Tony Stark has returned with a vengeance, but this time without the Avengers, in the third instalment of the Iron Man series. Iron Man 3 has all the spectacle and wow factor of a summer blockbuster, and despite some bizarre tonal shifts retains the spark and charm the series is known for.
Perhaps this is due to the screenplay and direction of Shane Black, famous for his witty, snappy one-liners and his early success with buddy cop movie Lethal Weapon. Black replaces Jon Favreau who steered the first two Iron Man films into superstardom, but does a sterling job in maintaining the fun of the originals while adding his own touches.
Iron Man 3 picks up some time after the events of Avengers Assemble. Whereas previously Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) had been exposed to some sinister men and a few rival suits of armour, the billion-dollar Avengers flick threw him against gods, aliens, and intergalactic warfare. With such life-changing, world-altering events, the bar was raised highly indeed, but Iron Man 3 manages to meet its expectations without spiralling into a mess of action setpieces trying to outdo its predecessor.
Based on aspects of Warren Ellis’ comic book story arc, Iron Man 3 introduces Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, the inventor of an experimental regenerative treatment known as Extremis. Ben Kingsley features as terrorist The Mandarin wreaking havoc across the globe, and Stark is dragged into an investigation of a series of mysterious bombings while at the same time struggling to deal with the nightmares brought on by the events of Avengers Assemble. Understandably.
All of this may sound messy, but it boils down into what is essentially a story of Tony Stark’s self-realisation. His relationship with Pepper Potts has matured, and after the events of Avengers Assemble the stakes have been raised, with the world exposed to a much greater threat than usual.
The film attempts to approach this as best it can, but this jeopardy rarely manifests itself onscreen. Despite humanising Stark as much as possible, there is only a certain distance the film can head in that direction before it has to go down the superhero route again, ditching the character building in favour of explosions.
Stark spends a good chunk of time as himself, without the Iron Man armour. In fact, a lot of the action takes place without his involvement at all, with the screenplay instead favouring his witticisms and snappy comebacks, which is no bad thing. That isn’t to say the film holds back on big blockbuster setpieces, however – when they come, they come thick and fast. In fact, they seem to rather outstay their welcome, with the over-choreographed finale growing tiresome at points and making the entire film much longer than it needs to be.
As with the first two films, the comedy and the general lack of sincerity with which Iron Man treats itself is refreshing. A bright, lively colour palette and actors who seem to genuinely enjoy doing what they are doing never fail to infect even the stoniest of audience members with a childlike enthusiasm. Black’s previous experience directing Downey Jr. in the crime caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is increasingly evident as the film progresses, and a total tonal shift in the middle seems to mark the point at which the filmmakers pull out all the stops.
While some may find the changeable tone jarring at times, the outcome of Iron Man 3 is a memorable one at least, and the film can by no means be accused of slipping into old habits. A considerably large cast does not dull some standout performances, and Kingsley in particular makes the absolute most of his character in a way that an actor with a lesser sense of humour would have been unable to. Some of the action scenes could have benefitted from a more subtle or experienced hand, but Black casts an interesting balance between them and the moments of humour.
Iron Man 3 is by no means a perfect film, but despite unnecessary existential crises and naval-gazing stands up perfectly well by itself – even when compared to earlier, superior instalments.