Iron Man 3
2013 - 130 minutes
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black and Drew Pearce
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley,
Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, James Badge Dale
Co-writer and director Shane Black has breathed some refreshing and necessary life into the filmic universe of Iron Man. His fingerprints are all over the film, in a story that fits the character and serves Marvel movies past and future, but also mostly works as a fun, standalone action/adventure. Problem is, with too much focus on more of the man than the iron, it just misses getting all the way off the ground and drags in spots.
Iron Man 3 is a tricky prospect to begin with as it has to forge its own unique identity. The first film in the series was a somewhat surprising mega-smash that was unlike other superhero films largely due to Robert Downey Jr.’s witty portrayal of billionaire/genius Tony Stark. The second was a bloated follow-up that didn’t really work and only existed as filler to push the narrative ahead to Marvel’s team-up flick The Avengers.
Now, in a post-Avengers movie world it could be difficult to accept any members of the super team getting into too much trouble with global terrorists or other nefarious types without getting their friends involved. Maybe Hulk is attending anger management courses and Hawkeye and Black Widow are vacationing on a beach somewhere. Who knows? But in a cartoony world, there are just some (or several) things you have to accept.
Iron Man 3 roots its story in the world of Tony Stark by beginning with a flashback to 1999, where the younger, pre-Avenger billionaire comes into contact with brilliant biologist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and nerdy scientist and Stark superfan Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who is shunned by his drunken idol. Of course, these people are probably going to be important later.
Fast-forward to the present and Tony Stark is suffering from insomnia and panic attacks after his experience from The Avengers. He spends his time tinkering and building 40-something iterations of his Iron Man shell, including one that he summons to his body via devices implanted into his skin. His inattentiveness causes friction with his squeeze Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is now running Stark Industries. A refreshed, debonair Killian appears to pitch Potts on Extremis, a scientific technology that can be used to reform DNA and regenerate lost limbs. It also creates some…interesting…side effects.
Meanwhile, a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is broadcasting Al Qaeda-style videos of explosions, shootings and the like, while taking credit for a series of mysterious bombings where no bomb evidence is found. He also promises that much more is on the way.
If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, it is. And that’s not to mention the re-branding of the other guy in an iron suit, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), from War Machine to Iron Patriot as a face in the fight against terrorism. (Kinda like Captain America?). And a long section where Tony takes a detour to a small Tennessee town to investigate one of the bombings, where he befriends a local boy. Or a government conspiracy that isn’t fully fleshed out.
Of course, it is attempted to bring all of these threads together and unfortunately some convenient shortcuts need to be taken and character motivations don’t always make sense. For example, Tony shows up in the Tennessee bar at the precise moment he needs to and other characters are always in the right place at the right time; and it’s never quite clear what exactly Killian wants from Stark/Iron Man. It all culminates in a final action battle (what else?), this time involving dozens of remote controlled iron suits that Tony can jump in and out of when needed.
The climax is thrilling and quite something to look at. It is also just one example of Black’s influence. A lot of the film feels like a throwback to several of the action films he had a hand in in the 90s – namely the Lethal Weapon series. Iron Man 3 takes place during Christmas – a beloved time of year for classic action films – which contrasts some of the bombast, and also gives a snowy look to the Tennessee sequence. Killian’s henchmen wear sport coats and ponytails and carry uzis. The climactic battle takes place in the ever-reliable action set piece of a shipping yard, with cranes and containers swinging around, and several sets of steel stairs and balconies to jump off of. The interplay between Stark and Rhodes while navigating this space felt an awful like Riggs and Murtaugh.
I loved these bits of nostalgia and it is definitely something different for a big superhero tentpole. Black’s sharp dialogue is also the perfect fit for Downey and the wisecracking Stark. Downey continues to drive these films with his “always on” personality and it is obvious he is still invested in this role and not just cashing in a massive paycheck.
The rest of the cast is solid as well for what they have to do. Kingsley’s Mandarin has a particularly curious arc in the story that was unexpected. Purists of the Iron Man mythos may be shocked and appalled, but I thought that character’s evolution fit some of the oddball sensibilities of the film. And honestly, I also suspect that Marvel may have more up their sleeve when it comes to this character and we may not have seen the last of him (or the first, for that matter).
Though it doesn’t escape the trappings of swollen plotting – and a 2-hour-plus run time you can feel, Iron Man 3 has enough fun to remain enjoyable throughout and gives a glimpse at exciting new directions for the character and this genre.
© 2013 by Blake Crane