have been funny otherwise, also just fell flat and felt pointless.
To sum it all up, the film is an enjoyable bloated mess that spits in the face of the comics and is nowhere near as glorious and worthy a franchise ending and Phase 2 beginning as it could have been. I fail to understand how people who declare themselves fans of the comics and of the potential of the MCU could do more than tolerate its absurdities.
If only for this, I look forward to the Thor and Captain America sequels and the Guardians of the Galaxy film as palate-cleansers and ways to restore my faith in the shared universe. One can only hope.