Director: Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Ty Simpkins
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: April 25th
3D: Worth it
From the moment Richard Pryor stepped foot the set of Superman III, the entire institution of comic book threequels has been cursed. Spider-Man 3, Batman Forever, X3, The Dark Knight Rises; by no means all terrible films, but all representing a sizeable dip in quality for what had been well regarded franchises.
Iron Man 3 bucks this trend. Perhaps because, apart from its title, it barely qualifies as a part three. Last summer’s Avengers, in addition to redefining the meaning of tentpole blockbuster, has created a new status quo for this universe and the franchises within it. This isn’t the third tale of Iron Man, this is just another story in a greater world.
Tony Stark is a man on the brink; anxiety attacks, insomnia, and delirium have racked him since The Avengers’ worlds-collide battle of New York, bringing his dysfunction to the fore. Not the ideal time, so, for Stark to become a target for The Mandarin, an enigmatic terrorist with the eye for theatrics a villain would need to stand out in a world where gods and aliens rule the airwaves. Closer to home, Stark’s Howard Hughes-esque hysteria has put his relationship with Pepper Potts on the rocks, leaving a demon from Tony’s past, the charming—but clearly a bit evil—Aldrich Killian to sweep in and pick up the pieces.
Bringing on a new director to an established franchise (a favoured tactic of the frugal Marvel Studios) can be tricky. Thankfully, Iron Man 3 is a perfect example of the kind of evolutionary synthesis this change can bring.
Black’s characterisation of Iron Man isn’t simply a wisecracking ego in a ‘high tech prostheses’, but a man building a life on a past full of mistakes. Stark is constantly juxtaposed against his metallic counterpart, spending long stretches removed from the iconic shell. The film doesn’t miss a beat as it segues from a frenetic helicopter assault on Stark’s Malibu mansion into a small-town detective story with an unexpected surrogate father vibe. Before things get a little too Last Action Hero, Downey Jr’s back in the suit, for a third act that doesn’t let up.
While Marvel films typically come equipped with generous helpings of action, Iron Man 3 isn’t afraid to deal in straight up violence. Be it a suit-less Stark subduing a mansion load of thugs using only his mechanical wiles, or a massive robots-vs-super-soldiers battle royale, the film delivers action orchestrated with a kinetic flair and flinch inducing tangibility.
It’s not all sunshine and explosions though. Despite Kingsly’s Mandarin injecting some deceptive brilliance to the story, Pearce’s Killian joins Jeff Bridges and Mickey Rourke in the pantheon of not particularly interesting Iron Man villains. His motivational clunkiness combined with the sheer density of the film also somewhat blunt the thematic through line it’s reaching for.
Black and co-writer Drew Pearce deliver a mostly smart script, distributing Stark’s trademark wit more evenly amongst the large cast. Still, Iron Man 3 isn’t entirely above goofiness, and Don Cheadle’s role throughout the film is essentially comic relief black sidekick. It would seem Pryor’s curse lives on in some form.
If origin stories are the bread and butter of superhero films, then part-threes are comical 8ft tall overstuffed Scooby-Doo sandwiches. Yet Black has put his stamp on a comic book film that not only leaps over the genre’s perpetual stumbling block, but enriches both the Marvel universe and the cinematic landscape for superhero films in general.