– Summary –
Director : Shane Black
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Ty Simpkins, Stephenie Szostak, James Badge Dale, William Sadler, Miguel Ferrer, Adam Pally, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany.
Approx Running Time :
Synopsis: Tony Stark, suffering PTSD after the events of The Avengers, finds himself locked in a battle with a dangerous, powerful new terrorist threat, calling himself The Mandarin.
What we think : Controversial handling of The Mandarin aside, Iron Man 3 is a damn fun film. No, it’s not better than the first, and yes, it’s a long stretch better than the second film, and if this truly is Tony Stark’s last solo film outing (for a while, at least) then it’s a terrific one to go out on. Some will not be able to make it past what Shane Black does with Ben Kingsley, and that’s fair considering how potent a menace he is throughout the film’s early stages, but the gangbusting final act, coupled with some terrific effects, ensure Iron Man 3 wraps up this “trilogy” in a way sure to leave even casual observers satisfied.
Back in the suit, again.
Marvel had one enormous challenge ahead of them, with this, the first film in Phase 2 of their world building cinematic enterprise, an enterprise capped off by the enormous success of The Avengers in 2012. Working against Iron Man 3 was the fact that it couldn’t really hope to emulate the success of Avengers proportions, but Marvel had a definite plan to follow, and worked it out perfectly. Iron Man 3 kicks off Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and although the film doesn’t set us up for any future events (no hints at upcoming villains or anything…) but it does spend some time dealing with the events of the New York attack in The Avengers, and what it has done to Tony’s psyche. Scarred from the experience, this is a Tony Stark weakened and dependent on others, perhaps moreso than in any of his previous films. Incoming director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) takes over for Jon Favreau (who appears as Tony’s bodyguard, Happy, in the opening and closing sequences of the film) and delivers a film that more than makes up for the lopsided first sequel, and although this film does have its flaws too, is still a respectably entertaining comic book film entry into Marvel’s canon. Iron Man 3 doesn’t attempt to surpass what we saw in The Avengers (and how could it, really?) rather, it takes us on a slightly darker, more internal struggle for Tony to overcome. Does it work in conjunction with the previous Iron Man films? Or is the departure of Favreau from the directors chair too great a loss?
This review contains some minor spoilers.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is a man trying to deal with the events shown in The Avengers – he suffers from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and self-induced insomnia. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is still as tempestuous as ever, although she’s rapidly running out of patience for the erstwhile inventor/superhero to deal with his issues. Things come to a head when Tony makes a public statement against the international terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who is threatening to rain horrors upon America and her President (William Sadler); The Mandarin’s exploration of Extremis technology, developed by wealthy developer Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), allows humans given the treatment to have advanced powers of their own (although one of the side effects for rejection of the technology is complete body detonation). The President’s use of the Iron Partriot (Don Cheadle) for handling these terrorist incidents is ineffective, leaving the Government scrambling for answers. Killian’s associate, Dr Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a one-time fling for Stark back at the millennial eve party attended by them all, tries to warn Stark of the threat of Extremis, but her words go unheeded. After his home is destroyed by the Mandarin’s forces, Tony is transported by his only remaining suit to a town in Tennessee, where one of the Killian’s early Extremis experiments went horribly wrong. Tony befriends a young boy, Harley (Ty Simpkin), who provides Tony with the motivation to come “back from the dead” and take the fight to the Mandarin – only, the infamous terrorist isn’t exactly who he says he is.
Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the work of Shane Black would be aware of his ability to carve scintillating dialogue from even the corniest scenarios. Black appeared as one of Arnie’s squad in Predator, before going on to write the first two Lethal Weapon films, The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, films with some fantastic writing behind them. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will appreciate Black’s work here. Iron Man 3 is delivered with rapid-fire wit, sharply written barbs and a uniquely Black-esque sense of emotional resonance. The script, co-written by Black and Drew Pearce (no relation to Guy), not only takes Tony on a journey with more emotional speed-humps than previous installments, but manages to remain a definite Iron Man film. Tony’s PTSD is handled magnificently, even if this plot point’s outcome feels rushed at the end, and his relationship with Pepper is explored in more depth than any of the previous films. Gwyneth Paltrow has less to do here than she probably should, a factor I’d blame on the fact that so much story is shoehorned into the film that it tends to become less focused as the attention is drawn away from Tony himself, and she’s probably the weakest part of it all. Paltrow herself isn’t bad, but she’s let down by the inherent lack of attention he character receives.
