This review contains SPOILERS
– please don’t read on if you haven’t yet seen Iron Man Three –
Time for some iron heroics…
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall
Directed by: Shane Black / Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black / 130 minutes
What’s Iron Man Three about?
Struggling to reconcile the events of New York, Tony Stark must grapple with his demons to face the threat of a lethal terrorist and the reprisals of a past acquaintance…
Hindsight can be sometimes be rewarding. Given my previous thoughts on Iron Man Three (which I won’t hide away – you can read my rant here) it was with both surprise and delight that second time around I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’ve been wrong before (Predators) and always happy to admit that I’ve let geek passions blind my enjoyment of an actually solid piece of entertainment.
Admittedly there still are “issues” with Iron Man Three (which I’ll come back to later) that threaten to grate but which I’ve now become more accepting of. Anyway, on with the review…
Needless to say the success of Marvel Studios was well and truly secured by the positive reception of Avengers Assemble (as it was titled here in the UK) and it’s with respected confidence that whereas other studios would have opted for more of the same, Marvel’s next film would follow its own path. Perhaps that’s part of what caught me off guard initially as Iron Man Three really is its own beast and (the occasional reference to Avengers and the wider Marvel universe aside) stands on its own feet.
Taking over the reins from Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau is Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black (he also played Hawkins in Predator) who previously teamed up with Robert Downey Jr. for the well-crafted 2005 action crime comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black proves to be the perfect successor to Favreau (who returns in front of the camera as Happy Hogan), balancing all the elements with aplomb, from the dialogue driven character moments to the adrenalin inducing action scenes.
Robert Downey Jr. returns to arguably the biggest and most iconic role of his career and infuses Tony Stark with the charm, wit and flawed humanity audiences have come to expect. Whilst still not quite the Tony Stark of the comic books, much like Sean Connery did with James Bond, he has made the part his own without dismissing the key elements of the character Stan Lee envisioned. Whilst there’s more of those sharp witticisms they thankfully don’t become as over indulgent as Iron Man 2.
RDJ continues to share good chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (who is more significant to the story this time out), Don Cheadle is much more settled as Stark’s best buddy Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes aka ‘Iron Patriot’ (the rebranded War Machine) and Rebecca Hall is Maya Hansen – a flame from Stark’s past with questionable allegiances – who (much like Alice Eve’s role in Star Trek Into Darkness) serves the plot and not much more. This brings us to the villains of the piece, led by the ever excellent Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, seeking reprisal after once being spurned by Stark, with The Pacific’s James Badge Dale appearing as his super-powered right hand man, Savin and the always reliable Ben Kingsley as ‘the Mandarin’.
Overall, the screenplay (co-written by Black) holds up but there are moments where it tries to be more like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with some of the witty dialogue feeling at odds with Stark’s struggle against his post-Avengers anxiety. RDJ’s ‘team up’ with school kid Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) is heartfelt and fun but threatens to draw out the pace, although it’s also interesting to see a deeper exploration of the man inside the iron suit. The adaptation of the Extremis storyline (which served as a modern reboot of the Iron Man comics) works – ahem – extremely well and I was fascinated by the ideas posed about unleashing new abilities by tapping into the brain’s ‘operating system’ which goes hand in hand with the technological aspects of the Iron Man universe. There are also – naturally – a plethora of nods to the comics (the AIM organisation and a suited up Pepper Potts to offer a couple of examples) and the customary cameo from Mr. Marvel himself, Stan Lee.
However, Iron Man Three is not perfect and there is one major element that prevents it from becoming the ultimate Iron Man film – I am indeed referring to that divisive Mandarin twist. Given the threat built up at the outset I still feel that it was a big mistake not to maintain the Mandarin’s identity as a Bin Laden-esque terrorist. It would have provided a neat reinvention of the character and much higher stakes for Stark that would have elevated Iron Man Three to a whole other level. Ben Kingsley serves the part well but the reversal into slapstick comedy upon the revelation that he’s just a washed out actor playing a role is a little jarring – perhaps over time I’ll be more accepting of it but for now it’s a significant flaw that lets the film down.
Iron Man Three boasts some beautiful and sumptuous visuals from Cinematographer John Toll. It’s certainly the best looking Iron Man film which has a very “wide” feel even in the tighter more static character scenes. It’s also bolstered by an increased Avengers sized budget that allows for some exhilarating and pulse-pounding action scenes (complemented perfectly by Bryan Tyler’s score) including the decimation of Stark’s mansion, an attack on Air Force One and the effects laden finale where Stark rounds up all of his Iron Man armours for a climactic show down with Killian.
All in all my opinion of Iron Man Three has been elevated from okay to VERY good and although the first Iron Man remains the best of the trilogy (I’m always a sucker for origin stories) it comes highly recommend.
Commandeering the Iron Patriot suit, Savin proceeds with Killian’s plan to attack Air Force One unaware that Stark is not far behind…
Slightly more generous than Paramount’s recent release of Star Trek Into Darkness, extras include a trio of short featurettes, a collection of deleted/extended scenes and outtakes, a gag reel and a commentary track with Shane Black and Drew Pearce.
Completing the package is perhaps the best ‘Marvel One Shot’ so far – Agent Carter, which sees Hayley Atwell (as gorgeous as ever) put in a strong yet sensitive performance as she reprises her role from Captain America.
The bottom line: it required a reassessment but Iron Man Three has turned out to be a much better film than I initially thought. It’s a consistently entertaining blockbuster with a measure of gusto and heart.
Iron Man Three is out now on Blu-ray (2D and 3D editions) from Paramount Home Entertainment (also available on DVD and digital download).