When it comes to comic book adaptations, more often than not (particularly when dealing with those based on properties from the big two, DC and Marvel) each picture will come with as much cinematic histrionics as humanly and creatively possible. Coming off of their last outing, the great but cartoonishly over-the-top The Avengers, Marvel Studios tapped a smaller name (at least in the grander scheme of the public eye) in the form of the once-prodigal son of Hollywood screenwriters, Shane Black, to back their third entry in the groundbreaking Iron Man franchise. With aliens, multiple universes and the near destruction and enslavement of the entire human race in Tony Stark’s rear view mirror, Black has the honor of bringing the character back to the big screen, in what is the first film in Marvel’s “Phase Two” line of feature films.
And if this is any hint, we may be in for something even more special than the seemingly impossible-to-film project known as The Avengers.
Tony Stark has seen it all. Megalomaniacal businessmen, revenge seeking fugitives and in the last film, an angry God and his alien army, all have fallen before either Stark alone, or the group he found at his side, The Avengers. However, what about the manifestation of pure terror and evil the Marvel universe has introduced us to in the form of The Mandarin? Iron Man’s most iconic rogues gallery member, The Mandarin finally gets his film version in Iron Man 3, and he couldn’t come at a worse time.
Stark (the returning Robert Downey Jr.) has taken a hit following the events that took place in New York in The Avengers. With new anxiety issues, the billionaire/playboy/philanthropist now not only has issues sleeping, but can’t stop thinking about how much his world has changed. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is still at his side, however, as is his right hand military buddy, James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). With The Mandarin terrorizing the world and an evil scientist known as Aldrich Killian holding his hand firmly at Stark’s proverbial throat, it’s an uphill battle that is firmly not only this series’ best entry, but possibly the strongest film to come out of Marvel that isn’t the mind-blowingly entertaining team up picture they last gave the world.
We live in a good world now, as Marvel Studios has not only given Shane Black his first (potential) billion dollar picture, but a picture that can firmly be called a “Shane Black film.” Black is the picture’s biggest star, as not only is his hand all over the film, but it proves to be the perfect stamp needed to bring this character to life. With an admittedly problematic second act, this is not only the first Iron Man film with a truly tense final act and a baddie worth his weight in anger in the form of Guy Pearce’s Killian character.
Geography isn’t something talked much with regards to cinema, but when it comes to action cinema, it’s as important as anything. Aside from an on point screenplay blending drama and comedy with an assurance that is not shocking when coming from one of today’s most interesting action writers, the geography found within each action sequence is startling. Yes, the action sequences are aesthetically chaotic, however, one never feels truly lost within this world, and the sense of place is always palpable. The set pieces are bombastic in nature, but they don’t feel campy or cartoonish, instead leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat and gnawing on their nails.
Black is also a great actor’s director, as proven in these series-best performances. Each character gets their moment to shine as, for the most part, the technology and action take a somewhat secondary role in the picture. What’s in the driver’s seat are great performances from Paltrow, Cheadle and Pearce, all of whom bring depth and weight to a film that could have fallen completely on its face. Toss in Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, and you’ve got a supporting cast that is truly superb. Robert Downey Jr. is back for the third film, so everything has already been said about this actor and his take on this character, but you truly feel that he’s comfortable not only with the swagger found within this character, but the immense level of melancholy and sadness. It’s a moving performance that isn’t given its due by most people sighting this as nothing more than just another comic book blockbuster.
And while it is ultimately a bombastic action film, there are some brains to be found here. Much of the thematic work here would be found as spoiler material, so what will be said here is that it’s got more than its fair share of thematic fodder for those looking to dig deeper into this picture, and that’s something not found within many of these Marvel Studios pictures, particularly the two previous Iron Man films.
Blunt in many ways, and with a second act that leaves much to be desired, Iron Man 3 is a perfect palette cleanser for film fans coming off of the high that is The Avengers. A distinctly smaller and more enclosed action film, it may not leave much to the imagination theme wise, but what it does do is makes the case for this franchise as something more than just a comedic action franchise with a penchant for a showy lead performance and absolutely nothing else. Black brings a breathtakingly assured action hand to the proceedings, crafting a film that will leave viewers with the whitest of knuckles. Unwieldy, often narratively problematic and cinematically thrilling, Iron Man 3 is something to behold that may not always hit its mark, but swings for the fences in some truly thrilling and exciting ways.