Iron Man 3
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Ty Simpkins, with Paul Bettany and Jon Favreau
Written by: Drew Pearce and Shane Black
The Extremis story arc from the comics gets a reboot. Basically.
A strong outing in the Iron Man franchise (and a definite step up - or mark-up - from Iron Man 2's flailing) and a great film to see even if you're not a fan. With a reported budget of $200 million, you'd expect quite a spectacular film; and it almost delivers. Entertaining? As usual in this series of Marvel films, a resounding yes. A true cinematic wonder? Probably not. It's critical, obviously, not to view superhero movies as cinema aimed at becoming a strong standard of art but with a budget, a team and a list of actors who are all known for heady roles, it wouldn't have been too far a stretch to imagine it. Regardless, even in the superhero genre, it's far from the best - after the Avengers (and there are quite a few Avengers references in the film, lest you forget), it almost feels like a small step back.
Director (and co-writer) Shane Black, of "Lethal Weapon" writing and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" directing fame - a film which also stars Downey, Jr. - delivers an ambiguous result - did they make it, or didn't they? His writing, true to regular form, is witty and on point and has some classic one liners that you'll be quoting on your way out. It also delivers a shockingly poignant (and a well poised comedic) middle arc when Stark (Robert) visits Rose Hill. Black and Drew Pearce deliver a script that is not only funny, poignant and ironic, but also complex, vivacious and in some regards, superficial. They should as well - Black was once Tinsel Town's highest paid screenwriter.
One of the real issues with this film are the action sequences; they certainly feel the part and look flashy, but much like Tony Stark, they're quite unsure of their boundaries. There are times when you could get lost in the chaos and confusion on screen in terms of action - some sequences feel draped and dragged, while others feel clunky and insecure. Black's strong point lies in the relationships and dynamics he commands between characters of the world he is in charge of; it is not in producing top end action sequences. However, in a superhero franchise, it is possible to overlook the feel of the action if the plot and characters are done right.
Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark is a rare mix (and has been over the last two films in the franchise) - a perfect casting choice. Somehow, the effervescence and pithy parts of Stark's personality are not lost among the 'higher' drama such as the trauma he has suffered and Stark's issues in dealing with mortality and limitations - a true testament to the actor.
It is, however, nice to see former Director/Actor Jon Favreau back to playing Happy, now head of security for Stark Industries, among other supporting cast members which include Paul Bettany as JARVIS - possibly the unsung hero of each of the films as he helps set up some of Stark's best moments.
The plot centres around the rise of two villains within the world after the events of the Avengers; the Mandarin (played completely on form by Ben Kingsley) and mad-scientist/over-the-top theatrical villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian at first tries to pitch a genetic modifier called Extremis to 'Pepper' Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), before turning it loose on the world of man. The major reboot here is that in the comics, Killian ends up committing suicide for his involvement in Extremis, not becoming involved with propagating it. And of course, the Mandarin of the film has been rebooted too. The Mandarin's presence in the early arcs comes across as a cross between Fu Manchu (facial hair included) and a certain recently deceased major terrorist leader - similarly, the Mandarin is focused on the destruction of America and the downfall of its higher echelons. Namely, the President. Kingsley plays the evil maniac on fine form, giving the beginning two arcs of the film a sense of menace and dread. An atmosphere which is sadly lost despite a committed performance by Guy Pearce. Initially, Pearce's Killian is slick and daunting - sadly, towards the end, his villainy is almost too hard pressed to take seriously.
One point in his master plan, which involves an aircraft and a dangerous human package relies on what amounts to complete chance - on someone whom even Killian admitted was ready to go off the rails at any moment - which could completely screw his plans up for...well, eternity.
Stark's character is much more human and much more afraid this time - afraid of losing Potts, "The one thing" he can't live without, and just generally broken (he suffers several anxiety attacks). It's always nice to see those who think they are invincible fall so that they may rise again after all.
A second (or third?) subplot centres around botanist/crazily good genetic scientist Dr Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall) who appears throughout the story arc several times - which initially gains a look of jealousy and mistrust from Potts. She is one of the keys to the Extremis arc - she helps create it along with a group of scientists (with some help from Stark).
Paltrow's performance is not only well acted but a perfect fit to the performance put in by the male lead. Cheadle develops a comedic and relatable shifting action-buddy relationship with Stark (again), contributed to in equal parts both by script and acting finesse.
The film tries very hard to be very many things; as well as becoming things that it wasn't meant to be. The film deals with another blow to Tony's mortality/future and how he matures emotionally. It also deals with his relationship with Potts, and tries to run itself as a serious romantic subplot. Underpinning it all is the comedy and pithy that we've come to expect from the franchise. Much like Shane's first outing as a director, it also ends up exaggerating (or sending up) some aspects of most of the major characters, the plot and a few of the action sequences. The most obvious reference is when Stark makes an action-hero-esque quip and he gets the reply "That's all you have? A cheesy one liner?".
There's also the subplot involving Ty Simpkins as a bright young child who befriends Stark and helps move the sticks along by being the comic foil at several set ups. Oh, and do not forget the mass amount of gadgetry and tech on display. I'm quite certain that Iron Man 3 is as close as technophiles can get to a titillating feature film movie experience currently.
Sadly, it can't be all things at once - even very few legendary films manage such a stature.
But there's good news on the horizon - the oft berated robot arm from the first and second films makes a third comic appearance. Well, we say comic, but really, it is comic because Downey, Jr. is so on form that he can make others look hilarious. Even if they are mechanical arms.
There's also a fifteen foot rabbit. Not even joking.
What the Mr thought:
Worth the price of admission if you're looking for a film that lightly touches on deeper subjects, provides good value entertainment, is rough around the edges and is quite funny to boot. While not the greatest superhero movie of recent times, it is still a very strong presence. Helps limit some of the boundaries that the genre can hit and is useful in demonstrating how wonderfully consistent Robert Downey, Jr. is! What will Marvel do with the franchise (if) he ever decides to leave though?
The climax lacked the tension that was built by the Mandarin - perhaps in part down to how the character plays out. Both villains and heroes end up becoming extended versions of themselves. Perhaps to not so strong an effect.
What the Misses thought:
I laughed a lot! The one liners were great, and is a testament not only to Downey, Jr. but to the writing. Personally though it feels very different from the first two films, as the Mr said the action scenes were slightly clunky and that is probably why it felt different.
However I loved it and cannot wait for the next one!
And come on guys, it's a Marvel film - don't be silly like half of the audience in our screening and leave early! Wait till the very end of credits to gain an insight into Stark's possible future and a hilarious scene.
But you didn't hear that from us,
Mr & Misses