How do you follow a film as huge and as successful as The Avengers? The third highest grossing film of all time was an unmitigated success, and Iron Man 3 had the unenviable task of coming off as anti climactic as the first standalone Marvel film after the big superhero team up. But with Shane Black at the helm, reuniting with Downey Jr for the first time since 2005’s excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the third outing for Old Shellhead is the best yet, and arguably even better than last years Avengers Assemble.
As we start, Tony Stark is suffering panic attacks following his near death experience during the battle of New York; where before all he had to deal with was guys in robot suits, now his world involves aliens, demigods and other dimensions. To say he’s not coping very well would be an understatement; he can’t sleep, is having relationship troubles with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and spends all his time tweaking his many Iron Man suits. To make matters worse a new terrorist has emerged, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), delivering video messages of doom and making good on his promises to kill using genetically enhanced nigh un-killable super soldiers, created by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. After an attack leaves Tony’s former bodyguard in a coma, Stark swears revenge against the Mandarin.
And that’s when the fun begins.
After a spectacular action sequence at his Malibu home, Tony is separated from his suit for most of the second act, and it really gives Robert Downey Jr a chance to shine in the (many) scenes that don’t involve him doing cool stuff in his shiny metal armour. It shows us a more vulnerable side to Stark in this post-Avengers universe, (which is neatly manifested by the fact that, sometimes, Tony isn’t even in the suit) and shows that the character has changed significantly since film one. Don Cheadle gets a better deal this time around than he did in Iron Man 2, and becomes a formidable and often funny foil to Stark; to use a comparison everyone has already used, he’s Murtagh to Stark’s Riggs. Gwyneth Paltrow also gets a better run here as well, but still doesn’t have to much more to do besides be the damsel in distress. The real breakout stars are Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley’s delivering amazing villainous turns that are both brilliant in their own very very different ways. Only Rebecca Hall seems superfluous, stuck as she is with a thankless role as Tony’s former love interest.
The film is constantly surprising; not only when it comes to Tony, and just when you think you know what’s coming next, the film throws you for a loop and becomes something else entirely. The credit for which comes down to Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s script, which subverts your expectations more often than Tony changes suits, and gives the film a great unpredictable nature. And being a Shane Black film, we’re treated to all the snark and sarcasm that the writer has become famous for. It’s probably the funniest Iron Man yet, with both cracking one liners and a lot of physical comedy (take a bow, Mk 43) that elevates what could be a very clichéd and boring set of scenes halfway through where Tony befriends a precocious young boy. And despite being the darkest of the Iron Man series, especially after the lightness of Avengers Assemble, it’s not as if we’re going into The Dark Knight Rises territory any time soon.
But if you’re worried that the movie will mostly revolve around a war hero dealing with PTSD and will scrimp on the action, don’t. This easily contains the most ambitious series of set pieces thus far in Marvel’s cinematic universe. The aforementioned attack on Stark’s house is amazing, but each further set piece improves on the last, culminating in a finale so audacious you’ll be shaking with excitement. This film, more than any other, makes more use of the wide variety of Iron Man suits than any of the movies preceding it. I lost count of how many times I thought ‘Oh, that’s cool’ with special mention going to the telekinetically controlled suit. Watching Stark fight bad guys while his suit is still attaching itself to him piece by piece is one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year.
So, Phase Two of Marvel’s movie universe is off to a flying start. It’s not perfect – the middle section is a little sluggish and the super soldiers are a bit on the silly looking side – but it’s a lot of fast paced, wittily scripted fun.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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