[UK/EU - 24th April - 10th May, 2013.]
[USA - 3rd May, 2013.]
Directed by Shane Black
Written By Shane Black & Drew Pearce
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sir Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, James Badge Dale & Jon Favreau
Five years ago, the Marvel movie universe began Phase One of its story by introducing Tony Stark and Iron Man to the masses. Iron Man 3 is the culmination of that solo story arc and the film that will appropriately kick off Phase Two of the Marvel Movie universe, after the incredibly successful Avengers movie last year. Understandably, there is a lot of pressure on the team and with Jon Favreau bowing out as the series’ director there was even more pressure to find a suitable replacement. Luckily, Marvel have been pretty smart thus far with their choice of director’s and they sought out Shane Black, a man whom you are likely to know by his works, rather than his name.
From the opening shot of the film it is made exceptionally clear that first and foremost, this is a Shane Black film, as well as Marvel and the balance between those two elements pay off extremely well. We begin with Black’s trademark clumsy and awkward narrator, portrayed yet again by Robert Downey Jr. After his amazing debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the actor and director already have an established working relationship and its clear that the two have thrived off one another during this production. Judging by the opening of Iron Man 3, it almost seems like the two have just picked up where they left off. They generate an ecstatic energy that shines through the screen and really pulls you in. The performances across the board are generally of a high quality, with particularly special performances by Sir Ben Kingsley and James Badge Dale as The Mandarin and Eric Savin respectively.
So, how do we establish a post-Avengers world? That was always going to be the toughest challenge for the filmmakers; so they responded in kind by creating a story that feels very personal and exclusive to Tony. This journey involves everyone’s favourite billionaire playboy philanthropist struggling with PTSD and subsequently becomes robbed of all of his suits. In fact, it’s surprising just how little of Iron Man you actually encounter throughout Iron Man 3‘s duration.
Overall the film is paced relatively well, but occasionally, especially in the middle it feels like it’s straining under its own bloated weight a little. Black is a veteran writer, but still a somewhat inexperienced director and this tends to show most when it comes to directing intense action scenes, namely the obligatory final battle at the end of the movie, featuring the much advertised Iron Legion. Admittedly, due to the many moving parts, it’s a hard fight to keep track of in itself, but there’s a startling lack of actual carnage featured, instead focusing on the actions of the few humans running around while the destruction happens more as background noise. Unfortunately, the Iron Legion only really seem to exist to provide a few comic book fan squeals of delight (to placate them if you will) – and a megaton of merchandising dollars when the toys are released.
Despite all of this, Iron Man 3 is an exceptionally brave film, in a genre that many have long ago written off as generic. Not only does it make massive and risky changes to the award winning Extremis source material from which it is based, it spends a lot of time focusing on character development, drama and most importantly, emotion. Liberties are taken with characters, but President Of Marvel Production Kevin Feige has made it clear from the beginning that the Marvel movie universe is going to be different from its comic book counterpart.
Tony Stark is the only superhero that seems to have a genuinely healthy, relatively stable long term relationship and they spend a long time exploring the connection between Tony and his love, Pepper Potts. As a consequence of this Gwyneth Paltrow has a lot more to do this time around, and establishes herself as an important character in the Marvel movie universe, the anchor to Tony’s sometimes drifting ship. Not only does she provide good grounding for Downey Jr. she also gets to try her hand at some action, which she manages to pull mostly convincingly. Guy Pearce manages to find a suitable balance between slimy and suave as one of the antagonists and Ty Simpkins plays Tony’s newfound child sidekick for half of the film and surprisingly manages to deliver a tender and vulnerable performance, settling into a comfortable groove that allows him to play off Downey Jr.’s charm. This is a welcome discovery as child actors crowbarred into these types of supporting roles often struggle to not become annoying, but aside from a couple of slight stumbles Simpkins adequately performs his role.
Unfortunately, not all of the characters are so lucky – Rebecca Hall‘s Maya Henson is under-developed and barely utilized, serving a small perfunctory role that only seems to serve as a thinly veiled plot device and a chance for some clunky socio-political commentary. Don Cheadle, while his chemistry with Downey Jr. continues to improve, and the duo’s ability to play off one another increases positively, Cheadle is relegated to the sidelines and isn’t really left with much to do. He gets a new paint job in the much advertised Iron Patriot, but doesn’t actually see any real action, leaving his role to feel more like window dressing.
All in all Black and co. have fared well with this new endeavour. Black was giving the unenviable task of following up The Avengers and despite the film’s flaws he has succeeded in delivering a thoroughly entertaining and engaging romp, notable for the maturity in which it chooses to deal with the emotional state of its characters, whilst also maintaining an upbeat and often hilarious tone. It’s a very difficult balance to strike, and especially when other studios are drowning in their “dark” and “gritty” versions of superhero stories it’s refreshing to see that we can still rely on Marvel to deliver the comic book movie goods.
Black imbues his new film with an intense audacity, flying in the face of what is expected from him and manages to craft a truly unique experience in the process. Yes, some people may feel alienated by some of the creative decisions in this production, but ultimately, regardless of how you may feel, this is a production that deserves to be applauded for its bold and interesting entry into a cluttered and formulaic market. Let’s hope Mr. Black continues to work with Marvel, and that this momentum continues for Marvel’s next production, Thor 2: The Dark World, which will be released in November.