So here it is folks, the first movie of Marvel’s phase 2 lineup. Iron Man 3 picks up after the events of The Avengers and it’s had big effects on Tony Stark (aliens, inter-dimensional portals and a guy wearing reindeer antlers will do that ya). A terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) threatens everything Tony stands for and he embarks on a mission full of retribution, reform, and revenge. Tony Stark’s past may be coming back to haunt him while Aldrich Killian ( Guy Pearce), has plans for Stark Industries.
Shane Black, of Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang fame, writes and directs this Armored buddy superhero action flick. Robert Downey Jr. and Black teamed up in 2005 with the highly underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and here he brings that early 2000s feel. The opening title song is the perfect choice to capture the early aughts tone and reminds me of how we all were bumpin it in 2nd grade!
It’s obvs Christmas because it’s always Christmas in a Shane Black movie. Tony’s already got plenty of new toys to play with that provide for some action sequences a cut above his previous two solo outings. Iron Man 3 attempts the most in depth look at Tony Stark we’ve had yet as he’s plagued by internal demons. This story parallels A Christmas Carol with Tony Stark playing Scrooge (Brilliant! if only there was more of this). Tony has a few of his own “Ghosts of Christmas Past” to deal with here.
Downey gives his best performance as Tony Stark yet. His one liners paired with Black’s direction are weapons and his wry smile lights up the screen like Xmas lights. Black’s less interested in Iron Man and shifts focus to Tony, both a subversion of these films formula and a technique to fully utilize Downey’s talent. The script is full of clever humor but Marvel’s shackles tighten around Black’s R rated sensibility. Too often do they clash and feel like a 90’s R rated action films that’s been slammed into a Disney family film.
The dark moments are almost always given a funny one liner to lighten the mood. The excessive humor ends up drowning out some of the drama that had potential to give this film a proper emotional weight. There’s certainly a few moments with Tony that feel intimate and round out his character but that credit goes to Downey for his great performance.
At Stark Industries Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is dealing with Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce woo hoo!) a scientist selling a new technology called Extremis which has DNA altering effects. Pearce as Killian is like Downey’s Stark but with a sinister mad scientist charm. Pierce rides the line of a hammy villain and a charismatic presence. His motivations and plans are hard to follow and way over complicated in the second half of the movie but Pearce is haven a good ‘ol time.
But really, after the movie ask yourself what was the bad guys main plan? The film tries to make you believe characters have grown even when you don’t actually see it. Of the three Iron Man movies this one definitely feels the most like a comic-book, both a credit to Black’s ability to find a somewhat unique aesthetic but also a detriment to the film’s focus on Stark’s trauma. Black injects his frames with color which brings a nice aesthetic flavor but too often do the special effects on the villain’s cronies look excessive and fake.
Black gives Tony some buddy cop moments that make Downey shimmer with classic movie star spotlight! Specifically with a young kid (Ty Simpkins), who plays the sidekick kid role well, and Rhodey played by Don Cheadle (Iron Patriot/War Machine). Stark’s banter with the young kid provides some of the funniest lines of the movie, and allows for Tony to grow as a character and get back to the roots of what made him Iron Man. A guy who out smarts people. Don Cheadle gets a bigger role here and his exchange with Tony provides for some good chuckles (Glover/Gibson influence?). Then there’s The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, whose looming around. OSAMA BIN MANDARIN!
The first half while a bit slow with the plot is injected with humor and fine action sequences. Then there’s a shift in the film that’ll divide people. The problem for some is that your perception of the movie completely changes and there’s a void left. The movies identity, or focus, changes and it takes a while to get back on board. But if you’re an astute viewer you’ll understand that’s it’s intended as a brilliant subversion. My issue lies with the execution and tone of the scene in question. I admire it’s meaning but have issues with how they pul it off and it’s how the film detours into unnecessary silliness.
On a technical level the movie has a few issues with editing and the latter half has a big clash between Marvel’s in house tone and Blacks signature style. But this makes the movie oddly unpredictable with all its’ misdirections that you never know what’s going to happen. After all, Scream 3 told us that no one is safe in a 3rd movie, not even the hero. It’s a film that slyly builds themes and it all stems from Tony and Pepper’s relationship. Shockingly there’s a heart here.
Shane Black’s script has the outlines of Marvel’s plan but it’s lightly colored in with his personality, which is sorely needed in this franchise. The Avengers felt unique to Joss Whedon and I pray that this means Marvel will become more filmmaker driven. At least on a script level it’d be nice.
Once again Robert Downey Jr. is great as Tony Stark/Iron Man and with rumors that this may be his last outing it’s great to see him the best he’s ever been. IM3 is at it’s best when Black and Downey are in sync doing their thang. I can’t stress enough how much the humor (especially) and action drive this movie. The script keeps the movie feeling fresh and fun even while it clashes with the limits of being a franchise film. The Christmas time setting tries to bring out the theme of what’s the most important thing to us and questions what happens when it’s in jeopardy? One wishes that Black could’ve gone full Shane Black but I suppose I can’t complain too much. It’s a fun enough popcorn film that’s worth seeing in theaters.
For reference: Iron Man: B+, Iron Man 2: C-