NB: Spoilers are avoided where possible but please be aware that some may slip through or be unavoidable.
Iron Man 3 (Director: Shane Black, Writers: Shane Black, Drew Pearce, Actors: Robert Downey Jr. Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley) – 2013
Synopsis: Marvel’s “Iron Man 3” pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
OK, first things first…I gave it four stars but I think it’s actually pushing 4.5. I did only see it about 16 hours ago so it’s still buzzing in my head which will have an impact but it really was exceptionally good. I’ll state it again here, though I feel it shouldn’t be necessary: this is all merely my opinion. If you didn’t like it (as I am finding many did not) then that’s fine, but don’t go telling me that my opinion is wrong. There is no such thing.
Now! Onto the crux of the review… (It’s very long, be warned!)
Story – I’m not sure we are given a time scale in-film but I believe this movie takes place probably within a few months of the end of The Avengers. Do you need to have seen that movie before this one? I would say it would definitely help, because it will give you a better clue on what Tony is going through, but it’s not crucial. We start with a flashback to 1999 to give an introduction to both Maya Hansen (an old flame of Tony’s) and Alrich Killian, an aspiring scientist whom Tony doesn’t give the time of day. It sets up the core idea of Extremis, a formula that Maya is working on but that is suffering a glitch. The kind of glitch that causes explosions.
It snaps back to the present and we see Tony confined to his workshop, working with JARVIS on a new Iron Man suit. The Mark 42. We realise early on that since the events in New York, Tony has descended into work, building suit after suit for every eventuality. He’s suffering PTSD in a big, bad way. He’s fought with a super soldier, a god and a giant rage monster and come to realise that he is incredibly vulnerable and massively outmatched for what could come from beyond. And so he relies heavily on the suit, almost afraid of being outside of it.
Rhodey and Pepper worry but he shrugs it off as nothing. Then the Mandarin shows up on TV screens countrywide. Explosions are occurring across the US for which he takes credit and continues to threaten the President with further lessons. Tony makes it personal which does not end especially well for him, leaving him with a malfunctioning suit, a silent JARVIS and just his own wits to go up against the Mandarin and figure out just what Maya Hansen is doing showing up back in Tony’s life.
I personally thought the pace of the film was spot on. I believe it was just over two hours long and not once did I feel my mind wandering or feel that the story was dragging. It is a real spectacle of a film with great special effects, stunts and set pieces. But it also knows that it is the characters that are important so we get a lot more of Tony in this film, rather than Iron Man which I really enjoyed.
I was worried when it was announced that Extremis would play a big part in the plot. I am not a big fan of the story arc for Tony in it and I was having a hard time tying it up with the movie-verse Tony. So I was incredibly glad to see that they didn’t go that route, after all. Extremis is still the key element of the plot but it is purely used by the villains; this Tony knows that no good can come from it.
What I particularly liked about the way the story went is that it is very personal. We had Stane in the first movie which was personal to Tony and then Whiplash and Hammer in the second which was kind of personal but felt a bit disconnected and non-threatening, really. Whereas here, we have a villain that is almost of Tony’s own making, and he’s not the only one with the history here. In a way, Tony is even his own worst enemy in this movie. He’s become so reliant on the suits that when he is suddenly stranded without it and without JARVIS, he becomes a ‘hot mess’ as he calls it. It’s a voyage of rediscovering himself, finding the genius mechanic once more, rather than the man in the suit. We get to see the guy who built himself his own life support and suit in a cave with a bunch of scraps. That’s the Tony I love.
The ending could be seen as very final. If they were to announce that Robert would no longer do any solo outings then I think it is a good place to end it. But they can also easily circumvent it, should there be a call for an Iron Man 4. (Personally, I would like it to stay as a trilogy and just see him back for the Avengers movies, let him get on with other projects and just chill out). I think the ending segment could have done with a little more explanation as no-one seems quite sure exactly what went on, myself included!
Characters – All the usual suspects are back for round three: Tony, Pepper, Rhodey, JARVIS, Happy…all present and pulling their weight.
Rhodes has always been a bit of a confusing character for me. He never seemed to get the right kind of role in the movies. I don’t tend to like it when actors are re-cast but I admit to much preferring Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 yet he still didn’t feel like Tony’s best friend. Here, finally, he did. The banter between them was spot on, making it feel like they had known each other for years and didn’t have to tiptoe around each other. His worry for Tony’s well-being was clear without needing to be verbalised and it was great to see them getting into the action sans suits (harking back to the Riggs/Murtaugh dynamic in some ways).
Happy also gets a somewhat larger role (and never have I been so grateful of a director giving himself a role in his own movie). His inclusion in the flashback scene really goes to show how much history there is between Happy and Tony and solidifies him as part of ‘Team Stark’ rather than just a driver/Head of Security. I also love how Jon Favreau has sneakily inserted some canon Happy via a carefully chosen Downton Abbey scene. I do have to wonder if anything will ever come of it…
Now, Pepper. I know there are vastly differing opinions on Miss Potts but I have always been a fan of her character and the way Gwyneth Paltrow portrays her. I did have some doubts about them becoming a couple at the end of Iron Man 2 but these were eased somewhat by their interaction in The Avengers and even moreso here. She is one of the few people that can handle his erratic behaviour and that he can open up around (albeit with some difficulty) but their love for each other is clear without ever being sappy and I really like how it drives the story without it overpowering it. And what I love even more is that she gets to be kick-ass, too. Not only does she have a brief scene in the suit but her involvement in the climax had me clapping quietly to myself in the cinema with delight.
