Robert Downey Jnr’s character and me have always had a bit of a strained relationship. I could never enjoy his blatant patriotism for America in killing stereotypical foreigners in desert landscapes, his dead-pan one liners while looking over his shades, or his dull, unappealing and unremarkable girlfriend. And here I am, having come back from his latest film a changed man; Iron Man 3 is a blistering return to form for superhero movies, with Marvel’s metallic hunk providing a perfect summer blockbuster. It falls down in some places, but Iron Man 3 is the finest superhero movie since The Dark Knight Rises, and sets the standards high for the upcoming sequels to Thor and Captain America.
Based on the ‘Extremis’ graphic novel story arc, Iron Man 3 takes place directly after the Avengers, with Tony Stark and his horribly bland girlfriend Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) having moved in together and trying to settle back down after aliens attacked New York. Unfortunately, their plans are scuppered after Stark goes on a personal revenge mission against the terrorist Mandarin, whose radical bombings have put Stark’s best friend in hospital. So begins a chain of events that will put Stark under the spotlight, and truly test his resolve as a hero.
What I liked about Iron Man 3 was how grounded in reality it was (aside from the obvious). It displays Tony Stark as vulnerable, a man with many flaws, who can make rash decisions at wrong times. The writers are very brave, as for the large majority of the movie they remove Stark from his suit, exposing him into the outside world and forcing him to improvise. After two movies of a big metal guy blowing people up, it was nice to see the man behind that at work in the battlefield, making ingenious weapons out of convenience store items to infiltrate a mansion. Stark is supposed to be a genius, and the writers appreciate that. So rather than see the outcome of his genius with the suit, they allow some proper characterization and tension to be created by taking it away from him, something Iron Man 2 failed to do. That also leads to a huge sense of satisfaction when Stark finally gets his suit back on, and he starts taking the baddies on in a dazzle of CGI stupidity. The problem before, with Iron Man 2, is that it did nothing but stupid, meaningless effects. By grounding Tony Stark back in reality, and exposing his flaws, they have created a more finely balanced and hugely improved film.
The acting has never been a problem with the Iron Man franchise, but the script always has, so it is good to see them both be adequate here. Robert Downey Jnr. always impresses as the witty billionaire Tony Stark, and rarely do we see an actor have such fun with his role. I get the sense that Robert Downey Jnr. is actually quite similar to Tony Stark in real life, so he just has to play himself, and he does it with gusto and aplomb. Gwyneth Paltrow was mediocre as Pepper Potts, but unlike the comic books, the films have never really given her character much space to breathe. In the original graphic novels, Potts actually gets her own Iron Man suit, and becomes a vigilante crime fighter called ‘Rescue’. After three films, she has put on the Iron Man suit once, and that was to demonstrate that she can’t handle it. It’s disappointing that the writers haven’t bothered to flesh out a more interesting and solid figure, and after three films that should be a minimum requirement.
The new cast is led by Guy Pearce, in a show stealing performance as Aldrich Chillian, a withered and pathetic man rejected by Stark back in 1999 and ruthlessly changing his appearance to get what, revenge? Justice? His motives are sometimes unclear, but the plot is decent enough to let that slide, Guy Pearce playing the part to perfection, brilliantly displaying two sides of a personality and convincing the audience that his threats are very real, a rare sight in a big budget blockbuster like this. Despite these performances though, Iron Man 3 does have its issues. Despite its heart, it sometimes lacks the brains to convincingly put all the parts of the jigsaw together. Compared to the top standard superhero movies, which are Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, Iron Man 3 really does lack some basic intelligence in terms of its plot, and occasionally also relying on the CGI to see it through a couple of minutes. Another issue is the constant tie ins with The Avengers. I know they want to stress this all happens in the same universe, but these reminders inadvertently point out some plot holes. Most crucially, why isn’t the rest of the team, like Hulk and Thor, not coming to help Tony Stark out? It is a big question thanks to the constant links with Joss Whedon’s previous big blockbuster. However, these aren’t issues which can take away the sheer enjoyment of the film. Iron Man 3 is set apart from recent superhero movies by portraying a real human with real human weaknesses, who just happens to have a warmongering suit. After all, the franchise was never about the suit itself, it was always about who was behind the mask. Finally, the series has lived up to that expectation.
Tony Stark invading a mansion with only a couple of items he picked up down the supermarket and tied together with duck tape, displaying his genius and likeability so refreshingly you wonder if there is any need for a metal suit at all.
The first 20 minutes are very slow and pretty dull, even when the first real action scene comes in. The script was lagging and the pacing was reminiscent of its predecessor; thankfully, once Stark crash-landed in a snowy forest, Iron Man 3 really got going.
Iron Man 3 is a treat of a summer blockbuster, displaying a lot of heart and enough brains to better its mediocre Marvel counterparts into oblivion. While not as deep, clever or heart breaking as it wants to be, its brilliant characterization of Tony Stark and an excellent performance from Guy Pearce as the new villain makes Iron Man’s latest film his best yet, and raises the standards for the new sequels from the rest of the Avengers. Brash and bold summer entertainment.