Everyone’s favourite billionaire, playboy philanthropist (sorry Bruce) is back for a third solo shout…
It was always going to be a challenge to follow The Avengers, but after leading the way in Marvel Phase 1, it’s Tony Stark’s job to plough into Phase 2 of the studios big screen outings. Following a decidedly mediocre second film, the directing and writing reigns have passed onto previous Downey Jr. collaborator (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Shane Black.
Tony was last seen indulging in celebratory Shawarma with his fellow Chitauri-fighting counterparts, having saved New York from alien invasion and nuclear destruction. By Christmas 2012, and where the story of Iron Man 3 takes off however, he’s not sleeping, struggling with anxiety attacks, suffering probable PTSD and neglecting his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). Throw into the mix an anti-American symbol of hate, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and a morally questionable scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Stark is forced to confront his own personal crisis in order to not only save those closest to him, but also America.
Sound like your basic Superhero plot? Pretty much, but Black’s screenplay is intelligent, witty, surprisingly sincere, and in a fair few places, laugh out loud funny. There is no back up from previous franchise players, no Black Widow, no Nick Fury to fall back on. For much of the film Tony doesn’t even have his titular alter ego suit to protect himself, spending much of the second act skulking around rural Tennessee backstreets investigating a supposed suicide. This detective touch, along with a voiceover adds a great nuance of noir, reminiscent of Black’s earlier work. The isolation of Tony from his toys allows for some great exchanges with kid-with-an-attitude Harley (Ty Simpkins), who helps him get his destroyed suit up and running. Simpkins puts in what is probably the best cheeky child performance this side of Macaulay and their relationship dynamics allow for some interesting character developments on Tony’s part. Following the current trend for Macgyver constructions (looking at you Skyfall), Tony takes his engineering to basics with some home made Tasers and exploding baubles in a fun sequence that sees him infiltrate Killian’s ‘lair’.
This third film also features welcome expansions of many of the franchise’s main characters. Pepper plays a much more central role to the plot, Rhodes/ War Machine (Don Cheadle) get some great lines, repackaged as the awfully Amercian “Iron Patriot” and there is a great return from ex-chauffeur Happy (Jon Favreau, director of the first two films). Even Paul Bettany, returning as artificial intelligence system JARVIS gets some scene stealing one-liners. This does mean new faces, such as Rebecca Hall’s botanist, and ex-girlfriend of Tony feels underused and underdeveloped. While Iron Man 2 had Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell taking the antagonist roles, this film double-teams it again, but with much more success. Pearce’s Aldrich, who is introduced as a geeky, weedy scientist in 1999 before cropping up groomed, suave and far more threatening in modern day is an interesting challenge for Stark and Kingsley’s Mandarin is just superb. Without giving anything away, the more you learn about the character, the more watchable and entertaining he becomes and it’s the performance everyone will be talking about.
There are still some drawbacks, the story does take a while to get started and you have to wade through a fair amount of flashback and politics before the action really gets going. Some people will clearly struggle at the lack of actual ‘Iron Man’ in the story, but there are no doubts the impressive finale should whet their appetite. The henchmen also provide some confusing plot holes (although do deliver some of the best lines). Genetically enhanced assassins, they boast resistance to injury, but seem to each have different levels of ‘resistance’ and whilst some can be taken out with a standard explosion, several seem to be able survive even the most thorough of takedowns.
Despite these minor faults, Iron Man 3 is a great return to form for the franchise and a encouragingly strong start to Marvel’s Phase 2. As with the others, hold out for an entertaining after-credits sequence that begins our journey towards Avengers 2.
Now, just six months (ish) until Thor: The Dark World hits cinemas, and here’s hoping it can match up to the bar set beautifully high by Black.
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