The Avengers last year assembled four of Marvel’s biggest heroes in a single film, where an army of aliens led by a Norse god laid utter waste to New York City. That’s a tough act to follow, but Iron Man 3 does so by focusing on the character of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) rather than on the superhero firepower of his Iron Man alter ego.
Iron Man 3 reunites Downey Jr with director Shane Black, who helped to revitalise the volatile actor’s career with the acidly funny 2005 neo-noir Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The match between star and director is once again an inspired one, Black’s rapid-fire dialogue providing the perfect ammunition for Downey Jr’s Gatling gun of a mouth.
Iron Man 3 picks up soon after The Avengers, with post-traumatic stress from the events of that film leaving the once cocksure Tony Stark in a mess of anxiety attacks and sleepless nights. But Stark is forced to confront his demons after an international terrorist known as The Mandarin (played with gusto by Ben Kingsley) threatens everything he loves, including business partner and lover Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Once one of Hollywood’s hottest screenplay writers with credits like The Long Kiss Good Night and Lethal Weapon, Black is yet another unorthodox but clever choice of director for a Marvel property. Though there was always the danger that Iron Man would start feeling a bit rusty after three solo outings, Black’s sharp wit and subtle subversion of audience expectations give the character new shine.
Rather than trying to outgun the overpowering spectacle of The Avengers, Black focuses the story on the frailties and strengths of the man in the tin suit. For much of the film, the brassy but brilliant industrialist Stark must more rely on his reserves of ingenuity than his supercharged armour to beat his enemies.
By now, Downey Jr wears the role as comfortably as a pair of old slippers, but he is a good enough actor to hint at the anxieties that lie beneath Stark’s snark and brashness. Here, he brings a new dimension to Stark by channelling the nervous tics of Mel Gibson’s edgy cop in Lethal Weapon. His presence is so overpowering that the supporting actors may have wondered if they even needed to show up.
Guy Pierce barely makes an impression as a star-struck Tony Stark fanboy who turns to villainy when Stark rejects him (think an older, oilier version of Syndrome in The Incredibles). Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Rebecca Hall as Stark’s allies aren’t given much to do, a criminal underuse of their talents. Kingsley is wonderfully over the top, though Iron Man 3’s interpretation of The Mandarin is sure to be controversial with comic book purists.
Although Stark goes through the grinder, Iron Man 3 never loses its sense of fun and mischief. It may be a comic book film of the 2010s, but Iron Man 3 also feels an awful lot like a lost Shane Black movie from the 1980s or 1990s. Expect to see characteristic touches like a Christmas setting, a sequence where Iron Man and War Machine (Cheadle) buddy up like Lethal Weapon’s Riggs and Murtaugh, and action served up with a winking knowingness.
Iron Man 3 trailer (via YouTube):
Smartly structured, though perhaps a little too long and with an occasional misfired joke, Iron Man 3 delivers a few surprises on the way to a climax where Iron Man gets to show off his full set of powers, and then some. One action sequence — the mid-air rescue of passengers from a downed plane — is probably the best in an Iron Man film to date.
But the action sequences are really not what matters. Rather than the visual effects or the character’s powers, the Iron Man films are about Downey Jr’s charisma and the edginess of the banter. Perhaps uniquely among the Marvel characters, Iron Man is more fun out of costume than in it. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- Read more movie and game reviews by Lance Harris