The Avengers may have raised the bar for expectations of the entire super hero adaptation crowd, where such films can be loud and bombastic yet also have likable well-rounded characters even if they are dressed for Halloween and battling space whales. The first Iron Man set this stage and the second, despite an apparent lasting lack of enthusiasm, was personally at least, serviceable fun. It may be easy to follow Iron Man 2, but the Avengers may be tricky.
The now ever reliable Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, still probably the best cast of the entire Marvel lineup so far. Following the events of the Avengers, Stark is going through a series of anxiety attacks, and let’s be honest, following a potential suicide mission of hurling a live nuke in a wormhole at an intergalactic armada may not be the trick to taking of the edge. Pushed to an emotional brink, he calls out international terrorist archetype, the oddly named non-Chinese ‘The Mandarin” played by Ben Kingsley with obvious explosive results. All the while, a shifty Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pearce is peddling strange regenerative experiments under shrouded connections.
Even with explosive results, the third installment is predominantly a character piece in bed with a fast paced crime thriller. Rather than the “how Tony Stark got his grove back” motif of Iron Man 2, here Stark is attempting to rebuild himself as a new man. From the beginning we see that he is struggling to settle down legitimately with Pepper Potts played by Gwyneth Paltrow, constantly working to avoid admitting he has a problem. Seeing Downey Jr.’s titular character in a withdrawn, even vulnerable state is an interesting shift in the dynamic of the character. However there are the stretches of egotistical snarkiness that we seem to be drawn towards, so while on paper it may read as unfunny brooding, the character is still the all the same, just that the circumstances have changed also now requiring a change of heart and Robert Downey Jr. is giving it his all.
There seems to be a current trend where super heroes are not allowed to appear as such for most of the film, with the Dark Knight Rises and Amazing Spider-Man probably having a collective half hour each of costumed antics. Iron Man 3 does gravitate towards this portrayal, even beating him down to the point of being thrown back to a position reminiscent of the first half of the earliest Iron Man, after all it’s about the man, not the suit. Although rather than have entire acts absent of “super-fun-time”, Stark ends up jumping in an out of suits at a swift pace, backed up by antagonist minions in constant hot pursuit (that will become a bad pun after seeing this film) making up most of the action. The action itself outside of the obligatory impossible stunts climax is for the most part weaved into the narrative, rather than contrived director “oh no, we need some action here” moments that plague most films with any hint of fast pace. The final act itself is also fine but given the emphasis on characters so far, the showdown set piece is not the highlight you came to see and take away by the end.
Don Cheadle returns, now as the now rebranded “Iron Patriot” but has a noticeably lower key role, being less of a starring supporting role of the second and more of casual support, at least until the finale. Despite Ben Kingsley appearing in every trailer with menacing monologue and doing an overall fine job, given that Guy Pierce is set up from the get go as a shady corporate suit, if you’ve seen the last two Iron Man films with their “business conspiracy” plots than it wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that he has a major antagonistic role to play. In fact I will go as far as to say most of the plot can be figured out before the revelations… again, most however. Without giving away any major developments, there is a twist of a certain kind two-thirds the way into the film. While it does work in terms of the script, it’s initially tonally jarring and I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at first. However by the time the credits rolled it wasn’t a lasting issue and the film had gone ahead with payoff. Although there is one quick action Guy Pierce does for a couple of seconds that is incredibly cartoonish even for the standards of a franchise with Viking Gods and green monster men. You’ll know it when you see it.
Director Shane Black has clearly held is own in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, without the plot of The Avengers hanging over the story. The third installment is very much its own feature, with the occasional line acknowledging the wider playing field and as a result the film is much stronger for it. However that didn’t stop my inner nerd asking where S.H.I.E.L.D. is in all of this mess, although the average bystander and small character roles asking about the aliens is a nice subtle touch. You would if you knew there were aliens, right?
Also, yes, there is a post credit sequence.
Iron Man 3 has continued to prove the popularity of the character and Disney/Marvel’s cinematic conquest, being a more than worthy follow up. In all honestly though, at time of writing I’m not sure if Iron Man 3 matches up with the first or not. I would have to revisit both again soon but even asking the question is a good enough indicator that third time is still a charm.
Also starring Rebecca Hall, John Favreau and Paul Bettany.
ROLE OUT THOR 2!