AFTER the surprise hit of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008, the writer-director’s follow-up Iron Man 2 was a victim of its own excess.
Much like the Hulk in Marvel’s Avengers odyssey, Robert Downey Jr’s man in a can was blown all out of proportion, only to blast his way back into audiences’ hearts in Joss Whedon’s epic Avengers Assemble.
Iron Man 3 strives – and largely succeeds – to keep up the pace.
Sir Ben Kingsley succeeds in bringing a genuine sense of gravitas to the bejewelled, bewigged Mandarin. His doe-eyed performance and burring preacher’s voice ensures that the ring-wearing wonder remains a believable character full of menace
The post-Avengers Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey Jr) is still battling his demons. It turns out that travelling through a wormhole to save the world from an alien attack leaves its mark. Unable to sleep and suffering severe panic attacks, Stark spends his time manically upgrading his armoured suits and neglecting his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
When terrorist the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) hurts one of Stark’s own with his bomb-like explosions, the self-styled ‘genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist’ suits up for some misbegotten good old-fashioned revenge.
Stark faces considerable opposition in the form of the near-unstoppable Eric Savin (James Badge Dale, Shame) and his fellow super soldiers. They’re part of the Extremis drug programme, headed by perma-tanned entrepreneur and Mandarin henchman Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, Prometheus), who has upgraded the soldier’s DNA, rendering them practically indestructible.
Director and co-writer Shane Black has taken the reigns from Favreau and guided the third Iron Man back on track. This instalment doesn’t skimp on the vast, gratifying action set pieces – Stark’s home gets destroyed, the rip-roaring finale will leave you breathless, a grand piano gets thrown at a helicopter (take that, Live Fast and Die Hard). The seamless special effects are genuinely awe-inspiring and the futuristic tech wows – in particular the suit that attaches itself to Stark piece by piece.
Black’s version is more grounded than Iron Man 2. Often literally, as Stark is forced to use his intellect when he’s left without the suit for a large portion of the middle segment. This proves to be one of the film’s strengths as Stark’s ego gives way to humanising vulnerability, without compromising on the character’s signature brash wit.
As Black’s previous collaboration with Downey Jr proves – the exceptional comedy noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – he can balance a dark tone with humour. His script often reaches Joss Whedon levels of brilliance – it’s self-aware without being too smug, sharply witty and heartfelt while stopping short of schmaltz. These similarities of style give the Avengers franchise some much-needed coherence.
Black knows that Downey Jr’s Stark works best when he’s buddied up. Whether this is with fellow iron-suited pal Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle), the streetwise 10-year-old Harley (Ty Simpkins) or his artificial intelligence sidekick Jarvis (voiced by a cuttingly dry Paul Bettany), ultimately, Iron Man 3 succeeds because it is a buddy movie at heart.
Downey Jr is yet again on top form as the atypical hero who is more battle-scarred than his iron suit. Like Stark’s armour, the character fits Downey Jr like a glove, as if a prescient Stan Lee modelled the arrogant billionaire on him.
Paltrow is as lovely as ever as Stark’s increasingly frustrated other half and finally gets to kick ass while showing off abs that put Iron Man to shame.
Cheadle wears War Machine’s suit well and ably keeps up his end of the banter with Stark. Pearce aces the role of Killian, practically gliding across the screen on a trail of his own greasy smarm. The wonderful Rebecca Hall (The Town) is vulnerable yet brassy as Stark’s one-time flame Maya. Ty Simpkins gives a standout performance as Harley, managing to be precocious without being irritating.
Despite being guilty of hamming it up in past flops like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Sir Ben Kingsley succeeds in bringing a genuine sense of gravitas to the bejewelled, bewigged Mandarin. His doe-eyed performance and burring preacher’s voice ensures that the ring-wearing wonder remains a believable character full of menace.
There are faults.
For a genius, Stark makes some glaring errors. He wants to protect Pepper but gives his home address to a known terrorist. He relies on a prototype (albeit cool) suit far too much. The 3D conversion adds little. There’s no real resolution for Stark’s post-Avengers panic attacks. Plus, most of Stark’s problems could be resolved with a quick call to his fellow Avengers.
But these are all quibbles about what is essentially a welcome addition to the Marvel franchise. Much better than Iron Man 2, this might not be a think piece but as an action comedy it doesn’t disappoint. Make sure you wait around for a post-credit treat.
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