Director: Shane Black
Writers: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, William Sadler, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak
Synopsis: After the epic battle fought alongside the Avengers, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is hard at work on further Iron Man advancements. However, with all work and no play, along with the trauma of nearly dying in the New York fight, he’s been left relatively scarred. Even with bouts of panic attacks, vicious terrorism erupting from The Mandarin’s outfit forces Stark to overcome his anxieties and help to protect and save his country.
Spring has finally started to dawn – the sun is shining, the wind’s no longer creating that numbing cold effect, and the big movies are upon us. So, in an interesting turn of events, how is it that the first major blockbuster of this year has an abundant wintery/Noël ambience? Check the director’s name (Shane Black) and you have your answer – the Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang writer/director is a slave to his favourite holiday season, bringing it in to his take on the Iron Man series. Using the Christmas setting is not an intrinsic aspect of the narrative, but it does underscore the director/writer’s presence, making this another distinctly Black film (and for those who know of his talent, that can only mean good things).
Much like Joss Whedon was able to expertly handle the Marvel universe whilst putting his own stamp on The Avengers (witty dialogue and memorable group dynamics), Black and co-writer Drew Pearce have an astute knack for balancing the extravagant and everyday. On top of this, it wouldn’t be a Shane Black film without the noir pastiche; after Downey Jr. And Black’s triumphant try at the genre with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it seems the duo were made to work at that style. Whilst Iron Man 3 can’t be a complete exercise in film noir, it includes a winning combination of a protagonist’s voiceover, an existential crisis, and the twists and turns of investigation.
The Mandarin is the most elusive villain we’ve seen in the Marvel lot so far, perfectly fitting for what Black is going for with number 3. The aforementioned investigation by Stark is riddled with rough encounters with henchmen and femme fatales, and red herrings that no reviewer should have the indecency to reveal. The film’s first 20 minutes (mostly shown in the trailer) is bland and uninspiring, merely setting up Stark hot on the Mandarin’s case; it’s purely there for expositional reasons and can be completely forgiven once the takes place. Joining in the villain role is Guy Pearce, not as scene-stealing as Sir Kingsley but charismatically caustic all throughout. He plays a large role up until the end, making it twice as exciting with his take on the Killian character.
The last half, with a surprisingly gripping last 20 minutes (so far removed from the boring brawl in Iron Man 2), leaves you realising that this film may be Marvel’s best so far. Forgetting the largest disappointment that, by the end, Rebecca Hall has had very little to do, there is still an epic sky-fall set-piece and a verifiable threat that does make you ponder over various outcomes.
Moving past how it starts and it ends; it is the middle section that holds the most value. As Tony gets accidentally exiled the film turns into a character-driven search-for-the-soul drama with imagery reminiscent of Sergio Corbucci’s Django, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. It’s an assured cinematic journey that just happens to be in the familiar, commercial Marvel universe. The production value may be high but there is no tawdry texture to this huge blockbuster – it’s a rich film, helped enormously by the writers and director’s approach.
As mentioned, the beginning contains nothing more than some story set-ups and introductory action. Nevertheless, as dull as it may seem in comparison to the last two thirds, the first section can almost be seen as warm-up of what’s to come. The quips and witticisms of the outset are common but nothing than what’s in store for you after the first hour. You can always expect Black to write irreverent and sharp “banter”, and know well by now that Downey Jr. is a master at delivering it. Funnier than most of the comedies from the last few years, Iron Man 3 has some exceptional dialogue in it – magnified, in passing, by the odd jibe from minor characters (such as henchmen giving their two cents, or citizens of a rural town hilariously speaking their mind).
If Marvel continues on like this there is no telling how well they will do. From Favreau, to Branagh, to Whedon, there is some great talent underscoring the success; Iron Man 3 further reminding everyone of that. Expect so much more from what the trailer shows you, and stay for the customary post-credit scene – be enthralled by another superhero movie. This review had to leave out saying more than it could, as a few surprises await (the PR team have done a tremendous job of saving so many treats for the final thing), but know this – it is an excellent noir-superhero hybrid raising the bar high once more for those that follow.