Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley | Written by: Drew Pearce, Shane Black | Directed by: Shane Black
Phase Two of Marvel’s Avengers movie franchise kicks off a year after The Avengers/Avengers Assemble, with the third installment of Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, but with a new director. Shane Black, who directed Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, takes the helm this time, instead of Jon Favreau who did the first two. Also reprising their roles are Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau in his cameo as security guard Happy, and Paul Bettany as the voice of Jarvis.
The events of The Avengers (referred to as ‘New York’) still linger in the mind of Tony Stark, effecting his sleep, work, and relationship with Pepper. While he is trying to deal with his troubles the only way he knows how, the USA is being threatened by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who seems unstoppable. Explosions are happening all over the place, but the cause cannot be figured out, and the President has decided this is a matter for the government, not for a superhero. But Iron Man goes in search of The Mandarin anyway, to get his revenge.
Unless there are many more Iron Man movies to come, I’m not quite sure why Jon Favreau didn’t direct the third one as well. Shane Black is more than capable, this is not a comment on his own directing skills, but it would have made sense for Favreau to complete the trilogy. I don’t think the franchise has benefitted from a new director. The first act has so much set up that it feels more like an extended trailer than the beginning of a film. And I’m never a fan of the voice-over way of telling a story, and of all the genres, a superhero movie seems like the wrong time to do it.
Despite certain issues I have with the film, it is pretty good. RDJ is completely on form. The character of Stark/Iron Man is completely unimaginable with any other actor, though four films later if it wasn’t, something must have gone horribly wrong. It’s nice to see Pepper Potts getting more to do, especially after a barely present role in The Avengers. It’s probably common knowledge by now that she gets her time in the Iron Man suit, but that’s not even her best moment. Paltrow also has a couple of good scenes with Rebecca Hall, who plays Maya Hansen, a one night stand from Tony’s pre-Iron Man days, a biochemical scientist, who works for Aldrich Killian, the other villain of the movie.
There’s not much that can be said about either negative characters in Iron Man 3 without giving away a lot of the plot, but The Mandarin is overly theatrical for my tastes (a slight twist reveals that this was the point), and Killian, while extremely intelligent, doesn’t seem to have any specific villainous aim, and I think we’ve passed the point in cinema now where the bad guys are just evil for the sake of it. Had his true motive been clearer, the whole movie could have been more engaging, though I will say that Guy Pearce as Killian is brilliant.
Whichever Marvel superhero to come first after The Avengers was going to have a lot to live up to, and I’m not entirely convinced Iron Man 3 does. Take the whole Avengers Initiative thing out of it, and it’s a brilliant threequel to the Iron Man films, but there are enough references to ensure people know it’s a follow up. Joss Whedon set the bar high for the Marvel superhero films, and Shane Black just doesn’t reach it. Or is it that it’s just too soon? The start of the next Phase should feel like an event, this just feels like it’s lingering on to the end of the last one. Phase One ended with a bang; maybe Marvel should have given it a little more time, and make us want it more.
Iron Man 3 releases in the UK on April 25th, and in the US on May 3rd.