By Benjamin Lane
Iron Man 3. (2013). Run Time: 130 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content). Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black. Directed by Shane Black.
Director Shane Black has a lot riding on him. For one, his latest film Iron Man 3 has to try to make audiences get the bad taste of Iron Man 2 out of their mouths. Also, he has to find a way to satisfy audiences after The Avengers, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Not to mention that his film is the kick off for the 2013 summer movie season, consisting of movies such as Star Trek: Into Darkness, Man of Steel, The Wolverine, and Pacific Rim. Needless to say, Black has a lot of weight on shoulders. Well, it’s here. The summer movie season kicks off today with the third entry focusing on the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. How is it? Well, I can say this: it’s one of the most unique Marvel movies I’ve ever seen.
This is a film from Marvel studios, and there is quite a bit to discuss in the realm of my views on the previous films and what this movie sets up. To this day I feel that out of the five movies in the Tier 1 Avengers lead ups Iron Man is the best. I still think that it is one of the best superhero origin stories ever to put to screen. Following Iron Man was the just-alright Incredible Hulk, the hugely disappointing Iron Man 2, the very cool and suitably old fashioned Captain America: The First Avenger, and my second favorite of the five, Thor. Then, of course, came Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, one of the absolute best superhero movies ever made and one of the finest films of 2012, which was better than anybody could have hoped or expected. Whedon’s fan boy heritage was put on an epic display in that fantastic movie, and it proved to be a huge success. Now it’s time for Tier 2, which will consist of this year’s Thor: The Dark World (which looks fantastic, by the way), next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and (maybe?) Ant-Man. Of course they will all lead up to The Avengers 2 in 2015, but for now we can sit back and wait on the lead ups to flow. We have a few months until Thor is released, but for now we can discuss the kick off that is Iron Man 3.
As much sense as it would make for someone not associated with the Marvel cinematic universe to presume, Iron Man 3 is in fact not a direct sequel to Iron Man 2, which, if it were, it would be stupid. No, this is a direct sequel to The Avengers, and that is obvious from the first time we see Tony Stark in the present day. I mean, after going through a wormhole and falling back through, there are obviously some consequences to be paid. Sure, he saved the city, but the weight of it is excruciating, everything from terrible dreams to anxiety attacks. It only makes matters worse when a terrorist by the name of The Mandarin begins to claim responsibility for explosions that rock the United States. Take that and add some clever twists and turns, one of which is the most shocking twist I’ve seen in a film all year, and some interesting characterization, and you have one of Marvel’s most interesting, entries yet.
After having director Jon Favreau (Cowboys & Aliens and Elf, oddly) direct the first two Iron Man movies, the decision to boot him out and have a new director take over has been proven effective. That new director is Shane Black, director of the ferociously funny Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, also starring Downey Jr. In fact, if you’ve ever seen that movie, you already know what the tone to Iron Man 3 feels like. When compared to the previous films in the Marvel cinematic universe, it feels… unique. As could be expected from a film by Shane Black, the laughs really hit hard, and it’s a kind of dark humor associated with Black. This is the funniest of the three Iron Man films, and it is the funniest movie I’ve seen so far this year. Much like The Avengers, this is actually funnier than most modern “comedies.” That is all thanks to a script by Black and Drew Pearce. Sure, the script isn’t perfect in every aspect, but the humor is great, and I laughed a lot in this movie. But, the question is, would the humor seem so funny without Robert Downey Jr.? I think so, because it’s not always Tony Stark that is cracking the jokes. Everybody in this movie brings hilarity, and it’s nothing short of entertaining. But, you have to credit Downey Jr. This is his fourth time to reprise the role of Tony Stark, and he is at his best in Iron Man 3. Film critic Richard Roeper considered his performance award worthy. I don’t know if I would go that far yet, but I would say that his performance reminded me of Christian Bale’s in The Dark Knight Rises. You would think that after being in the same role for four times it would begin to get repetitive and annoying. Not so for this guy. He rocks the role and takes it to some deep places. Supporting him also for the fourth time is Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, offering perhaps her best performance of the films. The toll that the incidents in New York are taking on Tony are taking the same effects on her, and her performance indicates that to the fullest. Also, Don Cheadle returns from Iron Man 2 and it marks a huge step up from his performance in that film. But, the standouts here are Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley. Guy Pearce plays a striving businessman who just wanted Tony’s backing, and Tony’s denial of such comes back to bite him. I thought Pearce deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance in 2012’s Lawless and he is great here as a character with some interesting characterization and twists. But how about Ben Kingsley? His performance is a lot of things, and I will address them in the spoiler section in a little bit, but just know for now that he is fantastic and never anything but entertaining to watch on the screen. I dug him completely.
