Genius billionaire philanthropist with a super-powered flying metal suit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is not in a good way. Despite being in a loving relationship with his former assistant and the now-CEO of his company Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and with his best friends, Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and former security guard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) both doing rather well for themselves, Tony is suffering from severe insomnia and having heavy panic attacks. This may have something to do with him recently almost dying after delivering a nuclear bomb through a portal into space, through which aliens were attempting to invade and take over the world, after which he was literally scared back to life by the Hulk screaming at his face. This isn’t helped by the arrival of two figures from Tony’s past – former one night stand Maya (Rebecca Hall) and rejected scientist Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce) – and the Mandarin (Ben Kinglsey), a terrorist unleashing multiple bombs onto the American public. When the Mandarin’s latest bomb puts Happy in a coma, Tony is forced to take matters into his own hands. Five years ago, in 2008, the character of Iron Man was barely known to those who don’t follow comics closely. Personally I’d heard of the character, though I’m not sure where from, and was only vaguely aware of his abilities and traits. That all changed once I’d seen the film, and Iron Man became one of my favourite superhero films, featuring possibly my new favourite superhero. Its deft blend of action and comedy, as well as an A-list assuring performance from Downey Jr. made this an immensely enjoyable experience, made all the more so by how unexpected it was. The sequel followed two years later, and whilst disappointing it remained still a decent watch, it just felt like more of an Avengers prequel than a standalone film. Understandably, Jon Favreau was less than willing to go through the slating the fans gave him for that second effort, and subsequently dropped out of the franchise. I didn’t mind this move, as whilst I don’t mind him as either a director or actor, I feel he doesn’t necessarily add a great deal to whatever he is working on. I was even happier with his decision once the new writer/director was announced: Shane Black, formerly the highest paid writer in Hollywood and the director of one of my all-time favourite films, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It therefore came as no surprise to see Iron Man 3 placing highly on my most anticipated list for 2013, and the film had a lot to live up to, something that was increased by the trailer, which showed some huge set pieces that I couldn’t wait to see, and Ben Kinglsey on top villainous form. In short, I was excited, so much so that I even braved the Saturday crowds and saw it the day after its initial release.
So, what did I think? Well, to put it bluntly, I bloody well loved it. From start to finish, there’s barely a weak moment there, apart from one issue I have that makes sense plot-wise, but left me a bit disappointed, but more on that later. I’m going to sound like a bit of a fan-boy here, but I lay the lion’s share of the praise at the feet of Mr. Black. Even though he has only directed one film prior to this, he has a clear narrative style and several key features that appear in most of his films, and he isn’t afraid to play to these strengths. So yes, the film is set around Christmas, just like Lethal Weapon, and there’s also a heavy buddy-comedy feel to it, especially towards the end when Stark and Rhodey get to work together – in non-suited form – for I think the first time in the series. There’s also a Downey Jr. narration, as per Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that pays off after the credits in a similar fashion to Black’s directorial debut, and of course the dialogue is whip-smart and often hilarious, even from the most supporting of characters. Black doesn’t just learn from himself though, he’s also clearly looked at what worked in the first two films, and what the public had become tired of in the sequel.
The key driving appeal for these films has always been Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Stark, and it’s one that’s become synonymous with his off-screen persona as well. It’s a relief to see that the majority of this film sees Tony very much outside of his suit and interacting with the people around him he so readily sparks from. Avengers references were kept to a minimum too. As much as we all loved that film (and I really did, May 2015 cannot come soon enough for the sequel), if we want to see a mass group dynamic, I’ll put that film back in. That isn’t this film; this is the Stark show, and as such all the other guys are left entirely out of the script. Well, almost. Another complaint for the second film, and one that I heartily agree with, was that the majority of the big action scenes hinged largely around a guy in a metal suit hitting another guy in a metal suit, or several metal suits, which was a lot of the same as we’d seen in the first film. It severely lacked originality, and often felt lazy, especially in the resolution of the climax. This is most certainly not the case here, with hugely innovative leaps being made in terms of suit-based combat. A highlight for me came when Tony was forced to fight in an enclosed area with only a partial suit, thereby requiring an entirely new approach to both movement and fighting. Elsewhere, Tony’s ability to control his suit remotely led to more ingenuity, so nothing felt recycled.
So, what of that problem? Well, I’ll do my best to skirt spoilers here, but my main issue was Ben Kingsley. I mentioned he was a major selling point in my viewing of this film, from the very first time I heard him say “Some people call me a turrurrist,” in the first trailer. Kingsley is always amazing in films, especially when playing a villain – if you haven’t seen Sexy Beast I highly encourage you to seek it out, his performance is outstanding, and he should have easily won the Oscar over Jim Broadbent for Iris. So, I was expecting a Bane or Joker-esque scene-stealing performance that he would walk away from the film with, which in part is what I got. However, the plot took a direction that prevented this role from living up to its full potential, and as such I saw a missed opportunity for a character that should have been far more iconic, even if it did allow Kingsley to show off his acting abilities even more than originally anticipated. Rebecca Hall was also sadly underused, as I was happy when she was cast too, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Starter For 10 (again, if you haven’t seen it, look it up). There was also a little too many holograms for my liking, as I’m a big fan of Stark’s relationship with his workshop robots, which was sadly diminished here in favour of pretty lights and maps. Plus, I know he directed both Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens, but did Jon Favreau really deserve to be put into a coma?
These are all fairly small issues, but are enough to prevent the film from earning a perfect score, even taking into account at one point Tony takes out a helicopter with a piano. A piano. Love it. Also, if you’re interested in hearing my further thoughts on the film, look out for an upcoming episode of the Lambcast, on which I’ll be discussing some more spoiler-filled aspects of the film in greater detail. For now, if you liked either of the first two films even in the slightest, or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or just action comedy superhero films in general, I strongly urge you to go out and watch this beauty.
Choose film 9/10