WARNING: This piece contains spoilers for Iron Man 3. Do not read unless you have seen the film.
Iron Man is my favorite superhero.
On film, at least. Of this I have no doubt. Watching Shane Black’s terrific Iron Man 3 brought this into sharp perspective for me, for although I love what Marvel Studios has done with Thor and Captain America, and adore Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, and hold a special place in my heart for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, I cannot pretend I love any of those characters nearly as fiercely as I adore Tony Stark. What Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, and now Shane Black have done with this character goes beyond delivering a great performance, or creating a simultaneously fun and introspective atmosphere for him to exist in. It is more than just crafting spectacular action sequences to let him dazzle us with superheroics, or giving him strong supporting characters to quip with. This all plays into the larger equation, but the sum is so much greater than the parts. Over five years and four movies, Downey Jr. and the Marvel creative team have created what feels like a real, living human, a figure so richly defined, detailed, and palpable that it is often hard to remember he exists only within the realm of celluloid.
How else could Shane Black so perfectly tailor every single element of Iron Man 3, a sprawling studio blockbuster of mammoth proportions, to expertly advance Tony’s intensely human arc of identity and insecurity? ‘Complex characterization’ is not a strong enough term to describe what he and Downey Jr. accomplish here. This is an insightful and engaging psychological analysis of an impossibly rich and fascinating central character, and may be the current pinnacle of the superhero film as character piece, surpassing even Nolan’s Dark Knight films in terms of cutting to the heart of what makes the title figure tick, and vibrantly defining what audiences love about him in the process.
Iron Man 3 is also tremendously funny, of course, and endlessly intriguing, and bombastically exciting as only the greatest comic-book blockbusters can be. Having viewed it twice now, I am convinced this is a watermark for the genre – the second Marvel has delivered in twelve short months – and the only proof I ever need to defend that, cinematically speaking, Iron Man is not only the best Avenger, but the most emotionally rewarding costumed hero of them all.
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