Last year, I was beginning to become desensitized to comic book films. Growing up, it was a dream of mine to see the comic books I was reading be faithfully brought to life, using the highest of technologies to bring the beautifully drawn pages to the big screen. Yet last year, the high profile comic book films that came out were either high octane yuck fests like The Avengers or self loathing bore fests like Dark Knight Rises. In other words, the comic book film genre was starting to become something that befalls any thriving genre: predictable. Compounded by my ill feelings toward the seemingly unnecessary Amazing Spiderman and some bad vibes from Iron Man 2 that were still fresh in my mind, I went into a screening of Iron Man 3 with not so high expectations. Leave it up to Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr to prove me wrong. Iron Man 3 proves that creative comic book films are not dead yet, and after a viewing experience that at once both wowed and floored me, I am once again sucked into the game of feeling like that ten year old boy turning the pages of a comic book with a sense of excitement. Black, with one full swoop, injected the genre with a fresh take it was sorely needing to once again get me interested.
The task of following the most successful entry in the Marvel Universe, The Avengers (it is third on the highest grossing films of all time, trailing only Avatar and Titanic) had to be a daunting one. But Black was more than up to the task. One of the things I was dreading with Iron Man 3 was seeing Stark’s alcoholism get once again incorporated into the fray. Because a hero needs a stumbling block, yet throwing the bottle of alcoholic sauce into the mix would have given the film a feeling of ‘been there, done that.‘ But Black held back on this tripe and wisely decided to replace it with feelings of anxiety that Stark feels over his heroic deed from The Avengers. This plot point is brilliant because it fused the end of the last film with a brand new mountain for Stark to climb, and I respected how Black handled it with the sharpest of writing that he is known for.
Black has held a reputation around Hollywood as a quite innovative screenwriter for over three decades. In fact, at one time he was its highest paid, as action films like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout were proven money makers. A lot of the common staples in action cinema we saw come down the pike after the 80s were concocted by Black himself. And one of the many things that makes Iron Man 3 stand out is how he injects it with these exact plot devices.
Longtime followers of Black’s work will notice common onscreen occurrences in his work like the tying up and interrogation of the hero (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight), the attack of million dollar beach front property (Lethal Weapon 2) the strong female (The Long Kiss Goodnight), and of course, razor sharp dialogue (all.) Some people could see this bit of writing as laziness, but I saw it as Black incorporating what made those films great into an already well established franchise. It was a sharp wink to longtime fans of his work. And while I usually am not a fan of these types of winks, I relished in them here.
Make no mistake: there are definitely sections within Iron Man 3 that are going to be scrutinized. Without giving away too much, both Pearce’s Aldrich Killian and Kingsley’s The Mandarin are not necessarily who they appear to be. And I must say, when these plot twists were revealed, I about leapt from my seat. They were great to me because they are a nod to our modern idea of terrorism, yet also wrinkle on the surface of what we think we are seeing. I have been saying for years that someone has needed to capitalize on Pearce’s talent, as since Memento in 2001, I think he has had a few minor highs but big sized lows. I reveled in his performance here. And while I know Kingsley’s performance is going to be polarizing, but I’d be damned if I didn’t say that I think it’s his best, most entertaining work since 2000’s Sexy Beast.
Favreau gets a tad more screen time, and it is nice seeing him act in an Iron Man film without feeling the pressure to direct it as well. Kudos to Black for keeping Favreau on as Happy and not recasting him. Hall shines on the big budget stage as Maya Hansen, one of Stark’s exes who comes back to haunt him (or does she?) And Cheadle seems much more comfortable this time around as Iron Patriot Jim Rhodes. And even though I thought he would have had a bit more screen time, he has a few very bright moments in the film’s finale. But of all the performances here, I think I enjoyed Paltrow’s expanded role the best. In the franchise’s first two films, Paltrow’s Pepper Potts has always seemed to be more of a cheerleader than anything else. And while I have always enjoyed the crackling chemistry her and Downey Jr share, after their rom-com riffing in The Avengers I was beginning to dread where their relationship was going to go. But Black once again steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park, using their magnetism to build a more than involving story of both self implied and peer pressure around.
It seems odd to think that I have gotten this far into a review of an Iron Man film and hardly mention the man behind the iron suit. Truth be told, after two (actually three if you count The Avengers) films as Tony Stark, Downey shines here more than ever. And even when spending goblets of time outside the suit, we are more inclined to take him as a hero than if he had spent a good chunk of these minutes shooting bad guys. As in yet another polarizing plot point, Stark finds himself in Tennessee and in the less than capable nursing hands of a bullied little boy. Call me crazy, but I really enjoyed these scenes, as it was about more than just Downey ripping ad libbed dialogue (although there are snippets of that taking place.) It’s about just how much of a hero Stark has become, putting even more pressure on himself to handle it with pride instead of scrutiny. Plus, it has a really nice final payoff.
Another great thing that Black does here is give the film an imminent sense of danger. You would think that even with the future films that Marvel wants to incorporate the Iron Man character into, that Stark would not be in any more than, say, a mental state of danger. But Black really raises the stakes here, and there were ever slight moments in which I seriously did not think Stark was going to make it through the film‘s final moments. But does everybody?
I have seen knocks on the film’s 3D. Either it was the massive screen I saw it on or the fact that I was completely sucked into the plot, but I have absolutely no complaints about Iron Man 3’s 3D. I thought it was especially immersive during scenes such as Stark’s attempts to rescue falling Air Force One passengers and the film’s grand finale. If I have qualms about the film, they were very minor. One being that it could have used some trimming of the fat. At two hours and ten minutes, Iron Man 3 is not nearly as long as say, Dark Knight Rises. But there were definitely scenes that could have been edited down just a bit to help the film’s flow. Also, I know I am in the minority here, but I really wish that Marvel would do away with the vaunted ‘after credits’ scenes. They seem like more of a gimmick now than ever, and while I know the one at the end of Iron Man 3 was meant to do little more than crack a smile, I didn’t even do that. However, at least this time, I felt more of a feeling of closure than in the past, so I guess it wasn’t that bad. Given how much fun I had with Iron Man 3, these are VERY minor, and I implore you see this film now. My interest in the creatively immersive powers of Marvel Films has been reignited. Wait, we still have Thor The Dark World on the horizon.
Review written by Garrett Collins