Published May 02, 2013Where every superhero franchise has failed before, Iron Man succeeds: no sharks were jumped in the making of Tony Stark's third solo adventure. Bringing in Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the writer of Lethal Weapon), a veteran of sarcastic action humour, was a shrewd move that has paid off handsomely.
In the tradition of many comics, hiring a higher calibre of writer than absolutely necessary to sell adolescent power fantasies has paid large dividends, in the form of violent fun for the whole family, with enough snark and subtext to give the inevitable genre clichés a bit of edge.
The limitations of blockbuster entertainment aside, the opening chapter of Marvel's Phase Two functions much more as a natural resolution to a significant portion of Tony Stark's personal journey than as the beginning of something new.
Guided by a voiceover that actually serves a (minor) purpose, we catch up with a post-Avengers Stark in the middle of some significant destruction on the home front. We're then zipped back to the year 1999 to meet A.I.M. founder Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, being his chameleonic self), a speck-sporting tech geek with bad skin, worse posture, an overbite and stringy scarecrow hair, as well as Stark's eve-of-the-millennium fling, bio-geneticist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, The Awakening).
With those game pieces in place, we re-join our present-day billionaire super-genius as he's coping with the psychological fallout of having nearly died in an intergalactic wormhole while teaming up with gods and monsters to fend off an alien invasion last summer. Being reminded that he's less than a speck of dust compared to the whole of the cosmos doesn't sit well with the egomaniacal control freak and he neurotically attempts to fill the hole in his soul by obsessively tinkering with his Iron Man suit designs and generally burying himself in work, at the expense of his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
When a Bin Laden-esque terrorist calling himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) shows up and starts deploying unwitting suicide bombers, Stark is given a worldly threat he can tackle and the ulterior motives of Black and Drew Pearce's script become pretty clear, though they do give the situation a clever twist to temper the inherent patriotism.
Acknowledging the jingoistic aspects of a military super-soldier re-branding, such as the one Colonel James Rhodes goes through, switching from War Machine to Iron Patriot, with winks and verbal jabs is one of the ways Marvel has made the faithful translation of mainstream comic pulp palatable for the masses.
Robert Downey Jr. continues to completely own the role of Tony Stark and to take fullest advantage of his star's comedic talents; Black finds a number of clever reasons to keep RDJ out of the iconic suit as much as possible. As a Marvel production, the look is slick and the action set pieces massive, but this is much more of a self-contained character piece than Iron Man 2 or The Avengers.
Satisfying as a conclusion to, or at least a slate clearing of, this section of the Stark story, Iron Man 3 is the fruit of a well-oiled machine that is continuing to confidently carve out its own little universe of self-aware, tent pole storytelling. (Buena Vista)