Iron Man 3
Yes, that is the official title according to the film’s credits (not a numeral in sight) which then proceed to close out the picture with a compilation of footage from all of the Iron Man movies, making this really feel like the end of a trilogy; as Downey has suggested it is, the role now done for him ( give or take a few Avengers films). Given the past progression of the series, the steep dive it took with the second film, Three really isn’t a bad way for it to go out; a high for the series, if not a highlight. But perhaps the end isn’t the best place to begin, lets go back a bit and see why it worked as well as it did but no better.
Though it is the final part of a trilogy ( or quadrilogy, since The Avengers is so Stark centric) Three is also the start of something new for ole’ Jughead since it is the first Marvel movie written and directed by action veteran Shane Black. I wasn’t sure going in how much of Black’s style would slip through the studio notes, original director Jon Favreu dropped out because of Marvel’s overbearing involvement in the first sequel, but its blatant from the very beginning that this is his movie.
It starts, as a Shane Black picture should, with a heavy dose of self-aware narration (which the post-credit scene brilliantly skewers, though it doesn’t set-up any deeper myths as you may expect) and a deliberately gaudy nineties flashback before settling in the present day with Stark and his suit up to their usual antics at Christmas time. It feels like Black and it feels like Iron Man, the two mesh perfectly together and the results, while not perfect, are at least predictably funny. Downey Jr. delivers his usual shtick to the usual results but he is surprisingly outshone by one character in particular, though I can’t go into who or why until you’ve seen it. Hell, even James Badge Dale’s henchman was hilarious and constantly looked as if he were having a whole lot of fun.
That’s not to say though that the series is all of a sudden a straight comedy, no it actually tackles a fair few serious subjects as the story progresses. Shane has said that he wasn’t aloud to tell the infamous Demon in a Bottle story that he wanted to but this take is pretty close, with Stark instead suffering from PTSD and the story involving soldiers returned from war lashing out explosively in their home towns. Obvious,y with The Mandarin involved this whole affair also has a heavy bent of terrorism to it, shown spectacularly through propaganda videos leaked by the psychopath; these are made magnificently well, the editing and sound design in these sections strongly chilling even though his character feels strangely separate from the rest of the story.
Yes, although The Mandarin is being billed as the films big bad his is only one storyline; like the second film the plot here is multifaceted but unlike that hot mess this one tries to tie together all of its parts, not perfectly but at least noticeably. I would have loved for the films many elements to make slightly more thematic sense than they ultimately do, but there is at least a base connection here, an argument could be made for deeper meaning, which is enough. After the events of New York the world is rattled an Stark feels the same, his instinct is to hole up, to withdraw but the events that occur in this film keep pushing him out into small-scale real world, forcing him to interact with real people in lieu of superheroes and this is an interesting take, one that Nolan should have taken after The Dark Knight.
Specifically these events strip Tony back so that he spends most of the movie without a full suit; making do with single pieces of armour, savvy thinking and in one scene a swiftly assembled Hardware store edition. You weren’t going to too The Avengers so becoming more intimate was a good idea. It also means that once the final fight comes Black can indulge by having an army of suits used and abused without it feeling like that one step too many, without us being desensitised to that sort of stuff. The way that he gets to this place of desperation is also well established early on in the film: we are shown the rules of the new suits and these are implemented cleverly later on; its exposition 101 but that’s still something that puts the picture above many others out there.
So Three is back to basics for Tony but it also makes the same step in terms of its filmmaking; there is something very eighties-nineties actioner about this film. It feels like the sort of blockbuster that was made back then, when plot was at least as important as the practical effects and dialogue more so than the digital ones. Unfortunately though some of that nineties cheesiness also comes through in the film. For example The Extremis soldiers and their leader are…rather ridiculous even in an openly comedic film like this one; breathing fire? Come on! Sure you can lampshade it by having Guy Pearce mention how subtlety died when the god with the hammer dropped from the sky, but seriously, we should at least be able to take these threats semi-seriously.
For me it was one twist of tone too many, clever yes but it just made it too hard to care about what was happening when a scene fraught with tension would be killed by fire-breathing bad guys, or when sorrow would give way to slapstick. Blowing up so much of Starks life could easily have established the man for Shane to take on his own series of movies, but i’, sort of glad that’s not the plan because it works even better as a final resolution for for Robert’s famous character. I don’t know how well that ending will hold up though, perhaps he would have been smarter to simply end on Tony showing off his own Extremis suit rather than try to tie off a string the studio will surely want to continue weaving.
After that post-credit scene there is a punch-card that reads “Tony Stark will return” but even though I enjoyed this film for the few hours I was watching it I don’t know that I will.