Even before Iron Man 3 had ended, I knew I would be going back to see it again.
In Iron Man 3, the whole world knows Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). His celebrity as a philandering billionaire has been eclipsed by Iron Man, his alter ego, which has made him one of the world’s greatest superheroes. When the peace of the entire planet is threatened by a terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Tony/Iron Man must once again face the task of protecting people who cannot protect themselves. This time, though, Tony’s battle is not just with The Mandarin, or even the brilliant nanotechnologist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce): Tony is also struggling with anxiety attacks as a result of the intergalactic/interdimensional war he fought with a group known as the Avengers.
Even before Iron Man 3 had ended, I knew I would be going back to see it again. From the opening narration to the clever, ’70s-style closing credits, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the film, which marks a new high in the Marvel universe of comic book adaptations. Yes, The Avengers was a terrific movie, but that is solely due to Joss Whedon’s work as writer and director. Just as Whedon did with his film, co-writer and director Shane Black takes the existing Tony Stark/Iron Man mythology and makes it his own. Black is best known for writing the most badass action movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) and his directorial debut Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (also with Downey), but here he proves himself as a filmmaker capable of much grander visions.
Marvel Studios was given the gift of a lifetime when Downey was chosen (unlikely though he may have been) for the role of Tony Stark. No other actor would have been able to bring the humor, smugness, and gravitas of which Downey is capable. The third installment, though, succeeds at the hands of Black, who strips away a great deal of the shiny distractions that plagued the first two films and instead focuses on Stark’s mental well-being (or lack thereof) and his true gifts as an inventor. As with Whedon, Quentin Tarantino, and Kevin Smith, Shane Black’s dialogue has its own unique rhythm and vocabulary. While co-writer Drew Pearce contributed much to the screenplay’s action and plot, the characters and dialogue belong to Black.
As with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Black plays with the conventions and paradigms we expect to see. I will not give away much of the plot, but it will not spoil anything to say The Mandarin is a villain unlike any you have seen before. Kingsley’s performance is so complete and perfect that, like The Joker in The Dark Knight, you just want to see more of him. Pearce is also fun to watch, playing the mad scientist role with special ostentatiousness and flair. As with many of the bad guys in Black’s oeuvre, the film’s antagonists opt for theatricality and dramatic gestures before being undercut by Stark through brilliant wit and low tolerance for bullshit.
While the movie will be presented in 3D (as a ploy to increase box office revenue), the added effects make no impact on the film’s visuals. Little of the action utilizes the added depth 3D could offer; instead, we get the sense Black was probably reticent to embrace the technology, despite the studio’s prompting. Black does stumble his way through choreographing the action sequences, most notably in a shootout between a half-clad Iron Man and some generic thugs, but he more than makes up for it with the tenser scenes of Tony struggling with his emotional fragility. Much as we saw with the first film, Iron Man 3 shows Tony as the quintessential reluctant hero whose sense of duty just barely outweighs his self-interest.
In possibly the most refreshing twist on the genre, Black makes three female characters not just eye candy or plot devices. Tony’s girlfriend and now-CEO of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is given a key role in the action, though it can still be argued her character is underwritten. Maya (Rebecca Hall) is a person from Tony’s past who seems immune to his charm and may not be trustworthy. Finally, we meet a super-soldier named Brandt (Stephanie Szostak) who gets to fight and aimlessly destroy property just as much as the boys. If Black hadn’t already won us over, these anti-archetypes would be reason enough to see Iron Man 3. | Matthew Newlin