What? You thought I’d only have 1 review for The Film Dump’s 2nd birthday? Nah dawg! I don’t roll like dat… or something. Second birthday means I do two reviews, which also means next year I’ll have to decide if I wanna do three. Maybe I’ll finally do the Godfather Trilogy. Anyway, I digress, point is that tonight I went to see Iron Man 3 and it was really quite an enjoyable action spectacular. Click the link below to read my actual review… there is much to be discussed.
I’ve not reviewed the previous two Iron Man films in this series. Partly this is because they pre-date the site and I’ve not seen them in the last two years. Mostly it’s because I didn’t feel like covering all the Marvel films when The Avengers came out last year like I have done for a few big franchises. I’m a little lazy you see. I’ll get to them one day but here’s a quick mini opinion on where I stand with the first two entries in the series. Iron Man is a damn fine action film that does a great job of establishing the character and his universe. Iron Man 2 is about 70% unguided and boring and the 30% that doesn’t feel misguided is uninspired and dull. But hey, it had Sam Rockwell right? Iron Man 3 is better than Iron Man 2. My brain jury is still trying to decide if Iron Man 3 is better than the first, but it really is leaning towards a yes… yes it is… mostly.
The story this time revolves around a series of terrorist attacks launched by the arch nemesis of Iron Man’s comic book incarnation in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). He has the whole world on edge and is planning something big for Christmas. He likes to shoot polemic spewing videos to send out to the world. He also enjoys the occasional slightly plot twist sign posting metaphors. But more on that later. While all this is going on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has been burying himself in his work, and he’s been a busy boy. When we first see him he’s testing the 42nd iteration of his Iron man armour, this time a suit that is linked into his neural network that he can call at any time and even control remotely. This obsessive compulsion to create has been brought on by anxiety over the events that occurred in The Avengers. See, up until The Avengers Stark’s world was free of the knowledge of aliens and giant space snake robots. He feels potentially insignificant when compared to his new friends the super solider, the giant hulk man and the God of thunder. This is probably how Green Arrow felt the day he met Superman. The fact Stark actually travelled through a wormhole to another part of the galaxy and came back alive has shaken him up a fair bit and it’s turning him, as he puts it, into a real hot mess. Which is ironic because that’s exactly what the film’s other villain, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), has in store for Tony. A series of genetically altered soldiers that are literal hot messes. Seriously, they melt stuff with their hands and everything.
Shane Black steps in place of Jon Favreau to write and direct this time and it really shows. I’ve always felt that Favreau wasn’t too concerned with getting the action right. His action sequences in the first two films were decent but lacked real flair. Shane Black, on the other hand, manages to direct action with the same sort of panache as he writes his dialogue. He also understands the importance of mixing up the variety in the action scenes and the worth of making sure there are actual things at stake to be lost. For a large portion of the film’s second act Stark is without his armour. He’s challenged The Mandarin to show up at his door and when The Mandarin’s men actually do… well they fly up in choppers but you get the gist… Stark finds himself caught off guard and having to pass his suit to Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) while he attempts to survive inside his house as it collapses off the cliff it is perched upon. His home, his girlfriend, a woman who may hold the key to saving the day and Stark’s own life are all at stake here. So many film’s forget that the main character’s life isn’t enough sometimes. You need more. This was also all brought about by a mistake Tony made in a moment of emotion fuelled brashness and now he’s having to pay.
One thing Marvel has been quite good with over the course of this Marvel Universe film series is allowing their directors to get their own artistic voices through. Branagh had theatricality and dry wit in Thor, Johnston got his love or wartime heroic imagery all over Captain America and Whedon pretty much made The Avengers ooze that Whedonesque vibe. Iron Man 3 follows this established pattern of being chock full of Shane Blacks thematic and stylistic elements. The dialogue is quick witted and self deprecating. Expectations get set up and swerved upon numerous times… although one is maybe going a little too far and I’ll get to that in a bit. The film is set at Christmas which, as Shane Black once described it, is the one magical time of year when anything can happen. He keeps the mood dark when needed, relives tension with well timed jokes and keeps the film building in the sort of way you’d expect a Shane Black film to build. The performance he gets out of Robert Downey Jr here is a series best too. Stark is in a fragile and messy state and Downey plays him through the entire gamut of emotional ranges over the course of the film. He’s still a flippant smart-ass though. As he should be.
And now I need to talk SPOILERS. So if you don’t want to be SPOILED skip this next paragraph.
Still here? Then either you’ve seen it or you don;t mind being spoiled. Or you’re about to regret reading on. So… early on in the film The Mandarin gives us a metaphor about how Fortune Cookies are an American creation. They’re hollow and full of lies, just like America he says. And just like The Mandarin. See, that was foreshadowing folks! Writers love that shit. Basically it turns out The Mandarin is merely an actor hired by Killian to be the face of terror to fuel the funding of his own manufacturing and development of arms and evil genetic weapons. He’s been using the research of a former one night stand of Stark’s, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) to create and army of invincible super soldiers codenamed Extremis. I won’t point out that Hall would have been 17 at the time of the flashback where Stark beds her. I’m sure her character is older. Anyway, The Mandarin has been subtly hinted at and foreshadowed across the previous 2 films and to have him turn out to be a fake is not only character destroying but is also a bit of a slap in the face of the fans. Now, to be fair, this twist serves the plot well. After all, you weren’t expecting Ben Kingsley to be exchanging blows with Iron Man were you? But this is still a swerve of expectations too far for some. I’m not arguing how much logical sense it makes in this film’s plot. But I argue that Marvel have kinda stuck a big middle finger up to anyone who wanted to see The Mandarin and his ten rings in action. It’s not as if the door to the supernatural and other worldly hadn’t been busted wide open by Thor and The Avengers, and considering Stark’s problems stem from his inability to cope with that realisation facing off against a fully powered up villain like The Mandarin would have made a lot of sense. On the plus side, though, there is a scene where Guy Pearce uses his powers to breath fire… that was pretty cool and unexpected.
So in the end Iron Man 3 makes one major misstep. But it also weaves an entertaining story that gives Tony Stark some actual challenges to overcome whilst giving us a few sequences where we get to see that ingenuity Stark is famed for put to the test. There is maybe not quite enough interaction between Stark and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) in the film’s first half but they get plenty of chances to interact and play off each other towards the film’s very large scale finale. Iron Man 3 is a hell of a lot of fun and can comfortably sit in amongst the best in the Marvel Movie Universe series. It’s just not quite the best.