And, of course, Tony. I feel this is definitely more Tony’s film than Iron Man’s which seems to have frustrated some but I was thrilled. All the PTSD scenes were so well dealt with, Downey really showing just what kind of effect New York had on Tony. It breaks down the character’s walls and shows him as the vulnerable person he is at his core. But it also shows the genius, rather than the superhero. He still has the whip-smart humour but there’s an edge to it, an extra buffer to protect himself. It’s sad to see him descend into a kind of mania with his constant ‘tinkering’ but it makes it all the more satisfying when he overcomes it.
Added to these, we have a series of new characters including: Aldrich Killian, The Mandarin, Maya Hansen and Harley Keener.
I really liked Guy Pearce as Killian. He has to play the character in three different ways (the enthusiastic nerd, the suave businessman, the lunatic) and does them all perfectly. He is suitably creepy and menacing and I personally felt that he was a really threat throughout the movie and his motives so personal that you could never really predict where he was going with them or how far he would go.
The Mandarin is difficult to talk about without giving major spoilers. He is classed as Iron Man’s primary nemesis from the comics and so people have been waiting for his appearance in the movies from day one, really. And here we have him, played by the always excellent Ben Kingsley. A lot of fans of the comics have been fuming over how the character has been handled but I really loved how it turned out. I was skeptical how they were going to incorporate something as fantastical as the Ten Rings (especially as they were already dubbed as the terrorist group behind Tony’s kidnapping back in IM1) and much prefer the way it was dealt with here. I can understand people feeling like it was a slap in the face for them to change a classic character so much but this is ultimately a completely different universe and should be viewed as such.
One thing I was disappointed about was the lack of Maya Hansen. Rebecca Hall is a great actress and she did well with what she was given but I feel that, had she been cut out and her important lines given to other characters, she wouldn’t have been that missed. I suspect that maybe she will feature in many cut scenes (seeing as the original script ran about 1hr 15 longer!) and I would like to see what else she might have contributed to the overall plot. Considering she was the inventor of Extremis, I felt she could have used a bit more back story of her own.
Ahh, Harley. Now, I notoriously don’t really like kids in movies. I find them annoying and that they drag the pace down so when I discovered there would be a kid in this movie, my heart dropped a little. It was totally unwarranted. Ty Simpkins plays Harley so well and his interactions with Tony are often hilarious. I love the idea that Tony never really had the chance to be a kid (thrown in the limelight at an early age, his genius putting him years ahead of his peer group at every turn) and so he doesn’t really know how to interact with them. His banter with Harley is barely any different to the way he talks to Rhodey or Pepper and Harley matches him at every turn. Maybe even sees himself in him a little bit.
Writing – I have been a fan of Shane Black’s work for ages, in fact I don’t think there is a single script of his I haven’t enjoyed. With that in mind, I had quite high expectations for the script here (especially knowing how well Downey worked with the deliveries in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and I was not remotely disappointed. The feel of Black’s dialogue suits the character of Tony so well (which is partly why Downey was Favreau’s first choice for the role way back when) and as a result all of the other characters get a series of quotable lines. Drew Pearce also acts as co-writer though it is difficult to tell where his stamp lies as he has little experience in the movies. I have to say, however, that nothing came across as especially clunky so the collaboration worked very well.
IM3 has a lot of Black’s trademarks like it being set at Christmas, dialogue steam-rolling over other dialogue in a bid to be heard, a quirky narrative by our lead character…It does feel more like Iron Man in a Shane Black movie rather than Shane Black does Iron Man and I actually loved that. It had an 80’s action movie vibe to it rather than just your average run-of-the-mill superhero spectacular.
Score & Soundtrack – Opening up with Eiffel 65 was just brilliant. It certainly threw me back to 1999 and it was actually strangely apt in summing up Tony’s life in the future (blue being a colour that shows up a lot with his interface, the arc reactor and his actual attitude). From memory, I didn’t notice much on the rock side of things where the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC seemed something of a staple in his previous appearances.
As far as the score goes, it comes from Brian Tyler. I had been hoping for the likes of Hans Zimmer or Alan Silvestri but I wasn’t too disappointed. I do feel that a lot of the tracks have the same general theme to it which makes it somewhat repetitive and no-one really had their own anthem if you will which made it a little lacklustre. But I really love the track ‘New Beginnings’ which plays over the closing montage, it has a hopeful, magical quality to it that makes the heart swell. And ‘Can You Dig It?’ is just a masterpiece. Kicking in over the end credits, this snazzy 70’s pulp TV show style track sums up the whole tone of the movie. It’s brash, it’s bold, it’s catchy and accompanied with images from all three movies, it ends everything in a very upbeat manner.
Other Points – Let’s bullet point, shall we?
- The post-credits sequence. No, it doesn’t have any connections to the upcoming Phase Two movies but it was still a nice surprise for me.
- The bots. I have an over-attachment to Tony’s robots (especially DUM-E) and I was glad that they were given a part to play here. I was ready to curse Black out for actually giving them a death scene but all was rectified in the end, thank god. And it really goes to add another touch of sentimentality to Tony.
- Yinsen! Loved, loved, loved the brief Yinsen cameo harking back to Iron Man 1.
Worth Watching Y/N? – An absolute YES! If you’re a fan of the Iron Man movies, superhero movies in general or 80’s action flicks then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It’s not going to try your intelligence but it’s hardly mindless either. Check it out!
Favourite Quote – (So many good ones but this is what I settled for:)
“Do you know a question I keep asking myself? Where’s my sandwich?”