27 April 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3


B+

Iron Man 3
2013, 130mins, 12
Director: Shane Black
Writer: Shane Black 
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall
UK Release Date: 26th April 2013

After last year’s “The Avengers” conquered the global box-office and geeky hearts everywhere, the next phase in Marvel Studios pursuit of world domination was always going to be prompt. “Iron Man 3” kicks off this new movement with confidence and style, helping to alleviate most of the problems that plagued 2010’s patchy but not-awful “Iron Man 2”. That sequel initially impressed with its razzmatazz and a dependable Robert Downey Jr., but repeat viewings have shown it up as a fairly hollow and semi-rote entry in the studio’s catalogue. Jon Favreau is wisely replaced in the director’s chair by Shane Black for this latest slice of Stark madness, the former darling of the action genre bringing a surging and deeply enjoyable identity back to proceedings. “Iron Man 3” benefits from Black’s wonderful way with dialogue, understanding of actors and some surprisingly cracking action, ensuring that audiences are left hankering for further comic-book sourced shenanigans. Given how saturated that niche market has become over the past 5-years, it’s quite an achievement on Black’s part that “Iron Man 3” feels so fresh and natural.

Following his daring act of heroism in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has begun experiencing panic attacks and crippling fits of nervousness, turning to mechanical tinkering and professional obsession as means of escape. This places strain on his relationship with partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and buddy Rhodes (Don Cheadle). When criminal mastermind The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, absolutely stealing the show) begins bombing American territory, Stark challenges the villain, only to be quickly bested, isolated and left without his arsenal of toys and equipment. Going back to basics, Tony begins to suspect that slick scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) might be involved with The Mandarin’s violent scheming, using a volatile experimental military treatment to deadly effect.

“Iron Man 3” feels tonally separate from the Jon Favreau pictures, Black favouring a retro aesthetic for his spin on Stark. It’s no secret that Black shot to prominence with his witty, playful scripts for actioners like “Lethal Weapon” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, old-school vehicles which underlined intelligent wordplay, distinctive atmospheres and ferocious set-pieces as cornerstones of their DNA. “Iron Man 3” replicates these fascinations, everything from its weird Christmas setting, small-town narrative detour and truly varied arsenal of villains suggesting that with a new film-maker comes a new era. In this case the change of pace favours over the top bombast and laughter to extreme levels; more so than its predecessors “Iron Man 3” unfolds like an outright action-comedy, and with Black’s skill in this arena so undiminished, fans should be more than fine with the development.

The cast are absolutely electric, virtually everybody doing their best work of the series so far. Whilst Jeff Bridges’ nefarious work in 2008’s “Iron Man” is certainly worth remembering, the cocktail of Kingsley and Pearce outstrips him, the pair finding a wonderful balance of menace and comedic exuberance.  Kingsley in particular is phenomenal, blending alongside Black’s twisty character developments with utter assurance and unfaltering comprehension of the material, allowing for some truly marvellous exchanges between him and Downey. The leading man struts with his usual swagger, but also brings commendable vulnerability to the table this time around, largely through believable bouts of neuroses and an undying affection for Paltrow’s steely Pepper Potts. The actress certainly seems to be having a blast, finally allowed to partake in the chaos, upgraded from bystander to full-blown first lady of Stark Industries. It’s a very human and engaging turn from a performer often guilty of skipping such pulsing thespian sensibilities.

The set-pieces simultaneously manage to avoid repetition whilst embracing spectacle, Black proving a dab hand at the big budget action stuff. There’s an energy and coherency to his edits that is always appreciated, but his ability to provide viable stakes keeps the excitement levels palpable. He doesn't go for excessive CGI or digital bravura, instead the wonder of the blockbusting moments arise from skilled camerawork and the fate of characters we genuinely come to care about.  There’s as much fun to be derived from a low-fi siege on The Mandarin’s hideout as there is in the explosive decimation of Stark’s abode, Black mixing the money-shots with humour and a tangible human touch. The standout is probably a sequence in which the title character rescues an assortment of folks from the airborne wreckage of Air Force One, a hugely entertaining sequence that fully illustrates the creative potential of Black’s vibrant vision.

One could criticise the picture for featuring a femme-fatale too many (Rebecca Hall is underused and watery as a squeeze from Stark’s past), an abundance of faceless henchmen and a few languid spots in its sizeable 130 minute runtime. But ultimately when the frantic finale begins to unfold you’ll be sufficiently enraptured, leaving minor deficiencies to wilt quietly away. “Iron Man 3” concludes with a satisfactory bang and gratifying note of logical character progression, coating the promise of further installments with legitimate intrigue.  It’s a tremendously fun endeavour, and gets 2013’s summer season off to a promising start.  

 A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013

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