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IRON MAN 3 (review)

Review by Dave Chapman
Produced by Kevin Feige
Screenplay by Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Based on Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby and Extremis by Warren Ellis, Adi Granov
Directed by Shane Black 
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley
Marvel Studios / Rated PG-13

After the amazing spectacle of The Avengers movie last year, it was going to be a tough job to launch the Marvel movie-verse’s Phase Two.

But worry not, Tony Stark is on top form in a more personal movie that strips away the man from the iron.

When it was announced that Jon Favreau wasn’t going to direct the third solo Iron Man movie, the hunt for a perfect replacement brought us Shane Black. While he hasn’t directed many movies, he’s written a lot, a lot of Black’s trademarks have crept into Iron Man 3. Just think of his earlier movies – Lethal Weapon, and The Last Boy Scout, and you’ll see similar themes here, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Instead of a disturbed or depressed Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis, this time Black places the character of Tony Stark in a post-Avengers state of doubt, paranoia and insomnia. His near-death experience at the Chitauri wormhole above New York has him feeling vulnerable and prone to panic attacks, leaving him reliant on the Iron Man suit. After a public anxiety attack, his only solace is fleeing to the safety of the suit. But his reliance on the armor is becoming an obsession, an emotional crutch just as much as a physical one, as he spends his sleepless nights creating more and more armor designs.

However, Stark is not going to be able to hide in his armor for long, as pretty early on in the film his precious collection of suits, and his cliff-top mansion, are destroyed. Isolated from Pepper Potts, and with Happy in hospital, Stark is alone and exposed without the Iron Man armor. In fact, Stark spends more time out of his suit in this film than in it, and that’s possibly what makes this movie so strong. We see the vulnerability of the hero within, Stark is just a “man in a tin can” who can’t compete with gods and super-soldiers.

But, Stark being the person he is he tries to hide his weakness and exposure by being sarcastic with the quick-firing backtalk you’d expect from Black’s writing and from Downey Jr’s portrayal. Being alone without his usual support, the plot brings in a kid called Harley for Stark to insult and bounce witty comments off of. And it’s here that a lot of the humor of the movie comes in (that and the spoilery reveal we’ll come to later). Drew Pearce, co-writer of the movie, shows his superhero comedy roots by adding many hilarious moments to a film that could have been incredibly dark, insular and bleak.

Going into the film I had a couple of concerns from everything I’d read online and seen in the trailers. We’re going to get a little spoilery here, so if you’d prefer not to know, stop now.

First of all, when the casting and roles were announced, I was concerned that the film was trying to pile in as many Iron Man or Marvel universe villains and characters as possible. Iron Patriot? How were they going to do that without Osborn? Mandarin, Coldblood, Firepower and the Extremis storyline? All in one film? This isn’t going to be Spider-Man 3 again is it?

Luckily, while a lot of the characters have names from Marvel (such as Eric Savin / Coldblood, Jack Taggert / Firepower, and even Ellen Brandt complete with burned face) their actual roles in the movie are little more than recurring goons, suped-up with Extremis and working for the major villain.

And talking of major villain, this was my other concern. How do you do the Mandarin without succumbing to racial stereotypes and making it incredibly cheesy?

Well, worry not. There was a moment about a third of the way through the film where I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if the Mandarin was actually…[redacted]” and lo and behold, that’s what they revealed just thirty minutes later. Ben Kingsley is absolutely amazing in the role, as a symbol of everything that the government fears, playing upon those very stereotypes to his advantage. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Guy Pearce redeems himself after Prometheus with an excellent portrayal of Aldrich Killian, creator of the Extremis virus, and the ever-lovely Rebecca Hall is cool as Dr Maya Hansen, who worked on the original incarnation of Extremis. If you’ve read the Iron Man Extremis story you’ll know a little of what to expect in this movie, though it has been tweaked and adapted for the screen, bringing in new elements to make this more of an investigative anti-terrorist mystery thriller.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of action, with a host of cool set pieces that culminate in the use of dozens of different Iron Man suits that Stark hops in and out of at great speed during the final battle, and some interesting action plot twists that’ll have some of the fans punching the air.

It’s not perfect – the film does have its faults. The plot device that leaves Stark without the backup suits is kinda ridiculous (bearing in mind the power and abilities of some of the suits, the reason they’re unusable for most of the film is pointless). I’d have also liked to have seen more of Stark’s insomnia and anxiety at the beginning of the film, building up to a more emotional confession of his problems to Pepper. As it is, it feels like there’s only a little build up before Stark blurts it all out in a mass of plot exposition.

But these are minor quibbles that do not diminish the fact that Iron Man 3 is an excellent addition to the Marvel Movie-verse, with a gritty, realistic and often funny, yet personal adventure for the great Tony Stark.

In closing, I’ll just say to look out for the utterly bonkers end title sequence that feels more like the opening titles of The Last Boy Scout, by the way of Quentin Tarantino. Also, hang around until after the credits for the obligatory monk’s reward with an extra scene that ties the movie into the Avenger-verse. Excellent!

9/10

Dave Chapman is a writer, editor and designer of a number of tabletop
RPGs, including “Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space” and
“Conspiracy X”. Former comic publisher and self professed geek, if it’s
remotely nerdy he’s interested. Favourite films are
Inception and The Matrix, and he’s still obsessed with The X-Files.  Check out his homepage at https://www.autocratik.com/
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