Now, here is a big thing that needs to be addressed about Iron Man 3. If you saw The Dark Knight Rises (you did) you remember how that movie was more centered on the character of Bruce Wayne than Batman. I know I have compared this movie that one already, but there are many comparisons. In the same spirit, Iron Man 3 is centered more on Tony Stark than Iron Man. Now I won’t lie, I think what Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight Rises was truly effective, but in this film, I just couldn’t help but want more of Iron Man. Don’t get me wrong, Tony Stark is an absorbing character and Robert Downey Jr. portrays him better than anyone could, and the meat in this movie with Tony Stark was always entertaining and intriguing, but I just had this longing inside of me to see more of Iron Man. This is a Marvel movie. The Dark Knight Rises was the conclusion to a monumental, gritty, and hauntingly realistic comic book movie series, and it, being grounded in reality, made a lot of sense to feature more scenes with Bruce Wayne than Batman. This is a lead up to the next Avengers movie. The first Avengers had aliens coming to earth being led by Lokie from Asgard. I think reality is out of the question, and that is stated in this movie. I want a lot of action. Yes, story is most important, and this movie has a lot of good story. Great story actually. And there are a few cool action scenes, the final one coming close to matching the final battle in The Avengers. But I just feel like I wanted more than a lot of Tony Stark. It may not make sense, and it’s hard to explain because I truly loved everything that centered around Tony Stark and his travels, but a part of me, maybe the little kid inside, wanted more Iron Man. I must say though, and I will without spoiling too much, the way Tony repeatedly alternates between suites throughout but more so in the third act was mind-blowingly awesome. I loved it.
*** SPOILER ALERT ** Now I can talk about the spoilers for this movie, and by that I mean the one that has everybody talking. Keep in mind, this is the twist I was referring to earlier, and if you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t want anything spoiled for you, do not read this, because believe me, this changes the entire movie. Let’s talk about the Mandarin. Now I don’t know much about the Iron Man comics because I never read many of them, so I am not as attached to the character of the Mandarin as some avid fans are. Now, in Iron Man 3, for the first half of the movie, the Mandarin is the villain. He is a terrorist, submitting videos to the president and streaming on live national news networks telling of his acts and why he does them. Then the middle of the movie happens and Tony Stark finds the Mandarin. And he’s… well, an actor. Guy Pearce’s character, the main baddie, simply used this actor, played magnificently and hilariously by Ben Kingsley, to lead the police and government officials looking for him while he can actually carry out these crimes and explosions. It’s really genius. Now this the dividing force in this movie, and it really is the twist that you will either roll with or will make you despise the movie. As for me, I liked the twist. But, I understand why people are hating on it. You take an iconic villain and allow him to be used to great use in a live action film and then turn around and make him some made up character by another mastermind that you didn’t really expect coming. As far as writing for the movie goes, it is genius, and I thought it was a very interesting twist, and I was one of the ones that rolled with it. I found Ben Kingsley to be very, very funny, and I liked where they went with the movie. But, for all those who have a history with reading the comics, I understand why you are upset, and the reason is justified. *** END SPOILER ***
FINAL VERDICT: The summer movie season couldn’t be kicked off any other way than the way it has been today with Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr. provides his best work in the series to date, along with a strong supporting cast, most notably Guy Pearce and a wickedly awesome Ben Kingsley. Instead of making a stale superhero movie like Iron Man 2, director Shane Black insists on creating a superhero film that is sure to jolt you a few times, whether it be because of the incredibly well done action sequences, more so the concluding sequence which is the best and most explosive ending to a movie all year, or the surprising twists that are provided when the action is not. Iron Man 3 is a treat. Treat yourself to it. (B+)