Synopsis: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution. (Source)
Iron Man 3 is probably not what you’re expecting and that’s what makes it amazing. Having successfully built Phase One of their Cinematic Universe from the ground up, Marvel and Shane Black now take the first steps into a brave new world, offering up a story that delves deeper into their fantastic universe while finally allowing Tony Stark to face his demons. Kicking off Phase Two with a bang, the film feels like the character’s true payoff, telling a complete story not burdened by setting up another sequel or consciously winking to an impending crossover. It also proves that nothing is sacred when it comes to the mythology of their comic book heroes and villains, making for an utterly unpredictable experience that feels like a breath of fresh air. This is exciting, confident and bold storytelling, not delivering the baseline for a bloated summer thrill ride but setting the standard for anything that comes after it.
Taking place after the events of The Avengers‘ climactic battle in New York, the film is centered around a Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) troubled by his place in a larger universe. Not only suffering from PTSD but an inferiority complex due to being a mere human amongst gods and monsters, the story picks up when characters from a pivotal point in his life reemerge with dangerous consequences. Restlessly building suits to the detriment of his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), things get even worse after he challenges a mysterious terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). After losing everything in one fell swoop, Stark is left stranded miles away from home and left to put together a mystery that will change everything.
While the film is really a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders, what makes it special is the way it confronts Stark’s dependance on his suits, showing us how the depth of his heroism is in his strong will and brilliant mind rather than his tin armor. It’s a brave gamble but a clever one, allowing Stark as much (or more) action outside of his suit than in it, seamlessly blending a focused character study within a big, summer blockbuster. It also lends the film a diverse series of action set pieces and quieter riveting moments of suspense, whether it’s Stark solving a small town murder mystery, breaking into an armored compound with home-made gadgets, taking to the skies for an acrobatic rescue or taking part in a showdown with dozens of suits and superpowered villains.
Don’t worry about the film being taking itself seriously either, because stylistically, this is by all accounts a Shane Black story. It’s relentlessly funny with Black’s trademarked black humor, strong characterizations and a sense of energy that doesn’t let up, especially with Black’s penchant for zippy dialogue which fits RDJ’s quick wit like a glove. Because of the attention to character, Downey also gets to show the most depth with Stark, giving us a much more vulnerable side to offset his usually dick-ish antics. Special attention is given to Pepper this time out, culminating in some nice role-reversals and there’s a great relationship that bonds Stark to a little kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins) that’s really touching, bringing out the innocence from Stark’s jaded persona. As for those buddy moments that hark back to Black’s Lethal Weapon days, Downey and Don Cheadle’s newly branded Iron Patriot have quite a bit of fun together, again, both in and out of their suits. Adding another element to the mix is Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Maya Hansen, a botanist who shares a heartbreaking history with Stark. To add a cherry on top of the Blackism’s the story again takes place during Christmas for a nice little flourish.
The most controversial element of the film is either a point of contention or sheer brilliance (depending on who you are) in reference to the way it handles it’s villains. I for one think it’s a brilliant subversion on every level, thematically and narratively, and both Ben Kingsley and Guy Pierce’s Mandarin and Aldrich Killian (respectively) get to try completely new things here which I dare not spoil. It’s an interesting take on business-minded capitalism wrapped up in selfish vendetta and fear-based mongering. It might not be articulated to it’s full extent, but just to see these two actors in such a different light is amazing, and though both get a chance to really shine, Kingsley in particular is without a doubt the entire film’s show stealer. In addition, an unhinged henchman named Eric (played amazingly by James Badge Dale) heads up an army of super soldiers, finally giving Stark something more powerful than merely robots or machines.
If Iron Man 3 is any indication of what we can look forward to with Marvel’s Phase 2, then we’re in for an amazing treat. The studio is starting things off with huge risks and a strong commitment to character without sacrificing fun, excitement or wonder. For the first time in the Marvel Cinematic universe, this film feels unchained, delivering a fully formed transformation that mimics the one that this character (and the entire universe) achieves. Walk in with an open mind and get ready to have a blast.
Crome Rating: 4.5/5