Review: Iron Man 3 / Cert: 12A / Director: Shane Black / Screenplay: Drew Pearce, Shane Black / Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall / Release Date: April 25th
Marvel Phase Two – the next raft of superhero movies based on the existing, successfully launched comic book franchises along with a few newbies such as Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy - gets off to a sensational, blistering start with Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. This is a movie which not only closes the cycle begun with Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man back in 2008 but also goes some way towards rehabilitating the unloved Iron Man 2 which now seems a better fit into the ongoing story of the life and times of Tony Stark. Early fears that fans were going to be treated to a Christopher Nolan-esque Iron Man mope-a-thon as our hero sinks into a world of deep despair and moody angst are fortunately blown right out of the water (much as Tony’s luxury cliff-top pad is spectacularly blown into it) in a film which tells a rousing, powerful character-based action/adventure story and balances the human drama of a man with massive personal demons threatening to tear his world apart with some genuine 24-carat belly laughs. Iron Man 3 is easily the funniest film yet from the Marvel Universe but its wit is slick and sophisticated and it never detracts from the thrills and excitement of a story where the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been for Tony Stark.
The events of last year’s Avengers Assemble have had a debilitating effect on the usually happy-go-lucky Stark. Thanks to his out-of-this-world experiences during the battle with the invading Chitauri, he’s plagued with self-doubt, he can’t sleep, he suffers from panic attacks. Fortunately there’s a sinister new super-baddie on the horizon requiring Iron Man’s attentions. This is the Mandarin, inscrutable and menacing public face of a global terrorist group dedicated to undermining and overthrowing Western values. Also on the scene is the crazed geneticist Aldrich Killian who is experimenting with the ‘extremis’ serum in pursuit of his goal of creating an army of super-soldiers (for reasons not entirely clear in the story). There’s no time for Tony Stark to sit around feeling sorry for himself, especially when the Mandarin launches a devastating attack on Stark’s home, capturing his beloved Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and hospitalising his best friend Happy Hogan (Favreau).
If a man can truly to be judged by the quality of his enemies then Tony Stark is right up there alongside his opponents in Iron Man 3, who are easily amongst the best yet pitted against any of the Marvel Universe’s movie superheroes. “You will never see me coming,” warns the Mandarin as he ominously sets himself up against the Western world – and the audience will never see The Mandarin’s true nature and motivations coming. Ben Kingsley (that’s Sir Ben to you) is very nearly the show-stealer, and Guy Pearce’s Killian is by turns sinister and powerful and yet as ready with the apt one-liner as Stark himself (scenes between the two could easily run with a laughter track as, indeed, could much of the whole film). Pearce, often underused in what are little more than cameo roles nowadays (think Prometheus) has rarely been better.
There’s little realistically left to say about Robert Downey, Jr himself as Tony Stark/Iron Man; the character now fits the actor like a glove. Downey’s comic timing is immaculate and his heroic chops are formidable. Any problems Downey may have had in the past in being lost in the Iron Man costume during the action sequences are cleverly countered here by showing Stark generally unmasked but augmented by various bits of Iron Man tech or else hurtling himself into Iron Man suits mid-flight. Writer/director Black, familiar with the rhythms of Downey’s style thanks to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, gives the actor dialogue which not only sings but is also as warm and witty as the best of Joss Whedon himself. And he’s not the only one; everyone here gets their moment to shine and Gwyneth Paltrow finally gets a bit more to do than just fawn over Tony or otherwise get sidelined by stronger characters and more substantial story arcs. Pepper Potts even plays a pivotal role in the explosive final action sequence – even if one apparently brave story beat disappoints by the predictability and inevitability of its undoing.
The reality is that there’s very little flab or flounder to Iron Man 3. The first hour is engrossing and immersive and scarcely drags despite its focus on character and drama, but the iron gloves really come off as Black shows his deftness of touch in a relentless tide of breathless action sequences – the demolition of Tony’s home, an astonishing mid-air rescue, Stark’s own rugged bouts of fisticuffs and Shellhead’s battles with extremis-enhanced super soldiers. It’s the Iron Man film we really all wanted after the first feature, but only now does it feel like we’ve really earned this one, that Tony Stark has experienced enough to deserve a story this big and an epiphany this satisfying. Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man 3 is a very different man from Tony Stark at the beginning – in every sense – and whilst he’s now clearly at one with both himself and his world (and really no longer in need of his mechanical alter ego), the audience is left in no doubt that the story of Iron Man is far from over.
Because, as the final caption promises us, ‘Tony Stark will return”. Whether Robert Downey, Jr will too is another matter entirely, and whilst it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone bringing the character so vividly to life in any future instalment, Iron Man 3 sees Marvel’s most-likely-to-fail superhero franchise in uncommonly good health and it sets a very high bar for this year’s upcoming wave of summer blockbusters to strive towards.
Oh, and you will be sticking around for that post-credits sequence, yes?
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10