Review: Shane Black's 'Iron Man 3' Begins Summer 2013 with Edge
by Jeremy Kirk
May 3, 2013
You have to give Marvel credit. They've allowed their franchises, though all taking place in the same, Avengers-centric world, to fall into hands of auteurs, film makers who have something more to say than "Just point and shoot." Though the results have been varied, certain cinematic voices have been allowed to be heard. And so it goes that summer 2013 kicks off with Shane Black's take on Iron Man. Iron Man 3, written and directed by the man who created Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is as entertaining as it is unique, a comic book one-off with a little mystery and a little edge, something Black is all too gifted for.
Following the events in The Avengers, Tony Stark aka Iron Man aka suavest mofo in the Marvel (Robert Downey Jr. aka suavest mofo in Hollywood) world finds himself haunted by nightmares. Evidently shooting through and falling back from a wormhole in space messes with your mental capacities. Stark doesn't sleep. He tinkers in his garage, creating Iron Man outfit after Iron Man outfit. The hero's gifts have become his obsessive curse. And then the anxiety attacks kick in. Things don't help themselves when a global terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins laying waste to various parts of the world, his ardent followers soon setting their sights on Stark and all that he holds dear.
But Black's version of Iron Man isn't all summer blockbuster chase sequences and helicopter attacks on beach houses, though that's something Black likes doing too. He quickly shifts the direction of his particular brand of summer blockbuster, stripping the franchise's hero of his alter ego and getting back to the man he was before the metal suit took over. Black is more interested in seeing Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. remember) piece clues together and create mechanical masterpieces in a workshop than seeing Iron Man blasting F-16's out of the sky. The detective story in Iron Man 3 quickly takes over, the twists and turns bringing out more than a few moments of genuine surprises. Not so many shocks, though.
The Marvel/Disney brand, some might say attitude, does end up hurting the Shane Black edge more than the film maker's edge helps. There's a safeness to Iron Man 3, the feeling that no matter what happens throughout this story, by the end it will all have worked out for the better. It's a feeling akin to watching Network sitcoms. This isn't a negative against Iron Man 3 as a whole. There's something that lends to the escapism of it all to know there won't be too much difficulty in swallowing what a film is giving you. It's just that the Shane Black style, attitude and all, doesn't mesh perfectly with the Iron Man environment. It's fun to see a Shane Black summer blockbuster and all that goes with it, Christmas setting and buddy-cop moments for all. Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle, returning as Colonel James Rhodes, have some nice banter here that feels like a warm blanket coming from the Lethal Weapon writer.
Shane Black finds other areas in which to make Iron Man 3 the ballsiest of the Marvel films. He upends entire characters, hell, entire story projections in this film, for the sake of heading in a different direction. This sometimes leads to frustration in watching Iron Man 3. It's only after the film is over, when you're reflecting back on Black's character swerves, that they grab you.
This also allows the acting in Iron Man 3 to be well on par if not far better than previously seen. We know how cool Downey Jr. is, and this level of effortless charisma can only be described as God-given. Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow rest back into their characters with ease, even if Cheadle's Rhodes is somewhat short-changed here and Paltrow's Pepper Potts bounces between hardened businesswoman to superhero in her own right to, once again, damsel in distress. At least she's given a ton to do here.
On the villainous side of the Iron Man 3 acting coin, Guy Pearce does just fine with his suave-but-nefarious summer blockbuster baddie. He's the kind who wears nice suits, flashes a charming smile, then reveals his plot while holding you captive. The character is pretty paint-by-numbers, but Pearce fills it nicely. Kingsley, for what he is allowed to do, absolutely shines. The Mandarin is a quirky villain as is, but Kingsley's deadpan delivery and that awkward accent he incorporates here makes him all the more eccentric. It's when Kingsley becomes unleashed in Iron Man 3 that you see why he was chosen here.
Just one more interesting brick on this Shane Black house of herodom. Black likes to blend the hero story with the detective story, putting the all-around good guy right in the middle of conspiracy plots and dangerous predicaments. It's something the writer/director exels so well at, it's astounding he hasn't been given the keys to a blockbuster franchise until now. Not counting Lethal Weapon. Black's Iron Man 3, though never completely in tune with the Marvel model, is different enough, charming enough, and exciting enough to keep the franchise envigorated. Hell, maybe some day he'll even get to do a Batman movie.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10