The original Iron Man helped kick off Phase One of Marvel’s movie initiative, the first important step to what would lead to The Avengers being released in 2012 and grossing over a billion dollars in theaters. Iron Man was the only one of the stand-alone films that got a sequel pre-Avengers and it was a little better than average and seemed to follow the pattern of harder, better, faster and more cool one liners from Robert Downey Jr. Did Iron Man 3 continue this or does it reach the glacial-cool heights of the original?
There will be spoilers about the plot. You have been warned.
Shane Black is in the helm for the first post-Avengers world, and it’s obvious he has worked with Downey Jr. in the past, his performance is effortless and the film has a great cohesion once it gets going, a cohesion that was missing from Iron Man 2. The film loosely follows the ‘Extremis’ story arc, originally by the great Warren Ellis. A borderline OCD Tony Stark is suffering from a touch of PTSD and get’s frequent anxiety attacks brought on from his encounter with the alien wormhole at the end of The Avengers, he’s dealing with this by building more and more suits, with the Mark 42 being his latest set of Iron Man armour.
Villain du jour is The Mandarin, played with absolute perfection by Sir Ben Kingsley, but more on that later. Tony takes it upon himself, as Iron Man, to take down The Mandarin who has been responsible for a series of strange explosions throughout the world and now, in America. This leads to some cool detective moments and the mystery serves as the main thrust of the film for the first act. There’s also the introduction of Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, though I think people not overly good with faces will first mistake Killian for Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2. Killian is developing a new super-drug called Extremis which taps into the potential of the human brain and essentially allows people to glow a funny shade of orange when they get pissed off, and in the case of Killian, breathe fire, for some reason.
Similar to The Dark Knight Rises, we get to see a lot of Tony Stark without his armour, there’s even points where Tony is controlling his suit via a remote interface, partly because, I assume, it looks and sounds cool to Tony, and partly down to his flinching at the very word ‘New York’. This work’s a lot better than TDKR as Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely loving every second he’s playing Stark. This is probably my favourite performance of his as Stark. All the cool, and swagger is present from Iron Man, but with a little more maturity, as he was in The Avengers.
There’s some great interaction between a slightly broken and techless Tony Stark and a kid who’s house he breaks into. After an assualt on Tony’s Malibu home by The Mandarin’s Extremis powered bald henchmen, Tony barely makes it out alive and wake up mid-flight over Tennessee. From here Tony meets Harley, a curious type who’s sole purpose in the film seems to be to give Robert Downey Jr. someone to talk to. This does lead to some of the film’s funniest moments and there was definite chemisty between the two actors in these scenes. We also get to see Tony do some actual genius mechanical engineering here, something absent from Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. It’s great seeing this side of the character and once again, Downey Jr. knocks this side out of the park. There is a lot more vulnerability to his performance and it shows the growth of the character. When he is forced to use his brain and not rely on the Iron Man armour he is truly a force to be reckoned with. It’s great to see the character become a bit more three dimensional instead of just being a quip-machine. Don’t get me wrong, the reason we all love Tony Stark is because he’s even cooler than Jean-Claude Van Damme in the Coors light adverts. He’s a joy to watch and we all want to be him, but it’s nice to see he has more sides to his personality.
Now, a lot has been said about The Mandarin and Sir Ben Kingsley. I’ve even heard the performance compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker. HIs on camera broadcasts to America are brilliantly written and delivered with a true sense of hatred, he’s also weirdly untraceable in terms of origin. We know next to nothing about him except that he’s referred to as ‘The Master’ by people who know him and that he seems to be someone to be truly feared. One of the best moments in this film comes when Tony breaks into The Mandarin’s base in an attempt to take him down, only for the entire plot to be flipped on it’s head, as well as all preconceptions going into the film. The Mandarin is actually just a facade, he is simply the face of the terrorist group, a face played by drunken British actor Trevor Slattery. This is where Kingsley does so brilliantly. He plays this role with such utter perfection and comic timing and the audience is left completely slack jawed at what’s just happened. The whole scene plays out brilliantly, with Trevor emerging from the bathroom in half his Mandarin garb, to be confronted by a dumbfounded Tony Stark.
This diverges from everything we know about The Mandarin from the comics and as such was a huge risk in terms of keeping the nerds on side but i’ll be damned if they haven’t pulled it off brilliantly. It is revealed the true mastermind behind the plot is actually Aldrich Killian, who is inexplicably pissed off at the world and now wants to control the supply and demand of war. Killian kidnaps Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) which gives the final act it’s thrust, along with hijacking Air Force One and setting the stage for a public execution of the President. This leads to some of the coolest set pieces in the film. There’s pure thrills as Iron Man attemps to chain together plummeting cabin crew and presidential staff in an attempt to save them all after the plane explodes. It’s brilliantly shot and there’s still time for the trademark one liners.
The big stand off, which had already been spoiled by the trailers was as special as you would expect it to be, even if at times the film seem’s to be suffering from ADD and takes a bit of a scatter-gun approach. The moment where Pepper slips from Stark’s hand and plummets to the ground into a big flame ball loses a bit of it’s gravity when it has already been established that she has been injected with Extremis, so it was obvious she was going to make a dramatic re-appearance to save the day at the last minute. Still, we got to see Gwenyth Paltrow half naked, so it’s not all bad.
It’s worth mentioning Don Cheadle too, who’s character Colonel James ‘Rhodie’ Rhodes was criminally under developed in the first two films. Iron Man 3 gives Cheadle and the character the chance to shine and we get to see the full on Iron Patriot armour which is a brilliant thing to behold. Wait until you hear what his password is too, it will bring a smile pretty much every face.
Iron man 3 was a great entry to the franchise and in terms of Marvel’s Phase Two, it’s an excellent way to kick things off as we build up to 2015 (or as I call it, the summer where I will not leave the cinema) and Avenger’s 2. Since Robert Downey Jr. only had a five film contract it’s reasonable to assume this may well be the last Iron Man film we will see for a long time and it was the perfect send off. Be sure to stick around after the credit’s for an excellent cameo from Dr Bruce Banner as it’s revealed the whole story was being told to him by Stark who seem’s to be under the impression that Banner is a psychiatrist, leading to the excellent line of “I don’t really have the temperament for it”.