Iron Man 3

Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 125 mins
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pierce
Genre: Superhero, Comic book, Action
Country: USA

With Jon Favreau stepping out from behind the camera to take up the challenge of Cowboys & Aliens writing and directing privileges are handed over to Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) to demonstrate why (even with a prolonged leave of absence) he is still held in such high regard.

Straight out of the blocks, one of the first things you’ll notice about IM3 is that it doesn’t play like a superhero movie… at least not immediately.  There’s a brief flashback, catch-up, grounding session (narrated by Downey) that's reminiscent of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang which is not only refreshing but rubber stamps the change of helmer.  This might be a Marvel franchise but it is also going to be a Shane Black movie. 

The use of Noir narrator isn’t the only Black-ism installed early on.  Black’s love of setting his genre pieces against the Christmas holidays appears again as does his quick-talking dialogue that plays, not just into RDJ’s wheelhouse, but into top spot in the Shane Black dialogue league tied alongside KKBB and The Last Boy Scout.  The movie just sounds great.

His direction is really strong.  Whether it’s a small budget or a colossus, Black instinctively knows how to frame, pace, and shoot a story.  He’s a natural born storyteller but what’s truly impressive about Iron Man 3 is what a lot of Stark fans might find problematic.  Having starred in two solo movies prior, and Avengers, Stark’s rhythm is well established.  That was part of the problem of Iron Man 2.  It’s pathos was predictable and dramatic tension was sorely lacking because of it.  With the third film, Black assumes you know the character and in doing so deconstructs his world in order to piece it back together in a different order to demonstrate just how resourceful, clever, brave and tenacious T.S. actually is.  There are enormous set-pieces outside the suit.  Set-pieces that I don’t think Favreau would have braved but nobody writes action like Black and, seemingly, nobody gets the best out of Downey like Black.

It’s true!  Robert Downey Jr. was the best he has been for a number of years in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  Having championed Black to the Marvel elite, his faith in the director paid off.  Downey’s Stark is a different man to previous.  Riddled with anxiety in a post Avengers New York, Black draws lovely parallels to 9/11[1] in order to showcase a different side to our hero.  Stark might be a superhero but he is not super-human.  He still hurts, he feels fear, he can be governed by his emotions like anyone else.  The exploration of his PTSD is a refreshing consequence of previous actions and the physical relocation of Stark to Idaho (for a great little movie within a movie) is nothing short of brilliant.  It is during this section of the film that you see the humanity of Tony Stark, something which has been missing from the screen for a while[2].  Though the non-exploration of Stark as a character is, no doubt, in order to drive narratives forward it actually does him an incredible disservice.  Batman has the death of his parents to drive him.  Daredevil –the death of his father.  Spider-Man –the death of Uncle Ben.  Captain America is a soldier, but what drives Tony Stark?  This is truly Downey Jr.’s most interesting portrayal of his signature character to date… and his scenes with Ty Simpkins (as Harley) are nothing short of perfect.  It’s the best moments of Kindergarten Cop, Cop and a Half and any other unlikely buddy movie as written by the master of the buddy movie.

Similarly, Paltrow (Pepper Potts) is at her best under Black’s direction.  Previously KiV posed the question “what makes her special?” and in IM3 Black answers.  As CEO of Stark Industries she’s a boardroom fighter but take her out of her environment, out of her suit[3] and her fighter instincts remain.  She’s tough, she’s a survivor and with a few twists and turns along the way –a force to be reckoned with.  Ben Kingsley (as Mandarin) gives a masterful turn as the latest mad man with his finger on the trigger.  There’s a lovely duality to his character that highlights the manipulatory nature of humanity with enough exposure to certain stimulus.  Kingsley plays both sides of this character straight and clearly has a lot of fun doing so.  Guy Pierce is strong as ever.  He’s something of a matter-of-fact character, an essential tool in the construction and delivery of narrative; but he does the job extremely well.

There are a handful of moments in which Iron Man 3 lapses into convention, namely surrounding Happy Hogan (Favreau) and Potts, and that's without delving into the caravan of groans that surround the ending but consider this… this is the third outing of the franchise.  The lapses are nominal and overall it is the freshest the character has felt on the big screen.  Freshest since his Mk. 1 suit in Afghanistan.

Critics of the film largely cite the lack of Iron Man time on screen and Black’s weighting of his own written material over historic text as reasons for the film’s inferiority, some going as far as to question its legitimacy.  In previous reviews I’ve held deviation from the source material as a stick to beat a movie so will no doubt sound like a hypocrite when I say it doesn’t matter here.  By this movie there has been multiple minor deviations from the comics.  On their own they are little more than modern day revisions in order to bring the character into the twenty-first century but collectively they open the expanse of genre, convention and in the infinite possibilities of the storyteller.  Black, not just as writer/director but as auteur, has given the history of the character its place but, in order to breathe new life into the story arc, tweaked it in order to create his signature.

In knowing which laws of the Marvel Universe to break he has pushed the man inside the iron forward and presented a character piece filled with drama, tension and vulnerability.  Rather than undermine or belittle the film it is the job of the true superhero movie fan to appreciate it for enriching, not just what came before it, but what is still to come.  Because of the tireless, entertaining and often hilarious, work of Shane Black we go into the future of the Marvel-verse with a better understanding of Tony Stark –the man.  Providing an extra layer of taste to Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity Wars Part I & II when we finally make it there.

[1] Similar to the subway sequence in which New Yorkers protect an injured Spider-Man.
[2] Arguably since the end of the first Iron Man film, upon declaration of “I am Iron Man.
[3] Armani rather than adamantium.


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