Shane Black is at the helm for this, the first post-Avengers Marvel film and Iron Man’s best outing to date. Robert Downey Jr returns as the quick-witted genius Tony Stark, who is faced this time out with the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist laden with sheer nihilism and a distaste for capitalist ideologies. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, while Guy Pearce makes an appearance as Aldrich Killian, a geneticist whom Stark dismisses in the opening few minutes. Potentially, this was going to be a very difficult film to pull off after the enormous success of Avengers Assemble. From a personal point of view, there were questions marks as to whether teething issues with a new director would hinder the film, or (as with Iron Man 2) the studio would get too heavily involved and scupper the creative talents of those actually making the film. Thankfully, these concerns were brushed aside with relative ease.
Downey Jr has the role of Tony Stark down to a tee. The dry humour he exhibits goes hand in hand with the writing and directorial style of Shane Black. It was clear in their previous film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that they have excellent chemistry and this has carried over effortlessly into Iron Man 3. Stark’s dry quips are sharper than ever and there is one line (won’t spoil it, you’ll know) that is just pure brilliance. It’s refreshing to see such an organic, script-orientated take on a superhero film. Iron Man 3 was never going to be two hours of all guns blazing robot fighting mayhem with Black in the director’s chair, but to take it down to a well-paced narrative with actual heart and vigour is an achievement that should be noted.
Most of the film is in fact spent with Tony Stark the person, not the persona. He is stripped of his suit, his fortune and his emotional armour in Pepper Potts. What follows is a solid hour of character study weighted perfectly with action scenes that feel like they have real pay off as a result of the pacing and insight into the characters and motivations. The twist involving Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is executed sublimely and ought to earn Kingsley plenty of praise. It happens at just the right moment, with the audience expecting something climactic, the narrative nosedives into what, until that point, seemed like just a subplot. The sense of timing all around is spot on and the impact of the action scenes is just the way it should be. This is all down to the fact that it’s easy to actually care about the characters. With more time spent out of the suit than in, Tony Stark becomes vulnerable and has his back firmly up against the wall. He is forced to confront his own demons in a way that he hasn’t had to before as he is cast out and left for dead.
Undoubtedly brave in plot, structure and style, Iron Man 3 is just the way blockbuster movies should be made. Yes there are some mistakes and the ending is a little clunky, but the director has clearly stamped his own style on the film and, as a result, we are treated to a superhero movie that has real substance to match its brawn and style. Black and Downey Jr are a match made in heaven and this results in a film that isn’t trying to be funny for a bit of comic relief; it’s genuinely, consistently funny. Next up from Marvel is Thor: The Dark World and on this evidence, it has a lot to live up to.