Iron Man 3 touches down on the Grosvenor Cinema’s screens this week, and with it brings high expectations and the unenviable task of being the first Marvel movie to follow the spectacular Avengers, which came this time last year.
The third instalment in the Iron Man franchise is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it carries the responsibility of launching what has come to be known as “Phase 2” for the Marvel movie franchise, much like the first Iron Man movie did for Phase 1 back in 2008. It also marks the first Iron Man movie not to be directed by Marvel veteran Jon Favreau, his boots instead being filled by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). It also, as stated above, walks in the dauntingly large footsteps of the biggest superhero movie of all time, which introduced elements such as Gods, aliens and giant green rage monsters into Tony Stark’s hitherto tech-heavy universe. All of this could be cause for concern, and it makes it all the more impressive that Shane Black has managed to make one of the best stand alone Marvel movies yet (and definitely the funniest) that manages to raise the stakes to a personal level, and make us care about Tony Stark as the man behind the iron.
Iron Man 3 takes place sometime after the battle of New York seen in The Avengers, and Tony carries the weight of those events heavy on his shoulders. He is having anxiety attacks and cannot sleep, working away on his suits while trying to come to terms with the world changing experiences he had after his brush with death. He is also worried about his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) having gained a new perspective on the important things in life after being warped through a worm hole to an alien dimension (that kind of thing tends to make someone sit back and reflect a little…). Meanwhile, Col. James “Rhody” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has been rebranded from “War Machine” to “The Iron Patriot”, the red white and blue Iron Man soldier working personally for the U.S President. At the same time, a new threat to the United States has emerged in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley); a terrorist very much in the vein of Osama Bin Laden, delivering taped messages of panic-mongering threats to the people of America. The Mandarin however is not the only threat as we are introduced to Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) a scientist scorned by Tony Stark years ago who has returned with dangerous new nano-bio-technology known as “Extremis”.
The way in which all these pieces come together is impressive, and the movie does a good job of keeping you guessing, while still giving you plenty to be excited and entertained by while you are watching it. The main draw of this movie, as with the first Iron Man movie, is Robert Downey Jr’s perfect portrayal of Tony Stark. We are used to Tony Stark by this point. We know what he is all about; he is cocky, egotistical, sarcastic, somewhat selfish, but altogether charming and likeable. This movie however delves deeper into Tony Stark than any of the others have done yet. It asks the question of who is Iron Man; and who is Tony Stark? Are they one in the same? Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit? This idea is explored throughout the film, and is exemplified visually in a number of wonderful scenes, the most striking of which can be seen in the trailer, where Tony is dragging the suit behind him through the cold snow. The advances Tony has made in his technology which give him the ability to control his suit, and even individual pieces, independently really allows for some great effects, and it also sure comes in handy when things get heavy. (N.B Pun intended, once you see the movie)The effect here is that you come away from this movie caring a lot more about Tony as a human being as opposed to a superhero, and with a greater understanding of who he is, and why he does what he does.
The movie also does a terrific job of fitting itself into the greater Marvel cinematic universe, while still carving out its own identity as part of the Iron Man series, and as a standalone film in its own right. There are plenty of nice references to previous movies (mainly The Avengers) but these never feel out of place or like fan service. They aren’t so much winks and nods to the audience as they are just genuine moments that characters in this world would refer to. I can’t stress enough however how much of an improvement this movie is over Iron Man 2. The second instalment in the Iron Man franchise was underwhelming, but passable. It introduced some key elements with regards to S.H.I.E.L.D and Tony and Pepper’s relationship, but on the whole it felt sluggish and aimless, and just kind of fizzled out towards the end. This movie is the sequel that Iron Man deserves, and it seems that Shane Black has played a vital role in this. The movie has a real life to it, it feels alive and it knows where it is going. It mixes inspired and inventive action set pieces with genuine laugh out loud comedy, along with threat and dread mixed with real shock and excitement. The scene aboard Air Force one is a particular highlight, and it was great to see that these films can still make grin from ear to ear at just how cool the events on screen are.
It should be noted that one worry I had going into this movie was that if things were ever going to get really bad, and the threat was supposed to be Iron Man’s toughest yet, then why doesn’t he just call in his Avenger pals to help him out? I’m glad to say that this isn’t an issue with the movie. They have portrayed the threat as an impending one for the most part, with which Tony’s involvement is incidental and much more personal. The Avengers are a response team, Earth’s last resort kind of thing. For much of this movie, Tony is playing a covert spy, sneaking behind the scenes to try and avert a situation where we might need to call in his super friends, and it works superbly.
Every character in the movie is utilised to their full potential, and they all play their part terrifically. Downey Jr is of course bringing his A game, but even characters like Rhody and Pepper, along with new comers The Mandarin and Killian are integrated into the plot perfectly, and while the direction some of the classic comic book characters takes may be a bit much for some ardent fans to swallow, it is a bold and inventive way of integrating some of the more far-fetched elements of the source material into the ‘reality’ that these films have established.
I had a few minor reservations while watching the film, however most of the time I had come to terms with them by the time the scene was over because I was too busy laughing at something Tony had said, or my jaw was dropping at something incredible happening on screen, or just that the thing with which I had a problem had been re-contextualised within the movie and seemed to make sense. Without giving anything away, I was initially not on board with the direction the Mandarin takes about half way through the film, but the more I thought about it, it made sense to have this iconic character be portrayed in this way, and made him feel like a part of the modern world. My only complaint would be that I think Ben Kingsley maybe goes just a *wee* bit over the top at times, but it’s nothing I can’t live with. There is also a period where Tony just happens to stumble upon what looks like a homemade engineering laboratory run by a 12 year old boy, at which point I felt my eyes rolling just a little, but the interactions between Tony and the kid that follow go on to be some of the funniest and deeply revealing moments of the whole movie, so I was inclined to forgive it.
Overall, Iron Man 3 is everything it needed to be. It is of course not quite the spectacle that The Avengers was, but it stands head and shoulders above the previous Iron Man movie, and maybe even above the original. It is a bold take on the superhero movie, being that for so much of the movie we are watching Tony Stark without his Iron Man suit on, and explores the idea that Tony is a hero, with or without his gadgets, to great effect. Shane Black skilful direction has earned his keep among Marvel helmsmen, and has given the next Phase of movies yet another lofty peak to aspire to. My first thought upon leaving this movie was that I was immediately much more interested to see where Tony’s character was going to be taken with the next Avengers movie, and for a character who we have now seen starring in four films already, that is impressive.
You can book your tickets for Iron Man 3 at the Grosvenor Cinema here.
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