Iron man 3 is throughly enjoyable, yet has Shane Black's witty script taken the comedy element a little too far?
So Marvel kicked off the start of 'Phase 2' last weekend with the release of Iron Man 3 and the return of genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, Tony Stark. With the success of The Avengers and Iron Man originally kicking off Phase 1 back in 2008, it only seems right that we come full circle and for Robert Downey Jr. and crew to start us off on another round of films. Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau all return to the franchise as their respective characters. However after the bomb that was Iron Man 2, Favreau decided not to return as director, so taking over the reigns we have former Downey Jr. collaborator and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black. The supporting cast is strong with Guy Pearce playing founder of scientific think tank, Advanced Idea Mechanics, Aldrich Killian. Rebecca Hall plays former Stark lover and assistant to Killian, Dr Maya Hansen. While the ever superb Brit and stage legend, Ben Kingsley, plays the menacing archenemy of Iron Man, The Mandarin.
The screenplay is very loosely based on the Extremis story arc found in the Iron Man comics back in 2005. Narrating throughout the film, Stark originally takes us back to 1999 and to Switzerland, oh yeah and let's hope that's the last time we ever hear Eiffel 65's hit song Blue (Da Ba Dee) to introduce a film ever again, ever. So after a rather harsh encounter with a young and geeky AIM founder Aldrich Killian, we return to present day where Stark is attempting to perfect another prototype of one of his Iron suits. All is not well in the Stark abode though as following events in New York during The Avengers movie, our favourite egotist is having continuing panic attacks, not only resulting in restlessness as he attempts to perfect his suits, but also friction with his new girlfriend Pepper Potts (now leader of Stark Industries).
Following a number of terrorist attacks by international menace, The Mandarin, one of which puts Stark's beloved Happy Hogan into a coma, Tony sets out for revenge, hoping to stop the Mandarin once and for all. Yet not everything is as it seems. After Stark breaks into the Mandarin's compound in Miami, he discovers an out of work, drunk British actor by the name of Trevor. The Mandarin was just a ploy, with the true evil being Aldrich Killian, seeking revenge from 1999 and who's using his DNA reprogramming formula in an attempt to totally control the war on terror. With some help from War Machine, aka James Rhodes, (now rebranded the Iron Patriot), Stark hopes to destroy Killian's plans, which by this time has involved kidnapping the President.
Shane Black does an absolutely slap up job of returning Iron Man to the screen. After the poor Iron Man 2, this third instalment is refreshing and feels much more like the hit that was 2008's original Iron Man film. Visually the movie is of course stunning, the 3D doesn't particularly add much, but the action sequences are of course expectedly brilliant. Particularly the scene in which Air Force One blows up, and a couple of dozen people are falling to their deaths, only to be saved by Stark. It's mind numbing action that's easy to throw yourself into. Black and Drew Pearce's script is also something to admire.
Throughout, the film is hilarious, from cheesy one liners to cultural references, particularly Stark's verbal sparring with 8 year old Harley (Ty Simpkins), as they joke about their Father/Son relationship among other things. Sometimes it can feel too much, especially in the more serious scenes when the tension was annoyingly broken by a quip made by Rhodes or Stark. Of course comic book films should be funny, we don't want everything like The Dark Knight trilogy, but it often feels overdone and a little too much. Even the ending credit sequence felt a little ridicules, it was almost a parody, like a cheesy 80's Bond intro.
I'm also torn by the scriptwriter's choice to make the Mandarin a ploy and use Guy Pearce's Killian as the lead villain instead. At times it felt as though twisting Kingsley' Mandarin from a international terrorist into a drunken drug addicted British actor was absolute genius. Kingsley excelled in the role, producing a wonderful comic performance full of charm, wit and idiocy. The references to British culture, the watching of a Liverpool game and Trevor's performance of King Lear in Croydon were lovely little snippets which I very much enjoyed. However despite the brilliance of this character, it not only feels like a total waste of Kingsley's acting talent, but also a waste of the Mandarin character, who in the comics is a genuine villain and Iron Man's arch enemy. If Ben Kingsley had truly played the Mandarin as he is in the comics, the movie could have been even more spectacular.
Instead we were left with Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian, once rejected by Stark and now attempting to make as much money as he can through the war on terror. After seeing Pearce play the baddie in 2012's Lawless, it appears the actor is growing accustom to playing darker characters. Yet, very much like in Lawless, Pearce once again over played the character. At times he did well, he was despicable and hated, yet throughout the film I felt like I was watching an over exaggerated impression of a villain. He was never particularly frightening (apart from when he breathed fire, which was kind of totally ridicules), and his dirty charm eventually got annoying by the finale. I also have to criticise the AIM henchman, the men and women who gave their bodies to Killian's formula in hope of better physicality. We never saw a motivation behind joining AIM, and while they looked pretty cool, these characters often felt hollow.
Robert Downey Jr however was on top form as Tony Stark. As always bringing that superb mix of arrogance, charm, smarts and cool. Stark suffered from persistant anxiety attacks throughout, and Downey Jr played the broken Stark brilliantly well. It was a change to see that Superheros aren't always super strong and confident, especially in a character as egotistical as Iron Man. I don't think this breakdown went far enough, but it was still well done and a nice link up with The Avengers movie. Downey Jr's contract is up after the release of this third installment and it would be a shame to see him leave. He is the quintessential Iron Man and I can't picture another actor in the role. Another highlight of the movie was the buddy cop relationship Stark had going with James Rhodes. Downey and Don Cheadle bounced off each other well and it will be good to see Rhodes/Iron Patriot back in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Gwyneth Paltrow was also excellent as Pepper Potts. Seeing her get in on the action with Tony was great to see, and she also brought a little depth and emotionality to the character that was lacking elsewhere in the film.
Iron Man 3 wasn't the darker more complex film many had hoped, yet it is a still an adrenaline fuelled thrill ride full of hilarity as well as action. It is flawed in many aspects, but the film still very much delivers, and is the perfect start to kick off the next set of Marvel films. I would say seeing Ben Kingsley say 'wanker' and chanting 'oggy oggy oggy' is worth the price of the admission alone.