Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Sir Ben Kingsley
Director: Shane Black
Studio: Marvel

After close friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is hospitalised in the wake of a terrorist attack, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is forced to confront his demons and don the Iron Man armor anew. This time to defeat the ever-elusive Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a cult leader with a terrifying global reach. Meanwhile, with Tony's attention elsewhere, Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) fends off the ruthless advances of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and his  emerging A.I.M. organisation.

Never have I known a Marvel Studios film to be so divisive among it's audience. Origin films have every right to be, as they're the first exposure an audience will ever have to a character and their world, but to create such split opinion with a third entry is unheard of. By this point, you're either enjoying Tony Stark's shtick or you've long since left. However, quite a few long-time Iron Man fans have derided this entry, calling it ridiculous, overblown and nonsensical. As such, I'm here to say they're utterly wrong and it's simply a matter of astronomically high standards in the wake of 'The Avengers'. If your sense of humour is firmly attached, 'Iron Man 3' is the most fun you're likely to have in a cinema this year. Forget all others because they're simply pretenders to the throne.

Taking the directorial reigns from Jon Favreau this time around is cult favourite Shane Black. Where the first two entries in the Iron Man franchise had a definite mainstream feel, this third attempt is a lot more subversive. Black's story often comes out of left field, giving you the last thing you'd ever expect in a summer tentpole movie, but rather Black's own 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. Those of you sensitive to hard themes and choice cussing, be warned, because Black doesn't pull his punches. One of the best moments of the entire film comes from Downey's Tony Stark saying something to a small child that we've probably all thought, but would never dare say.

Speaking of which, after three wildly successful outings as the eccentric billionaire playboy, it's impressive that Robert Downey Jr still has something new to bring to the table. This time suffering from debilitating panic attacks in the wake of his sacrificial play at the end of 'The Avengers', Tony Stark is a broken man. He's the world's biggest egotist confronted by the reality that not everything revolves around him. There are bigger players on the board than he and far more powerful at that. This unspoken realisation manifests itself in the form of his near-obsessive-compulsive creation of new Iron Man suits. Fearing his traditional armour will fail when it counts the most, Stark has manufactured suits for damn near every scenario humanly (and inhumanly) possible. That giant weightlifting suit? I swear to god that's a Hulkbuster if ever I saw one.

As for the wise-cracking hero's supporting cast, they all acquit themselves nobly, frequently stealing big moments from the lead. However, they never truly take the spotlight as their own. No matter their crowd-pleasing antics, the focus will immediately shift back to the man on the poster and rightfully so. Both Favreau and Cheadle (as Happy Hogan and Jim Rhodes respectively) have developed a fantastic rapport with Downey Jr, trading barbs as if old high school buddies. The former delivering such big laughs, it's genuinely a shame the film can't feature more of the bumbling bodyguard. The latter getting his big hero moment in the climax of the film, rescuing the President no less. The switch for Rhodey from War Machine to Iron Patriot never quite gels, but I honestly don't think it was meant to. Playing up blind patriotism for the media is the entire crux of the film, so it's only right the theme should be explored on both sides of the proverbial coin. Even Rhodey himself isn't a fan of the rebranding, so I'd expect a hasty return to the War Machine identity with any future films.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts simultaneously becomes more inactive and yet active than ever before. She has more than few scenes whereby she is simply the cliche damsel in distress, however, being so smart and funny, the character nearly always rises above her station and eventually becomes a hero in her own right. She's not essential to 99% of the film, but in that lone 1%, she is absolutely vital and it makes three prior films of her being Tony's Girl Friday totally worth it.

As for the Mandarin, the major talking point about the villain is something I feel I should address and yet can't without spoiling a very big twist in the middle of the film. Anyone who hasn't seen the film already, shame on you for missing out, go and watch it immediately. Those of you who have seen the film already and know what I'm referring to, I was just as clueless upon entering as the rest of you. Having such a long and storied history with the Fu Manchu-like nemesis, it never once crossed my mind that he wasn't genuine. The Mandarin and his magic rings are usually the Joker to Stark's Batman. Unfortunately, this traditional approach would be next to impossible to adapt without coming across as a horribly racist characature. Marvel HAD to make these changes to the character or risked veering into bigoted territory. At first, I believed making him an Osama Bin Laden style terrorist to be an ingenious way for the studio to have their cake and eat it too, little did I know they'd have something far more profound up their sleeve. The eventual reveal of Sir Ben Kingsley to be a down-on-his-luck, drunken, womanising British thespian was downright masterful.

The true villain of the piece turns out to be none other than Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian and his A.I.M (Advanced Idea Mechanics) organisation. Borrowing heavily from the infamous Warren Ellis' Extremis arc, Killian has been developing this fusion of organic technology for the span of the entire franchise, albeit off-screen. His initial portrayal as a crippled geek features him chewing the scenery in all manner of ways, but after that fateful night meeting Tony at Cern in 1999, present day Killian is reigned in immediately. Instead taking on a quiet seething rage aimed towards those he feels betrayed him. An impressive feature of the Extremis virus allows Killian himself to go toe-to-toe with the Iron Man in the climax, adding a much needed human touch, something the previous films had lacked towards their end.

I genuinely can't say enough good things about this film. Both Marvel and Downey Jr make the process of these films appear effortless. If there's a scene where the actors and director aren't having fun, I've yet to see it. While this third entry neatly wraps up what is potentially a perfect trilogy, there is still such creativity on display that I would happily watch the further adventures of Tony Stark for several films yet. Roll on 'Avengers 2' or 'Iron Man 4'. Whichever comes first.

9 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. Some decisions are a bit risky, but the movie still pulls it off somehow. Good review Mark.