Robert Downey Jnr is back as everyone’s favourite playboy millionaire who fights crime and isn’t Batman: Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. In the next installment of the hugely, ridiculously popular Marvel Movies franchise, Stark becomes entangled in the machinations of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a Bin Laden-esque terrorist with a rather tenacious desire to see America burn. Meanwhile, in comes Aldrich Krillian, a rival businessman in the shape of Guy Pearce, who wants to get into Stark Industries from the top floor and holds some deep feelings for Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
It’s been all change behind the scenes in the Iron Man franchise, Shane Black takes over the reins from Jon Favreau, who directed the first two movies and remains on the Iron Man train as an executive producer and series regular Happy Hogan. For Black, Iron Man 3 is a follow up to the meta-noir that was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black’s debut was a giant arched eyebrow in the world of buddy cop movies. Black goes out of his way to question people’s expectations of the genre, with cheeky asides, self-referential material and Abraham Lincoln visiting Robert Downey Jnr in hospital.
And it’s this impishness that Black brings to the franchise. References are made to the tropes of superhero movies, the reality of gun fights are questioned, henchman almost acknowledge they’re giving exposition and wide-eyed children play it all ‘aw shucks mister’ to deaf ears. Out loud it sounds like a nightmare, but trust us, it works. After the somewhat po-faced nature of Iron Man 2, it’s good to seem some fun return to the proceedings.
As is becoming the norm for the incestuous nature of the Marvel films, references are made to The Avengers, or Avengers Assemble if your country was unlucky. Tony is suffering anxiety attacks from the big smack down in New York. Worried about another potential invasion, he stays awake for 72 hour periods at a time, incessantly rebuilding his suit. We’re not saying Stark has gone all Dark Knight Rises on us, but it’s good to see Downey Jnr being given something more to play with than just the preening, sex wizard he normally plays.
When it was announced the very much Chinese Mandarin was to be played by the very much not Chinese Ben Kingsley, a number of people were quick to point out that this was to deliberately appeal to the Chinese market. Whatever the reasons, Kingsley is superb as the Colonel Kurtz-esque leader of the Ten Rings. His performance is very much a theatrical one as Kingsley parades around his lair, sending out frequent live transmissions to the peoples of America. Whether he’ll work for everyone is debatable, coming out of the theatre we could tell that he was going to divide the fanboy community.
And even Gwyneth Paltrow gets to do a bit of ass-kicking this time round.
It’s not an action film without shit blowing up and Black delivers on that front too. Things and people go bang, kersplat, pew pew on a fairly regular basis which makes a nice change from the drawn out and serious conversations that came with Iron Man 2. An attack on Stark’s home stands out as one of our favourites.
Marvel has proven once again that you don’t have to be hunched shouldered, gravelly voiced and missing your mum and dad to be a superhero film. Iron Man 3 is superbly cast, well-directed and is already in the running for one of our favourite movies this year.