"I'm Tony Stark. I build neat stuff, got a great girl, occasionally save the world. So why can't I sleep?"
Super hero threequels - they’re a risky business.
When they’re good, they’re very, VERY good and you have a Dark Knight Rises on your hands.
When they’re bad - you get a Superman 3, or a Batman Forever.
Iron Man is at that cusp of either greatness or self parody as his third solo screen outing is here. This could’ve gone either way. (I said solo, so I’m not counting The Avengers as an Iron Man movie as such, it’s an ensemble piece) There’s a new writer/director, there’s the bleak fact of this being Robert Downey Jnr’s last contracted appearance as the character, and there’s the whole thing of how on Earth do you follow up a sweeping spectacle that was in all ways as magnificently epic as The Avengers? Would the film throw everything possible at the audience in a frantic attempt to tie everything up but ultimately overload the film - prime example being Spider-Man 3. (Not a bad film, just too damn busy. That should’ve been two movies with better pacing - but I digress.)
But when a film with such a potential for awesomeness as this kicks off the summer blockbuster season, there’s no possible way that we, as a family won’t be there at the first possible opportunity. Even if that opportunity is the special midnight premiere. It takes a lot to get us to sit in a multiplex at midnight. I can actually think of only two things - a Marvel movie (unless it’s something like a Howard the Duck reboot) or a new Star Wars film.
I was curious to see how many people would actually show up for the screening at that hour - turns out there were over 200 of us in a near sold out show.
This isn’t the first time that writer/director Shane Black and Robert Downey Jnr have worked together. In fact, anybody who saw their last collaboration the crime thriller Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will instantly recognise the opening of Iron Man 3. Following his pechant for setting his scripts at Christmas (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang spring to mind) the film kicks off with a Downey Jnr internal monologue.
Tony Stark is brooding. He’s haunted by the events of The Avengers, his near death, what he glimpsed inside the black hole, the realisation that there are alien races out there who are God-like and incomprehensible. His grip on reality has taken a severe jolt and the previously self assured and in-control billionaire is suffering night terrors and anxiety attacks.
This plays well in the "real" world that the cinematic Iron Man inhabits. I mean who WOULDN’T freak out having stood up to a God, then nuked an invading force of aliens in a wormhole, before plummeting toward a certain death and been rescued by The Incredible Hulk? By real world, I don’t mean the Marvel Universe where he meets up with Thor and Captain America, but the one where arms manufacturer Tony Stark is injured in Afghanistan, where his weapons are being used against his own countrymen, a close approximation of current events.
An opening flashback shows exactly where, on the eve of the new Millennium, his shallow behaviour led him to the problems which are about to bite him on his iron clad ass.
Stark has retreated to his workshop where he works obsessively and reclusively on constant upgrades to the Iron Man armour, always honing and improving his creation - the current version being Mark 42. (In my opinion, it has too much gold on it, too little red).
James Rhodes (Don Cheadle)’s War Machine persona has been repackaged as The Iron Patriot with his armour given a Captain America style red white and blue paint job. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is still running Stark Industries and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is now and overzealous and paranoid chief of security.
Enter The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) . A world class Chinese terrorist who regularly interrupts TV broadcasts and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who has developed a means of hacking into the body’s recovery process in a project he calls Extremis.
As The Mandarin’s attacks become bolder and his reach seems to know now boundaries, Stark arrogantly and openly challenges him, resulting in a missile attack on Stark’s home, destroying all but one Iron Man suit.
With the suit out of battery power, his house and gadgetry destroyed, Stark has lost it all - he finds himself depressed and frightened in rural Tennessee where he meets a young boy, which gives us some of the best and funniest dialogue of the film. Stark has to fight his way back to his own redemption, facing up to and dealing with his own failures and shortcomings.
Okay, let’s look at The Mandarin first. He’s the surprise of the movie. He’s not the oriental fiend with the ten rings of power gleaned from an alien spaceship we know from the comics. He fits in more comfortably with that "real world" I mentioned earlier - and it’s not a surprise I intend to spoil here.
Extremis is a graphic novel that I feel is the best Iron Man story of them all. It’s certainly my favourite - even beating the Demon in a Bottle story ark that dealt with Stark’s descent into alcoholism. Extremis has been used as a handy story device and upgrade to Tony Stark himself which I hope that they’ll use in future films. (If there ARE any, Robert Downey Jnr is being coy about signing up for any more. I can only hope it’s a ploy he’s using for some leverage when it comes to making a new deal.) As this film is more Stark-centric than the previous ones, with Iron Man having less screen time than normal, it emphasises just how much Downey Jnr brings to the role.
One thing that I have a gripe about is that despite the dire threats of The Mandarin and the Extremis project pose to American national security, with even Air Force One being attacked - it’s odd that Nick Fury and SHIELD are nowhere to be seen. Having established them as being even more powerful than the CIA, you’d think that they’d at least show up when the President was kidnapped.
If this is the end of this run of films, then they’re going out in style. This particular arc of Stark’s life is done and the ending is satisfying. Audiences will leave the movie happy. Equally, the ending is skilfully open enough that a sequel although not inevitable, is certainly desirable. As it stands, this is up there with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as one of the very best super hero cinematic arcs ever.
Oh - and stay in your seat until the very end of the credits - there is more. Hardly a soul moved in our screening, despite it being around 2:30am. Had the projectionist shut the movie off - they’d have had a geek riot on their hands.
I won’t tell you what happens right there at the end, but it will make you leave the multiplex with an even broader smile.
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