It’s been a while since I’ve done an honest-to-goodness film review and what better way to break that lazy streak than to weigh in on Iron Man 3, arguably the start of 2013’s summer blockbuster season.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Circa 2008, the first Iron Man film found itself in a similar position to this year’s Man of Steel, having the weight of not only a franchise, but an entire interconnecting universe on its shoulders. It’s not entirely the same though, as Iron Man was and still is nowhere near the cultural icon that Superman is. As you know, Iron Man did ridiculously well at the box office thanks in part to its snappy dialogue and being a fantastic showcase for Robert Downey Jr., all of which kicked off Marvel’s Phase One (which would eventually culminate in The Avengers four years later) with a bang. Iron Man 3 on the other hand, has Phase Two to launch- a move that will end in The Avengers 2. It’s all go at chez Marvel, I tell thee.
“You’re nothing more than a maniac. I’m not afraid of you. No politics here: just good old fashioned revenge!”
After his traumatic experiences in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) can’t sleep and has anxiety issues. Live-in girlfriend and Stark CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) tries to help Tony with his mental health but is finding herself pushed away by Stark’s suit-building obsession and constant technological tinkerings. Same goes for pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle) who finds himself donning a more jingoistic, red, white and blue version of the War Machine armour dubbed the “Iron Patriot”. Soon, a couple of people from Stark’s past show up, including sleazy businessman Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and brilliant scientist and one night fling Maya (Rebecca Hall). This is all capped off with the terrifying presence of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist leader who threatens the U.S. over video broadcasts and carries out seemingly unpredictable bombings with no trace of any device used. When one of these bombings puts long time bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital, Stark takes it personally and issues a challenge to the Mandarin. The story is great. It takes Stark back to a state similar to where he was in the first film, alone and forced to rely on his own wits and ingenuity to survive. Tony is genuinely vulnerable in this film, rather than Iron Man 2‘s Stark who was a smug, wackier-than-thou dick who then had a woe-is-me poisoning thing going on which didn’t work. Everyone here puts in a killer performance, especially Downey Jr. who reminds us exactly why he’s an A-Lister. Of the new recruits, Guy Pearce is bloody brilliant. Rebecca Hall is underused in the interesting role of Maya, but she does a lot with what she’s given. It’ll be Ben Kingsley who will set most tongues wagging though. He absolutely walks away with the film tucked under one arm. It’s an interesting take on the Mandarin and I wonder what hardcore comic book fans will make of it.
I had two fears when it came to this film. One, Black wouldn’t be allowed to do his own thing and would be shackled to established canon and genre conventions and two, it was going to end in the same way the first two films did with an uninspired metal-on-metal thumpfest. Thankfully, Iron Man 3 allays those concerns. From the very beginning, the film sets out its stall. It’s clear that this is very much a Shane Black film. The film opens on a very Kiss Kiss Bang Bang note with some unreliable RDJ narration over slow footage of Iron Man suits being torched. Then, the film completely wrong-footed me by scoring the opening credits with one hit wonders Eiffel 65’s one hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”, a song I haven’t thought about in around 15 years. The incredulous, confused reaction this got in the cinema was delicious. This is one of many rug-pulls the film contains and in a genre plagued by predictability and cliche, it’s very welcome. If you pop open the film’s hood you’ll find more evidence of the film’s Black-ness beyond these superficial elements. The dialogue is fast, sharp and packed full of one-liners. The whole film is like a spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with the film unspooling like a Johnny Gossamer-esque tale, complete with bombastic and kick-ass end credits (which you should know by now you have to stay to the end of, you douchetools.)
Iron Man 2 isn’t the worst film ever, but it serves as a handy comparison point. Practically everything that IM2 did wrong, IM3 gets right. Where the War Machine angle didn’t really convince in IM2, Iron Patriot works beautifully in IM3. Black and Drew Pearce have managed to finally do something with Rhodey and convinced me to join Team Cheadle after being unimpressed by his performance in Iron Man 2. The Patriot side story runs parallel with Tony’s and is completely compelling in its own right. When the two storylines finally cross, Iron Man 3 becomes the best buddy picture around, with shades of Riggs and Murtaugh coupled with Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry. I loved the third act of this film. It was slightly sloppily executed at times, as most of the suits were red and gold blurs rocketing around, but by gum, is it fun. It’s kinetic with being disorientating and epic without being nonsensical. Basically the exact opposite of a Transformers finale. Plus, most importantly, it’s not a yawnsome suit-on-suit scrap. In fact, a lot of the action is incredible inventive. My personal favourite fight is when Tony has to defeat a large number of hired goons using only one glove and one boot from the Iron Man suit. Also, the falling-out-of-a-plane, “barrel of monkeys” sequence glimpsed in the trailer is truly astounding.
Despite having spunked out all the glistening praise above, Iron Man 3, like so many things in life, is not perfect. I really liked this take on the Mandarin, but I can’t help but wonder what a slightly more faithful interpretation would have been like. Maybe I’m just a massive hypocritical meathead who likes seeing the same things over and over again, but I suppose this isn’t a big concern. I have a feeling both Pearce and Black don’t really rate comics much. The film is based on the fantastic Extremis run of comics (a storyline that both previous Iron Mans borrowed from) but deviates pretty heavily from them. The film does well with it as a framework and maybe it wouldn’t have worked on the screen, but I would have loved to have seen Extremis done justice. Also, I wanted to see more of the Hulkbuster suit.
“Nothing’s been the same since New York.”
Iron Man 3 rocks the shit. It’s the best one of the trilogy and puts part 2 to shame. It’s funny, the actual act of writing really gets to the bottom of how I feel about a film. Say I saw an underwhelming film. I’ll start off with an idea of a few points I want to make and the final star rating and during the process start feeling incredibly annoyed and revise my writing accordingly like in my Burt Wonderstone review. Here, it’s the exact opposite. I enjoyed the film hugely but was happy seeing it just the once. However, all this talk of snappy dialogue, daring story decisions and cracking action has made me start planning a second visit to the cinema to see it again. If that isn’t a sound endorsement I don’t know what is. Much like nearly all of Shane Black’s back catalogue (especially Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) this is highly recommended.