For me, my favourite superheroes end up being The Big Three (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man) and then the rest get to fight for my attention at the level just below. I’ve always loved The Incredible Hulk, because I grew up with the TV show that I enjoyed as a young boy, and I read a few issues of The Uncanny X-Men in my teenage years, but few other superheroes really made any big impression on me until the big 21st-century assault on cinema that came from Marvel. Now I know about Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and, of course, Iron Man. Collectively known, in at least one movie, as The Avengers. And I now have a new favourite superhero who almost gets to stand right alongside The Big Three – Iron Man.
The first Iron Man movie was a great piece of entertainment. My main criticism of it was down to the fact that it felt like one movie telling two different origin tales for the same character. Iron Man 2 came along and was another great piece of entertainment. Perhaps the main thing working against it was the weight of expectation. If anything, the expectations for Iron Man 3 have soared even higher. I know that I was hoping it would be a contender for my movie of the year.
It’s not going to be one of my movie of the year, it’s not going to be up there in the Top 10, but it’s just as entertaining as the second movie. Be warned, however, this is more of a Tony Stark movie than an Iron Man movie (though that’s with good reason) and I’d also warn movie-goers that it’s more of a Shane Black movie than an Iron Man movie.
Black takes on the writing (alongside Drew Pearce) and directing duties for this instalment. Jon Favreau did a great job of directing the first two movies but I was very excited when I heard that Black was taking over the reins. I like his work and the last time that he worked with Robert Downey Jr. we ended up with the excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The plot this time around sees Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Downey Jr) in bad shape. He still has a cool, confident exterior, but he needs to keep himself busy in his workshop. He doesn’t sleep much and he occasionally has anxiety attacks. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is worried about him, as is his friend Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). One person who isn’t worried about him, and wants him to feel even worse, is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). But is The Mandarin working alone? Where do the likes of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) fit in the big picture?
As you might expect, Iron Man 3 has great performances across the board. Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle can play their characters in their sleep, but don’t, Jon Favreau has fun acting as Happy Hogan without worrying about also directing the film and Kingsley and Pearce are as good as they usually are. Rebecca Hall may have less to do, but she’s a decent addition to the cast, while James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak have a lot of fun with their roles. William Sadler doesn’t get much screentime but DOES get to play the POTUS and I was particularly happy to see the great Miguel Ferrer back on the big screen, even if his role as Vice-President gave him a lot less screentime than Sadler.
The other thing that you might expect in Iron Man 3, if you’re familiar with any of Shane Black’s previous screenplays (and you probably are), is a sharp script. In fact, pairing Black’s writing up with the sardonic and smart character of Stark should be a marriage made in heaven. There are times when it is. Sadly, there are also times when the dialgue feels too stylish, polished and forced as verbal exchanges thrust and parry while viewers eagerly await another action beat.
When the action does happen it’s pretty satisfying stuff. One scene that leaves Stark fighting off the baddies with only parts of his suit on (an arm and a leg, to be precise) is one of the most entertaining and inventive that I’ve seen in a superhero movie since I really don’t know when. Fans of the Iron Man suits will be disappointed that it’s not on display more, but rest assured that when they do appear it ends up being a surprisingly satisfying pay-off. Black may have spent too long holding everything back for the finale, but when it all finally kicks off he delivers in spades.
Some people are raving about this movie and saying that it’s the best one yet. Others will, no doubt, tell you that it’s the worst of the three (mainly due to Tony not spending enough time in the suit). It is, in fact, neither the best nor the worst. It’s on a par with the second movie, perhaps even JUST ahead of it, and has just enough juice left in the arc reactor to make it a fitting finale to a hugely entertaining superhero trilogy. Whether it remains a trilogy or not, that’s another matter entirely.
DIRECTOR: SHANE BLACK
WRITER: SHANE BLACK, DREW PEARCE
STARS: ROBERT DOWNEY JR, GWYNETH PALTROW, DON CHEADLE, GUY PEARCE, REBECCA HALL, JON FAVREAU, BEN KINGSLEY, JAMES BADGE DALE, PAUL BETTANY (VOICE), WILLIAM SADLER
RUNTIME: 130 MINS APPROX