Iron Man Three review
Some things are just meant to be.
In 2005, Lethal Weapon and Last Boy Scout screenwriter Shane Black directed his first feature: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The film combined two supremely powerful catalysts to explosive effect, namely Black’s ear for hilariously snarky banter amidst violent gun-play and the phoenix-like post rehab Robert Downey Jr. Whilst not a huge blockbuster hit, the film has gone on to be a widely loved cult favourite and directly led to Jon Favreau’s casting RDJ as the titular Tony Stark. Meanwhile, in comic book land, Warren Ellis was writing his “Extremis” arc for Iron Man. Extremis is recognised as the point at which a previously silly, 2nd tier Marvel hero was given a Grim’n’Gritty new millennial reboot and has been cited as a major influence on Favreau’s Iron Man movie.
Jump forward 8 years and we find ourselves with quite the delectable compote – Shane Black writing and directing Downey Jr in his iconic role, whilst utilising plot mechanics from said role’s most pivotal printed storyline. .. And boy does it taste great.
Set in a post-Avengers Marvel Universe, Iron Man 3 is freed of the franchise-building shackles that so hindered Iron Man 2, and whilst the events of New York are directly referenced, there is never any fear of an eye patched Samuel Jackson leaning out of the shadows and grinding the momentum to a halt. The film is frenetic, relentless, and all the better for it.
The film is surprisingly violent for its rating, but it is all presented in that bloodless, brightly lit Marvel style that audiences of all ages will be able to enjoy with only the odd flinch. The special effects enjoy that similarly glossy sheen that conveys a sense of tangible reality that is ever so slightly removed from our own. A post conversion to 3D means that the odd scene of textured depth pops, be it in a snowy field or a number of holographic maps that call to mind Prometheus’ star-chamber, but other than that it is largely negligible. See it in 2D if that’s your preference.
The action is exciting and lyrical in a way that Stark’s earlier run-ins with Russian Mickey Rourke really failed to be. There is a huge amount of imagination and invention at work here, to the extent that the Iron Suit literally has its own personality that is separate from but complementary to Stark’s. Remember that Cool Trick at the end of The Avengers? These tricks are way, way cooler, and an early scene’s “hands up” sets the bar for an impressive array of tech deployment that only continues to escalate until the grand finale’s jaw dropping mech-fetishistic orgy of robo-carnage.
Undoubtedly what every audience will be talking about afterwards will be Sir Ben Kingsley’s breathtaking performance as The Mandarin – a comic book arch-nemesis who is deployed here with staggering panache and deftness of hand that will potentially define him as THE 21st Century cinematic supervillain to beat. Comments about his Heath Ledger-esque vocal delivery are entirely warranted. Kingsley’s character will undoubtedly prove to be another cultural touchstone in the evolution of Bad Guys.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the real star of this movie is Shane Black. A disembodied narrative voice-over, prolonged opening flashback sequence, and Christmas setting are all direct lifts from his own KKBB and have been deployed to similarly powerful and emotionally resonant effect (the VO has a wonderful payoff in the obligatory after credits scene that you will want to hang around for). An unexpected alliance in the 2nd act feels like an abbreviated form of The Monster Squad, and the 3rd act even references Lethal Weapon as the Marvel versions of Murtaugh and Riggs go on a lo-fi undercover adventure. Every pithy put-down that Stark utters is pure quotable Black, and there are many to choose from. One of The Avengers’ saving graces was that Joss Whedon had the sense to imbue his players with a sense of humour, making it one of the funniest films of 2012. Well, Black might just have outclassed Whedon because this film is hilarious. Not only is the film funny, it has genuine heart – we buy the characters’ motivations because we care about them, and when the stakes are raised, so are the audience’s anxieties. Considering how apathetic most responses to Pepper Potts seem to be, it’s another alchemical wonder of Black’s to bewitch us so and earn our investment in her once more.
Cinema audiences have become quite attuned to the conventions of Superhero Movies over the last few decades – we think we know how it’s all going to end, so the trick is to make that journey interesting. Iron Man 3 is anything but predictable, it has enough twists and surprises to keep the keenest audience guessing; it has relentless ass-kicking action, a plethora of the coolest toys you will see all year, a compelling and terrifying nemesis, legitimate stakes, and a finality to it that very tidily rounds off both the trilogy and Marvel’s Phase One.
We all like to be cynical and pick holes in things – after all, isn’t that what a critic does? Genuinely, it’s hard to find any fault with Iron Man 3.. maybe we should deduct a star just for the potentially-headache-inducing 3D, but other than that, this film is a blast.
Summer Blockbuster Season is here, and the competition will have to have some serious tricks up its sleeves because this is the film to beat. Outstanding.
This review was originally written for Lost In The Multiplex.