Generally, however, Black’s script sparkles, aided enormously by Downey Jr’s natural charm and ability to patter lines like the pro he is. However, the main cause for fan outrage comes with the decision to completely pull the rug from viewers with the Kingsley Mandarin reveal midway through the movie. Ben Kingsley is no slouch as an actor, as we all know, but not even he can obfuscate the stupid as his menace, his evil, his cruelty is obliterated with one of the worst twists in a comic book film in ages. If not ever. The revelation that Kingsley’s bearded, hostile Mandarin isn’t actually the real Mandarin, but actually a British actor who performs the role to obtain more drugs and booze, is probably the film’s biggest issue. Considering the reveal comes about half way through the film, it just undoes all Kingsley’s great work up to that point, and removes any tension the film had through his larger-than-life performance. The real Mandarin can then be spotted a mile away (it’s a previously introduced character…. you work it out…) as a cliched puppet master pulling the strings, and as a comic book trope it really makes one roll the eyes. Tragically, the film doesn’t really recover from this point, instead allowing Kingsley to mince and mandalay his way through the rest of the plot as a bumbling, addled fool instead of the strong, really cool villain he should have been. It’s a serious error in judgement on Black’s behalf to try this twist on modern audiences – admittedly, it might have seemed clever initially, but Kingsley’s too good an actor to have him not be the main bad guy all the way through. If Black had watched Sexy Beast perhaps he’d have reconsidered his decision process here.
Performances range from pretty darn good (Downey Jr and Ben Kingsley in Mandarin mode), to reasonably good (Ty Simpkins does well opposite Downey Jr, and brings a naturalness to his performance that balances his co-stars’) to eyebrow-raisingly cheesy (Guy Pearce, hamming it up superbly). Poor Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t come out of it well, reduced to helpless damsel towards the end (before a minimal redemption at the very end) that undermines her go-getter character from previous films. Don Cheadle provides solid – if undemanding – support as Colonel Rhodes (still want to bet Terrence Howard regrets his decision to strike out over money?) who spends a great deal of the film as Iron Patriot (the renamed War Machine), while Rebecca Hall provides extra spice as Maya Hansen, and James Badge Dale brings the Bad Guy vibe as Killian’s chief henchman. Once again, Paul Bettany provides the voice of Tony’s computer, JARVIS, and Jon Favreau, who looks like he’s eaten several pies on the way to the set, does his usual schtick as the bigger-than-his-underpants Happy. Typically, though, the acting in this kind of film takes a back step to the action and the visual effects.
And aren’t they superb, the visual effects in this film. An order of magnitude more technically complex than the first film, Iron Man 3 has weaved seamless practical and CG effects together to tell its story; its the most Hollywood of Hollywood films, in that the slick, swish veneer of style and polish of a major tentpole film just oozes class and money on the screen. The effects are superb, the rendering of the various Iron Man suits is elegant enough to allow us to distinguish between the variety Tony’s built while in his basement in the months since New York. Black directs the action sequences with an assured confidence (considering this is only his second feature film directing job!) and ensures nothing becomes too confusing with all the action of the final third. His use of framing and the lack of frenetic editing (Jeffrey Ford and Peter Elliot chopped this bad boy) allow us to never miss a moment we need to see, and while the occasional dip in pacing comes along during the mid-section of the story, for the most part the tempo of the film doesn’t let up. I should also mention the ripping orchestral score by Brian Tyler, who gives the film a real impetus with his themes and pounding, often jazz-like compositions. His closing credits cue in particular is one of the best I’ve heard for a modern blockbuster in the last ten years.
Iron Man 3 has its share of problems, the single one of real note being the way Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin character is narratively castrated mid-film in the most dire way possible, and aside from this and a second-act slowdown, in most other respects Iron Man 3 is a whole heap of Marvel-ous fun. Downey Jr steals the show again as Tony Stark, the action is well mounted and the dialogue is probably the best the franchise has seen to date: Iron Man 3 is no Avengers, but on its own is a solid, well made threequel (and perhaps a conclusion?) that only serves to add to the Marvel universe in an action-packed way. Fanboys might be up in arms about the score we’ve given it, but even through all the faults I picked, I still thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. A load of harmless fun. PS: Stick around after the credits for yet another stinger scene involving another Avengers character.