Director Shane Black loves Christmas. Hell, the finale to "Iron Man 3" is a loving tribute to the classic "March of the Wooden Soldiers," but in the end what makes "Iron Man 3" is not the finer Shane Black touches, but the purely intelligent and utterly volatile commentary on terrorism and the American government that really plants this final entry as the most mature of the "Iron Man" films by far. While "Iron Man" is the most entertaining, "Iron Man 3" has a lot to say about the war on terrorism.
Tony Stark is a man whose spent most of his life spent in the logical, the technical, and the scientific. Such a self-involved egomaniac was he that his experience in "The Avengers" confronting the army in New York left him shell shocked. He's an insomniac now, and finds himself overly dependent on his suit and technology. Not only is he convinced another intergalactic threat is imminent, but he's become a victim of frequent panic attacks. The world is now being held under the threat of the Mandarin, a Middle Eastern warlord who is committing planned terrorist attacks across the world much to the government's confusion. Meanwhile, Stark has been approached by Aldrich Killian, a scientist with a new genetic technology that promises to re-invent the human body. If I have a few gripes with "Iron Man 3" is that the writers of the third film in the series never know how to handle the themes it confronts.
Black explores the notion that the Avengers war left him traumatized and with crippling panic attacks, but he seemingly recovers within the course of the film. Even during the big climax, he's still the dashing adventurer never quite held back by his anxiety once. Anxiety and mental illness surely isn't a disease cured in a matter of months, and it's a shame Stark is left with a fairly untarnished ego that should have been fractured by his experiences. There's also little in the way of exploring Stark's affliction and what it is brought on by. Surely, we're explained that it's mostly due in part to his brush with death in New York, but the details are scant. It's also hinted that the impotent business savvy Tony is the impotent romantic Tony with Pepper, but there's also not too much emphasis in that corner of the conflict.
In either case, "Iron Man 3" presents very relevant and interesting commentary about the idea about the war on terror, with a premise that presents us with the villain Mandarin. Writers Black and Pearce have a lot to cover in the way of the iconic Iron Man villain, and they completely re-invent the character while side stepping the Asian stereotypes. "Iron Man 3" takes a lighter and less dependent approach on The Avengers film series, as Stark is still just a lone wolf completely enamored with his tech and his genius. Black uses the villain of the Mandarin to stage a very welcome twist for Stark's journey of overcoming his disease. When the Mandarin attacks Tony's empire and destroys his machines, Tony is left at a small town in Tennessee to figure out a way of re-building and bringing down the terrorist overlord once and for all.
"Iron Man 3" introduces an array of exciting moments that truly build on a moment that will decide Tony's future once and for all. With dynamic special effects, Black turns the Iron Man armor in to a fun and unique character all on its own, all the while focusing on the relationship between Tony and James Rhodes, both of whom learn to rely on their natural instincts when their armor is disabled and rendered obsolete by Mandarin's armed forces. Rhodes is given much more of an active role this time around as Black realizes the character's potential and allows Don Cheadle a chance to play hero on all fronts. "Iron Man 3" is a different kind of film from the first two. Though not as heavily dependent on the Iron Man mold as the first two entries, Black is wise enough to focus on character for the last outing, offering an insight in to Stark and the universe surrounding him.