Iron Man 3 – Shane Black and Drew Pearce steer the metal man back on track

Marvel seems to be taking over at the moment. Three sequels (Thor, Captain America and Avengers) due in the next few years and countless others still in the pipeline (Ant-Man!). Mega box office success with most of their previous franchise movies, including one of their all-time greatest entries from last year, Avengers Assemble (which also happened to be this reviewer’s number 1 choice for best of 2012). One of the weakest films in the Marvel universe though has to be Iron Man 2 – a confusing, overwrought story that stupidly favours action over character. Recreating the huge success of the first Iron Man was clearly too big a task for that sequel. Those first two films in the franchise were directed by Jon Favreau, but now it is Shane Black who has stepped in to take over directing and writing duties to see if he can breathe new life into the metal man franchise.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man seems to have it all: billionaire with every gadget he could ever ask for, finally in a stable relationship with the love of his life (Pepper Potts played by Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as superhero extraordinaire. Yet despite this Tony is having a tough time – becoming more and more obsessed with perfecting his metal creations he’s finding it difficult to sleep. That lack of sleep becomes even more prominent when a new supervillian called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) arrives on the scene, a villain of the terrorist variety who threatens the safety of the world.

Reading the above synopsis the plot for Iron Man 3 sounds very familiar – hero vs. villian, good vs. evil…the usual superhero stuff. But from the very opening of this third entry in the Iron Man franchise it is clear to see that it is a very different beast to Iron Man 2 and any of the other entries in the Marvel universe. Straight away we have Tony narrating and introducing us to a flashback of a significant event from his past. This hilarious scene along with Tony’s continuous funny narration throughout the film (much like Downey Jr.’s narration used in Shane Black’s previous script for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which similarly works to great effect here) sets the tone of the film to come: humorous, quirky and playful. It is from this point on that you know writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black have definitely got the franchise back on track. Their script recaptures the spirit of the original film, the comic books and Tony Stark himself, creating a funny, lively story filled with witty, sharp dialogue. They have also managed to achieve something that a lot of comic book/superhero films tend to fail on – they have created a superb balance between the use of action and narrative, as well as much-needed character development. Yet still Iron Man 3 is filled with plenty of action set pieces to whet your appetite, as well as an ambitious, fast-paced finale that is superbly directed and choreographed.

As usual though the one thing that really steals the show and inevitably keeps you watching is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Iron Man has and always will be his show, Downey Jr. embodying the spirit of Tony on film and in real life (Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark, there’s no two ways about it). However in Iron Man 3 we get a glimpse of something that was only hinted at in previous films – a vulnerable and messed up side to Tony. Pearce and Black have focused more on making Tony/Iron Man seem more human, the suit a burden more than a privilege, an idea that revitalises this previously dying franchise and makes it feel fresh and different. This darker edge to the story, and Tony himself, is also perfectly portrayed by Downey Jr., his performance making us utterly sympathise with him in his quiet moments of desperation. But rest assured before I make this sound like the latest gritty kitchen-sink drama, Downey Jr. is still on hilarious top form throughout and as usual has some amazing one-liners…it’s just that this time we care a lot more when things go wrong for him. And this balance of the serious with the humour is exactly how these sorts of films should be.

The rest of the cast are also great, in particular newcomers Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, an intelligent and strong-minded inventor and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a suave, smooth-talking scientist who takes a shine to Pepper (and who also has a great role in the aforementioned flashback at the start of the film). Gwyneth Paltrow is great again as Pepper Potts and has a much more involved role to play this time in the story, rather than simply the usual damsel in distress as she has been before. Don Cheadle also has a more interesting role as Colonel James Rhodes who is now in charge of the alternative version of Iron Man, the newly named Iron Patriot and which he plays with relish and humour. However it is in fact Ben Kingsley who delivers the best and most riveting performance out of all the cast. He exudes evil as The Mandarin, slowly talking and emphasising every word to make it drip in menace. And he is a villain unlike any you’ve ever seen before…

Iron Man 3 is action-packed, entertaining and most importantly hilariously funny. Shane Black and Drew Pearce have created an exciting storyline that takes the usual run-of-the-mill superhero plot in a wholly different and more interesting direction than previous Iron Man/comic book films, for once adding real menace to the world of Iron Man and taking Tony on a journey in which you are with him every step of the way. It also has one of the best twists ever that you will never see coming and which firmly proves that Black and Pearce have made this a fresh and unusual plot unlike any of the other Marvel films. There are probably a million and one plot holes if you start to pull the story apart, but it’s so enthralling you’re not thinking about that. And despite being that much different, this film still rests well in the Marvel universe storyline, with Pearce and Black’s clever conclusion to the trilogy ensuring you are eager to watch the next film in the franchise (as well as Avengers 2 when then rolls around in 2015). Iron Man 3 erases all memory of its dull predecessor and is definitely up there with Avengers Assemble as the best in the Marvel series…so FAR anyway.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on May 10, 2013.

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