Pardon my French, but Tony Stark has seen some shit. He’s tussled/hung out with thunder gods, defrosted legends and green rage monsters, stopped alien invasions and Mickey Rourke’s career revival and even popped into a wormhole once. Those kinds of experiences changes a man. It also changes the expectations for a sequel film about that man.
Normally by the 3rd entry in a franchise, ideas start running dry and we’re essentially just left with more of what came before, only with a bigger explosion budget. Also more villains, lots and lots of villains (aka Spider-Man 3 Syndrome). That would have been the easy choice for franchise debutante writer-director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout), but instead of just staying with the tried and tested formula, he pulls a “Tony Stark” and starts tinkering.
Now to be fair, Iron Man 3 also throws lots of villains into the mix and is also a lot more explodey than its predecessors, but the brilliance of this threequel is that for all intents and purposes this is the Tony Stark show. Now you may be wondering just how that is any different, as Robert Downey Jr – after having already been on and perfected this hi-tech rodeo three times previously – has been doing this attention black hole trick ever since landing the gig back in 2008. Simply put, this is the story of the man in the can, not the can on the man. And no, that is not a toilet joke.
After the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark is a PTSD stricken insomniac who would rather build new toys in his workshop and hide behind his armour than face his real issues, including his frustrated girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). But when Stark’s public bluster and bravado makes him a target of Bin Ladenesque terrorist The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), his whole world – very literally – comes crashing down around him, including all his fancy schmancy gadgets. Forced out of his armour, and now armed with nothing but his wits and wit, he needs to figure out how The Mandarin’s bombing campaign ties into the mystery of one time fling Dr Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and her scheming boss Aldrich Killian’s (Guy Pearce) new technology, Extremis, which allows you to rewire human DNA to superhuman effect.
Stripped of the Iron Man suit for a large percentage of the film, Downey Jr (whose career revival actually began with Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) gives us easily his best performance yet as the character, instead of just being a snarky voice behind a visor all the time. This is a more vulnerable and human Tony Stark than we’ve ever seen, as he is put through the psychological wringer. But don’t worry, it’s not all touchy feely mushiness. This is a Shane Black film after all!
His and co-writer Drew Pearce’s script is filled with a never ending barrage of razor sharp quips and the wisest of cracks, all expertly delivered by not just Downey Jr but the rest of the cast as well. Especially including 11-year old Ty Simpkins, who proves that under the right guidance, throwing in a cute kid sidekick to a fallen hero is not always celluloid cyanide. As Harley, the tech-centric boy who helps a down on his luck and tech-less Stark to solve the mystery of one of the bombings, he very nearly threatens to steal the show by out-Starking Stark. During some of their exchanges I was laughing so loudly, that I almost didn’t hear the follow-up retort. One of which is about as inappropriate a thing as you could say to a child. And utterly hilarious coming from the sardonic Robert Downey Jr.
The rest of the cast all turn in solid performances and most get their very own moments in the spotlight, especially Paltrow’s Pepper Potts who goes from tied on the train tracks damsel in distress to being responsible for one of the film’s best “F@#$, yeah!” moments, while Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian undergoes a transformation of his own, from barracuda smiling megalomaniac to barracuda smiling megalomaniac with really cool tattoos and the worst case of halitosis you’ve ever seen. But it’s Kingsley’s completely unexpected rendition of classic Iron Man villain, The Mandarin, that stands out of the crowd, and the one that will probably be most remembered.
To give all the characters their moments, Black and Pearce’s script borrows threads from some of the best Iron Man comic book stories of the last decade – “Extremis”, “The Five Nightmares”, “Stark: Disassembled” – and weaves them together for a twisting, high octane techno-thriller. Unfortunately, there may just be a twist or four too many, as the plot does get just a fraction too illogical in places. Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen in particular seems to be given stuff to do that makes zero sense, and there’s also the demigod, super-soldier, giant green elephant in the room of why Stark wouldn’t just call in his Avengers buddies for help.
There’s also one gigantic plot twist, which I won’t spoil here, that I’m still in turmoil about. As a movie fan, I appreciate the giant cojones it would take to do a twist this big, and it really does pull the rug out from under the audience. As a comic book fanboy of note though, the twist didn’t so much pull the rug out from underneath me as it instead just peed on the rug. And me. It essentially robs the cinematic world of Iron Man of one of the comic book’s greatest characters, and left me feeling rather stink-faced about it.
I’m sure that more casual fans won’t even care about it (or actually notice), which is why I didn’t let it hamper my scoring of the film too much, but this is a plot point that’s going to be keeping the comic book shop debates raging for quite some time.
That is, of course, if said debaters can kickstart their brains again after having them overloaded with awesome by the film’s action sequences. Black’s skill with action direction is top notch, giving us not only the best action beats of the franchise, but barring some scenes in The Avengers, the best of the entire Marvel line thus far. Even despite the fact that the film’s crazy, over the top finale was spoiled in just about every piece of promotional material released, it was still an eye-popping, brain melting experience that will have the fanboys and casual fans alike squealing like little girls at a Justin Bieber concert.
That being said, the highlight for me would have to be an adrenalizing, highly inventive mid-air rescue that occurs at about the film’s halfway mark. It takes a scenario we’ve seen before and puts a new spin on it, to spectacular effect.
Which is really what Iron Man 3 is all about. Everything we’ve come to love about the world of Tony Stark is here, but seen through slightly different, slightly more awesome eyes. I’d be hard pressed to say which was better, Iron Man 1 or 3, but there’s no doubt that this has just set the superhero bar for the 2013 blockbuster season. Superman, your move.
Last Updated: May 2, 2013