19 April 2013

IRON MAN 3- Review

This is a spoiler-free review- I'll be posting a more in-depth look at Iron Man 3 after it's released in the UK next week, but if you still don't want to know anything, proceed with caution...

Robert Downey Jr was put on this planet for two reasons- to play Tony Stark, and to deliver dialogue written by Shane Black. Iron Man 3 has him doing both of these things. The writer-director already collaborated with Downey on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and was recently revealed as one of the consultants on the tumultuous production of Iron Man, but has fully taken the reins on the latest instalment.

But the film has the unenviable task of following The Avengers, which ended with a near-death experience for Iron Man. One year after saving New York from both alien invaders and the shady SHIELD higher-uppers, Tony Stark is still rattled by the events. Obsessively creating new Iron Man suits, Tony is plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and even anxiety attacks. He foolishly has a go at a powerful terrorist known as the Mandarin, resulting in a cataclysmic attack on his personal life that leaves him alone, lacking his usual resources, and determined to find retribution.

Superhero movies seldom do well when they reach their third instalment in a series- few are going to say that Superman III, Spider-Man 3 or X-Men: The Last Stand are their favourite films from those respective series. The other hallmark of blockbusting part threes of late has been the "fall and rise" story, especially in The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. Iron Man 3 overturns both of these presumptions, not least because we arguably already had the duffer of the Iron Man series in the underwhelming second instalment. Now it's time for the awesome.

I've given my thoughts on Iron Man as a movie character in all of my previous reviews. In the first two films, it's apparent that Downey can only really shine, as the character that he's inhabited, when the mask is off. In The Avengers, Joss Whedon did more to develop the character in the last twenty minutes than was achieved in the whole of Iron Man 2. In reducing Tony to the resourceless character he was while in captivity, and throwing in the PTSD from his most recent adventure, this is a much more personal story for him, as befits a solo film that follows the big crossover movie, and Downey knocks it out of the park for the fourth time running. As much as it's a personal story, it's also a Shane Black movie.

Although it's difficult to pinpoint my favourite part of the film, there's a clear highlight in terms of structure. You see, while Iron Man 3 has definite shades of the "fall and rise" stories that Batman and Bond have played out over the last year, it doesn't necessarily play it solemn all the way through. And so my favourite part of Iron Man 3 is the moment when, after a surprisingly serious first act, Shane Black turns on the headlights, revs up the engine and blazes through the rest of the movie in his own comedic and action-packed style, just like you were hoping for.

After that point, this is a really funny movie, and one which finds tonnes of new, inventive applications of Iron Man's technology, even four films in. Particular highlights include the attack on Stark's cliff-top home, a rescue from Air Force One, and basically any scene in which Tony is forced to improvise, with either selected parts of his armour, or no parts at all. Not only does it excuse the inevitable rollout of "characters" who are basically toys, but it's also constantly surprising. Although all of those described highlights are glimpsed in the over-saturated trailers, they don't even give away half of the really cool moments, and the same goes for the film's story.

"You will never see me coming", drones Ben Kingsley's Mandarin, at the beginning of the film. It's true- you'll never believe the kind of villain he turns out to be. With his deep voice and bizarre appearance, the film spends a lot of time teeing up the confrontation between Tony and this terrorist, and when it arrives, I guarantee you will never have seen anything like it in another superhero movie. Kingsley's performance is astonishing, and the ultimate philosophy surrounding his character wouldn't be out of place in a Nolan Batman movie. It would, however, be taken more seriously, and inversely, be a lot harder to take seriously.

The genius of the script, penned by Black and British writer Drew Pearce, is that it's chock-full of surprises. Its only shortcoming is that its arch-villain's ultimate plan is never quite clear, and so we ride on Tony's personal stakes rather than the apparently more important national crisis that arises. Comics fans will recognise aspects from Warren Ellis' Extremis arc, but it's not the most faithful adaptation. In borrowing from that story, it does, however, circumvent another problem with the first two Iron Man films; namely, that he usually ends up being pitted against enemies who are basically people in similar armour or other robots.

A super-tough squadron of self-healing soldiers make for suitable adversaries to challenge Iron Man, after the alien warriors from The Avengers, especially considering how vulnerable Tony is at this point. Guy Pearce makes a drippingly unctuous counterpoint to Downey too, although I still feel it's a shame that the film is far too busy to contemplate any kind of return appearance for Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer. On the side of good, Gwyneth Paltrow gets a lot more to do as Pepper Potts, and in the final act particularly, Don Cheadle provides the other half of the kind of buddy cop pairing that Black writes so well.

Some will say that it's down to Iron Man's popularity, that people won't wonder where the other Avengers are during this film until other characters mention it, but Iron Man 3 does what every post-Avengers solo movie should be working towards. It's not smaller than the crossover, and at times, the action scenes even come close to exceeding it, but it's more personal to Tony Stark. In and of itself, it's funny and exciting, and calls some of Shane Black's best work to mind, even though it's considerably less profane. As in previous summers, you can rely on an Iron Man movie to kick off the summer blockbuster season in style, and this one even cheerfully bucks that pesky third instalment curse, to boot.

Iron Man 3 will be released in the UK on April 25th, screening in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide. Thank you to Cineworld Middlesbrough for giving me ten tickets to the regional premiere on April 18th.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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