A glance at any Iron Man 3 poster will reveal the badge of honour that proudly states: “From The Studio That Brought You Avengers Assemble”. Given that film’s record-breaking box office haul it’s clearly worth shouting about. But those posters could just as easily roar “From the writer of Lethal Weapon”. For Marvel, the studio that brought us Avengers, owe more than just a debt of gratitude to Iron Man 3’s writer-director Shane Black. Not only did he set the benchmark for fun action films, way back in the ‘80s, it was he, more importantly, who took a recently substance free Robert Downey Jnr and re-launched his career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
After the events of Avengers Assemble, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, is having trouble sleeping. He isn’t spending quality time with the misuses, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his latest Iron Man suit, the Mark 42, isn’t cooperating. But things are about to get a whole lot worse. Because America finds itself at the mercy of relentless terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsely) who, with the aid of scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Tony’s former flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), has harnessed the power of the Extremis serum, which allows limbs to regenerate and hacks into the user’s brain to re-wire their DNA with exploding results. After an attack on his house leaves the world thinking Iron Man is dead, Tony must go rogue in order to figure out exactly what The Mandarin wants.
How do you follow Avengers? That many heroes in one package, the third biggest grossing film of all time (behind only James Cameron double-bill Titanic and Avatar) and enough expectation to make Hulk grimace with pain, let alone little Tony Stark. The answer seems simple; you strip Tony down to the bare bones. Iron Man 3 sees him, in his own words, as “a piping hot mess”. He’s vulnerable; the cocky swagger still present but brilliantly fragile making much of the now famous Stark sarcasm a more obvious defense mechanism rather than an excuse for the billionaire to show-off.
Throughout his career Shane Black has reveled in this kind of protagonist. A man in command of his circumstances when under pressure but utterly at odds with his own inner demons. Think Riggs from Lethal Weapon, Bruce Willis from The Last Boy Scout and Downey Jnr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. In fact Black seems so at ease with these characters you’d happily watch them go about their day-to-day lives, let alone be thrown into all manner of chaos and mayhem.
While it might fall under the Marvel banner and feature an already well-established superhero, Iron Man 3 is unashamedly a Shane Black film. From its opening voice-over, which is immediately reminiscent to Kiss Kiss, to the Christmas setting, right through to Guy Pearce’s swept-back blonde villainy mannerisms being essentially Lethal Weapon’s Mr. Joshua for the modern age, Iron Man 3 is what every superhero film should be; a thrill ride of laughs, action and outrageous fun.
The dialogue is snappy, peppered with Black’s typically glib sense of humour and with a healthy dose of superhero in-jokes from co-writer Drew Pearce to make you wonder if this is a Marvel film by-way of Pixar’s The Incredibles. The set pieces are so inventive you often forget to breath, the action relentlessly fun with just enough peril to keep you enthralled. So good are they here you wonder where Marvel can go next – good luck Thor.
Witnessing Tony without the Iron Man suit for long periods might seem like a mis-step, it’s anything but. Instead we get to see what made the Iron Man franchise popular in the first place. It’s always been Downey Jnr’s Tony. Whether he’s bouncing off Pepper, his trusty computer Jarvis (still voiced by a dry Paul Bettany), Don Cheadle’s Rhodes or, in a scene stealing sequence, a young boy – played with star making gusto by Ty Simpkins – , Tony is the quintessential guy to root for. Because beneath all that hubris is a man at odds with the world. Throw in a brilliantly timed and executed twist – which is likely to gain a cult following all of its own – and you begin to wonder if Tony ever needed the suit in the first place to keep us tickled with delight.
If this is Downey Jnr’s final solo outing as Iron Man (he’s only signed up to return in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron) it’s one hell of a send-off. In a world drained of original films, a world in which remakes and sequels rule the box-office with a tight grip, it is a relief to see that a smart script, on-song cast and kick-ass director can put all pre-conceptions to bed. Iron Man 3 takes the dents of Iron Man 2, bashes them into shape, coats them in comedy gold and comes up all shiny and new.