Arriving on the heels of last year’s monster hit The Avengers, the latest entry in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe is among the best.
Fast-paced, irreverent, witty and – in at least one major plot instance – blindingly inspired, Iron Man 3 is unashamedly good fun thanks in huge part to a clever script by Shane Black (with his own distinct brand of action comedy, reminiscing of his earlier effort Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and Drew Pearce that loads the film with deliciously sharp one-liners, a healthy sense of self awareness and enough character insight into the title figure to go with the action.
The film starts off with Tony Stark/Iron Man (once again played to self-aggrandising perfection by Robert Downey Jr) partying in Switzerland circa 1999 where a desperate scientist named Ailden Killrich, played very well by Guy Pearce, attempts to strike up a proposition with Stark only to be snubbed.
His return later in the film shows he’s been dabbling in a remarkable technology that can regenerate organs in a manner oddly akin to the antagonist in Terminator 2.
Pearce is good value in a secondary villain role, casually tossing out Black and Pearce’s verbal daggers with brio. In this manner he’s served better than either of the two big baddies in Iron Man 2.
Above Ailden is a rogue Bin Laden-styled terrorist who is targeting American civilians whilst spouting anti-American rhetoric over viral videos. He goes by the title “The Mandarin” and is played by Ben Kingsley, whose function in the plot is one of the more inventive spins on the archetypical villainous role to come along in one of these movies in recent memory.
If there’s a criticism to be in the plot of Iron Man 3 there seems to be actively less interest in disguising how much of this we’ve seen before. Bizarrely (and quite successfully) the movie takes a narrative detour more than half way through that suggests more than a hint of superhero satire at play.
Looking at co-writer/director Shane Black’s back catalogue, by his own admission, few if any of his villains have been terribly memorable, often they exist as a basic plot necessity rather than Alan Rickman in Die Hard or the most recent two Batman villains where the antagonists comfortably left their mark alongside the title hero.
As such, the plot isn’t that far removed from that of a Bond villain and, as ever, Downey’s never anything less than untouchable even when his mansion is being blown to pieces.
Peril on any meaningful level – illusionary or otherwise – has yet to appear in Marvel Feature beyond maybe one instance in The Avengers, and Iron Man 3 is no exception. What we get is something more akin to Black’s own Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even Lethal Weapon.
It’s the characters’ ever-enjoyable dialogue and a general sense of irreverence where chatter (in this case excellent chatter) is more memorable than the latest apocalyptic showdown that Iron Man/Spiderman/Batman or whoever else is on call that particularly bad week must rally to prevent. For this series, Iron Man 3 is light on its feet and much better for it.
In the end I didn’t leave Iron Man 3 with anything greater than a sense of pleasant surprised that unlike its immediate predecessor I had be entertained in a way that found some space to subvert a fairly set-in-stone formula with wit, intelligence and no shortage of solid action.
Credit too to James Badge Dale who lends an aggressively nervy presence to what could otherwise have been a stock henchman role in a story where Rebecca Hall also pops up as a former flame of Tony’s with just a bit too little to do.