The first of the summer 2013 blockbusters, Iron Man 3 gets the season off to a tremendously invigorating start. With a cracking script co-written by the creator of the highly sarcastic, superhero-deconstructing Brit TV show No Heroics, Drew Pearce, and genre king Shane Black, who also directs, this is a big, beautiful blast of pop culture awesomeness. That it just happens to handily redefine the superhero movie along the way is just an added bonus.
As many have pointed out, this looked like it was going to be something of an Iron Man Into Darkness kind of sequel, with all those previews of Tony talking about his nightmares, and getting his ass kicked. As it turns out, the movie is much more fun than those trailers would have had you believe. And the way it flips EVERYTHING on its head halfway through is fantastic, a scene of such staggering disbelief that you almost can’t take it in as you’re watching it. It’s a genius move from the writers. A twist that changes the movie, and the genre, that’s somehow also completely hilarious and brilliant. That, along with the live-wire one-liners that electrify pretty much every scene (with trademark Shane Black inclusivity, everyone from Tony to bit-part henchmen who only appear in one scene get great dialogue), make this a non-stop, old-school thrill ride.
It’s that combination of old-school banter, new-school psychological deconstruction (wait, come back!), and particularly post-postmodern meaningful twistiness and playful sincerity that formed the filmmakers’ answer to the big, giant, frankly terrifying question that loomed before them like Thanos himself: how the HELL do you follow The Avengers?
Bringing together the dry, wry British comedy stylings of Pearce with the 80s-soaked action/banter genius of Black was the beginning of the journey. They are the twin strands of Iron Man 3‘s ludicrously entertaining DNA. Its soul (we’re just going to proceed with some good old fashioned Cartesian duality here, m’kay?) is Robert Downey Jr. Because Black & Pearce can write the hell of out Tony Stark’s dialogue, but it’s Downey Jr that whips those words off the screen with the ultimate in nonchalant panache. Downey Jr IS Iron Man, to be honest. He’s the fortunate beneficiary of one of the strongest Marvel scripts yet, which gifts him with continued emotional complexity, and some stunningly inappropriate and therefore wonderful zingers.
He’s surrounded by extraordinary talent: Gandhi, Mike from Neighbors, the creator of GOOP… I mean it though: Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau… It’s a brilliantly deep bench of talent which, along with Black’s utter assurance as a director, keeps this movie moving, and ensures that it’s always robust.
From the big set pieces (the attack on Tony’s mansion, the climactic mega-battle), to the smallest of moments (Tony’s rapport with and utter condescension to his little sidekick; Favreau’s running Downton Abbey gag), this movie will put a big, silly grin on your face. And, if you’re especially geeky, the closing credit sequence, which is a very 80s style recap of all three movies to date, will make that grin even bigger. Such is the genius of this movie that even its post credit sequence is simultaneously a funny throwaway moment, and also the key to the entire film.
The only downside is the somewhat under-cooked nature of the female roles: it’s particularly disappointing to see Pepper Potts reduced to a screaming, Fay Wray-style helpless woman in distress, especially since she was so sharp and impactful in Joss Whedon’s take on her. But few are as great as Whedon at gifting women with incredible roles in movies and TV. Still, a little more oomph in her character here would have gone a long way. Hall isn’t bad, but she is more of a catalyst than a protagonist. For someone of her talents, that’s a shame.
That aside, this is a brilliant movie, which is relentlessly entertaining, and a highly worthy follow-up to the most successful superhero movie of all time. It’s the only move Marvel could have made; just another indicator of how smart Marvel has been in building this cinematic universe.
4 out of 5 Iron Men Suits