Truth be told, this is one superhero film this year I wasn’t really looking forward to. I mean I LOVE the first film, and I didn’t even hate the second one even with its set of flaws. But I guess I’m just a bit worn out with the character of Tony Stark himself, his snarky cool edge that was so fun to watch before is just getting stale. But thanks to writer/director Shane Black, somehow he manages to win me over with his direction style. Here are just some things he did right:
1. Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce came up with a thrilling story that doesn’t dwell too much on the rich-billionaire syndrome. I mean we’ve seen all that, so no need to keep rehashing that fact. We see the frivolous party-animal part of Tony Stark in a flashback at the beginning, but shortly after that, he’s plucked out of his elements. It’s a fish-out-of-water story of sort, as Tony ends up being stranded in a snowy small town in Tennesse.
2. The burning question for this particular superhero, perhaps more so than any other Marvel superhero is this: Does the suit make the man or the man made the suit? In the Film School Rejects interview Shane Black and exec. producer Kevin Feige, the interviewer said, “…you seem as interested in having Tony out of the Iron Man armor as in it”. Here’s Black’s answer:
I want the Iron Man stuff to have impact. And if he’s always in the suit doing stuff, it doesn’t have any impact. If every once in a while he gets just a piece of the suit and POW! he launches a bolt and somebody goes flying 20 feet through the air, but it burns him to do it, that has impact.
I think that’s a wise move right from the get go, having such a strong vision for the character and make him the primary focus once again. I think Black succeeds in creating that delicate balance of seeing both persona of Tony Stark, making the most of Robert Downey Jr.‘s undeniable screen charisma that seems to only get better with age.
3. Going back to basics… but somehow makes the old feels new again. The reason I like the first film was because we see Tony as a real genius who’s seemingly thrive under even the most desperate circumstances with his ability to build something out of nothing. We see that MacGyver side of Tony here, how he somehow can still rise to the occasion outside of his state-of-the-art lab and without his loyal robotic butler Jarvis. Tony Stark actually has to shop at a Home Depot type of store like the rest of us, ahah. The ‘relationship’ between the hero and his Iron suit gets an even more amusing play here, which seems even more hilarious than ever before.
4. Shane Black is no stranger to buddy action-comedies. After all, he was the writer behind the Mel Gibson/Danny Glover action franchise Lethal Weapon. He’s also worked with RDJ in the wacky thriller-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, where RDJ and Val Kilmer made a droll and quirky pair.
Here RDJ still has a great rapport with General Rhodes (Don Cheadle), that whole bit about War Machine having a more nationalistic name Iron Patriot delivers some laughs. But when Rhodes is not always around to swap snarky banters with, Black cast a precocious whiz boy (Ty Simpkins) as his sparring partner. The 11-year-old Simpkins is able to hold his own against the veteran actor, and their banter is fun to watch. I love how Tony is still being Tony regardless who he’s dealing with, not allowing anyone—no matter how old—to wallow in self-pity, including himself. It was an unlikely duo that works in the story.
5. Surprising twist on the villain that I didn’t see coming. Having a more realistic ‘real world’ adversary with the terrorism angle works well here instead of simply having another suited-armor nemesis. But there’s more than meets the eye here about the eccentric psychopath The Mandarin that still hit me out of left field. I think comic readers might not necessarily appreciate the alteration but I consider it to be a pleasant surprise that’s sooo entertainingly zany.
Perfect casting of Sir Ben Kingsley in that role, stealing scenes whenever he appears on-screen. The scene of him, Stark and Rhodes is definitely one of the major highlights, but the less I say about the character the better for the sake of your viewing enjoyment.
6. Guy Pearce looking cool and hunky for a change, instead of looking like 200 years old (Prometheus) or some follicly challenged gangster (Lawless). He’s not the kind of villain that takes himself too seriously, Aldrich Killian is a pretty cool name and Pearce plays him as a charming baddie that could easily match Downey’s quick wits. There’s a scene towards the finale that somehow reminds me of his breakthrough role in Memento, I don’t think it’s an homage or anything, it’s just something I picked up on. Pearce seems to have had a good time filming this and it shows!
7. Fun action set pieces but yet they’re not just some over-the-top and vapid bombastic shoot-em-ups (*cough* Die Hard 5 * cough*). The most memorable one, that you’ve likely seen in the trailer, is the relentless attack on Tony’s Malibu mansion. I remember marveling at that sprawling beach-front property in the first movie, and seeing it being destroyed to bits was wow, I’ve got to admit my heart sank a bit as I watched it.
The eye-popping special effects are to be expected. I still enjoy watching our armored hero shooting off to the sky, but this time, the flying sequence isn’t so much about Iron Man looking hip and cool on the air, but more about what he can do with that gift. Ultimately, it’s Tony’s sharp thinking that does the saving, not simply the power of that suit itself.
8. Robert Downey Jr.’s consistent dedication to the role is one of the main factors the franchise hasn’t lost its juice. Everything we’ve come to know and love about the character is all there, Tony’s flair for the theatrics, his nerdy obsession with his robotic toys, and his snarky prowess is still firing on all cylinders. Yet somehow under Black’s direction, it feels fresh, sprightly, and endearingly self-deprecating. I think the key here is showing the character’s vulnerability and contrast that with his larger-than-life billionaire antics.
There are countless hysterical scenes where things don’t go according to plan for Tony. Even in the moment he needs it most, his invention can still let him down, and that sense that our hero isn’t always so invincible makes him more human, and in some ways more relatable.
9. But also not ‘too relatable’ as we go to see a superhero movies for escapist entertainment. Iron Man 3 is by no means a dark and gloomy affair (I don’t know why some reviewers equate this with The Dark Knight) as I don’t think it would fit the essence of Tony Stark if they go that route. There are dark moments to be sure, but the mirthful tone is intact and plenty of geeky gadgetry to keep the superhero geek massively entertained. Black & co. never forgets that at its heart, Marvel superhero movies are popcorn entertainment and on that front, it certainly delivers!
10. The returning characters are given a bit more to do here. Retiring from directing duties (but still serves as exec. producer), Jon Favreau is quite amusing as the head of security of Stark Industries. I wish Rebecca Hall has more screen time but still, it’s nice to see her here alongside Gwyneth Paltrow (who’s not even the most beautiful woman in this movie, let alone the world, heh). That said, I kind of like that Stark’s love interest is not just a damsel in distress in this one which makes Pepper Potts a bit more interesting than in the previous installments.
Perhaps having a tepid expectations helps me enjoy this more than I otherwise would, as the movie is definitely not without flaws. Just to name a few, the motivation of the super-villain’s descent to madness is too much of a stretch and the loud clanging and bombastic mayhem of the third act can be quite dizzying. But overall, those who haven’t become too cynical or jaded by superhero movies would be hard pressed not to enjoy this one.
Though the iron suit sometimes run out of juice in this movie, thankfully the Iron Man franchise still has plenty of that in its third installment. I wouldn’t rate this as high as other stellar “threequels” like the Bourne Ultimatum, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, or Toy Story 3, but it’s certainly a solid addition to the lucrative Marvel canon.
4 out of 5 reels
What did you think folks? Does this one meet YOUR expectations?