Friday 26 April 2013

Film Review: Iron Man 3

"I hope I can protect the one thing I can't live without"

Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle
Running time: 135 minutes

Everyone's favourite 'genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist' is back on the big screen for the fourth time with his third solo adventure, Iron Man 3. Set after the events of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 sees Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr.) struggling to come to terms with what happened in New York and becoming increasingly reliant upon his suits.

Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen
Now there seems to be a recurring theme that superhero threequels are always going to be tricky to pull off; Spider-man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Dark Knight Rises, Batman Forever are just a few examples of threequels that have (to varying degrees) failed to match expectation and hype that surrounded them. Always trying to strive for bigger, better, badder, these franchises always seem to peak in the second entry, falling away by the third.

Thank God then, that Marvel Studios and director Shane Black took a different tack with Iron Man 3. After the huge climax in The Avengers, Iron Man 3 is a lot more stripped back than its predecessors' and the film is better off for it.

With anxiety attacks plaguing his days and insomnia plaguing his nights, Stark finds himself consumed by tinkering on his Iron Man suits. With aliens and demi-gods now on the scene, Stark is no longer a big fish in a small pond and the events from The Avengers have shaken him to the core.

After his friend Happy Hogan (Jon Faverau) is injured in an attack by ferocious new terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Stark issues a stark (heh heh) warning that threatens swift revenge. Big mistake. With his Malibu mansion left in ruins (a fantastic action set piece that will leave you slack-jawed) and stripped of his armour, Stark is left vulnerable and stranded.

"I can't sleep. And when I do, I have nightmares"
For the majority of the film, Tony is not Iron Man. He is both alone in the wilderness and lacking confidence. He can't bring himself to think about being back in the line of fire after New York as well as losing his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Being a shadow of what he once was, Tony is back to being mortal again and this is Iron Man 3's greatest achievement.

The vulnerability and uncertainty that Tony shows in this film is acted brilliantly by Robert Downey Jnr. Superhero films often hide their hero behind a mask but for Iron Man 3, Downey shows that he doesn't need one. Director Shane Black peels away the armour and touches on the man beneath to great effect. This might not win a lot of people over, people who are keen to see Iron Man smackdown with some more armoured villains every ten minutes, but you can't please everyone. Tony, as a character, grows and develops in this film in the same way that he did in the first film.

That being said, Iron Man 3 is by no means all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite in fact. I don't think I have laughed as hard as I did with Iron Man 3 in a long time. It is funny. Like, really funny.  When Tony stumbles across wide-eyed Harley (Ty Simpkins) and he recruits the young boys help in fixing his Mark 42 suit, the quips and banter starts to flow and will have the audience in hysterics. Adding a 'innocent kid' into a film can sometimes be the final nail in the coffin but this is most definitely not the case here.

In terms of villains, Iron Man 3 also does well to not include enemies who are men in metal suits with lots of missiles. This time around, Stark is faced with locking horns with Terminator-esque soldiers who have been injected with a curious known as Extremis. From here they turn into red-eyed rage monsters that look like something of Supernatural or Doctor Who. Their tough, but not remarkably interesting or gripping.

Guy Pearce however is great in his role as scientist Aldrich Killian. Where is motives are at isn't entirely clear in the trailers/promotional material so I won't spoil anything here. One thing that is worth mentioning is this; there are pretty big twists and turns you won't have expected going in. For the sake of enjoying the film, I shall say no more.

"It tested well with focus groups, okay?"
Also, Don Cheadle appears for a second time as War Machine, oops I mean Iron Patriot (because that's subtle). He's neither good nor bad, just present. Just wait until you hear his username and password; possibly the biggest laugh of the whole film and like I mentioned earlier, there are some big big laughs.

This isn't to say that the film is faultless. Rebecca Hall's 'botanist' Maya Hansen was a little underwritten and could have had more of a role to play whilst the Extremis soldiers are, like I said, a little two-dimensional. They look pretty and are a match for Iron Man but that doesn't mean they aren't anything other than grunts.

In terms of action, Iron Man 3 managed to strike a balance that retained plenty of thrills and spills whilst it low-key. The action sequence where Air Force One is attacked is fantastic but the majority of the action takes place in dockyards, container ships and so on. There are no over the top, Michael Bay-style wars being fought over New York, London or San Francisco.

Also, another little niggle that I have is the slight disregard for any other Avengers. I know that Iron Man 3 is supposed to be all about Iron Man but that doesn't mean S.H.I.E.L.D or Captain America can't have some small cameo, even if it is to rule them out of the equation. That their whole participation in this film is ruled out with one line (that is easily missed) is a bit of a bummer.

Iron Man 3 then is something of an unexpected success. After the extended Avengers trailer that was Iron Man 2, this third entry takes away the fluff and gets to the heart of the central character by peeling away his mask. The action is sporadic but full-on and the real strong point is the characterisation and the script.

I give Iron Man 3: 8/10

See this if you liked: The Iron Man series, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-man, Star Trek (2009)

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