Shane Black, the writer of the Lethal Weapon movies and the director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has an unenviable job. He has to deliver what is the first salvo in Marvel's "Phase Two" comic book film series, culminating in Avengers 2 in a few years' time.
Look at the Iron Man legacy he inherits: An amazing film
that put a comic book B-lister on the top of the Superhero food chain, a middling and misguided second film
, wholly redeemed by a team-up movie
(which made more than a billion dollars alone, by the way), owned in large part by Tony Stark. Any way you screw the bolt, the expectations are sky high.
The film starts confusingly, with most of its weak stuff crammed in the first third of the movie. A shoddily-paced beginning, confused performances, and motivations that aren't properly executed are an ominous start, especially given that there is nothing about Tony Stark that takes the plot forward.
RDJ is suitably reliable, and Paltrow is back, after an utterly confusing performance in Iron Man 2
, and kicking ass. Then, Ben Kingsley arrives. It's a delight to watch him act, being suitably grave and melodramatic, pontificating utter bollocks, and charming the hell out of us all, even as a terrorist. Playing a global terrorist known simply as "The Mandarin", not only does Kingsley have great lines and a killer performance, he is also the source of a major reveal, which he nails absolutely perfectly.
Once he attacks Tony's mansion, destroying all he has built, and putting Pepper's life in danger, the film begins in earnest, and finds its footing. Here on out, the pacing is solid, the actors have great lines throughout, and the characters sing. The witty banter and RDJ's charisma turn it up to 11, and it's all so good, that you almost don't notice some inconsistencies.
Spending some time in Tennessee, Tony Stark goofs around with locals, and tries to get come information. All this moves the plot forward, but the movie relies on the charms of a small boy, Hurley, and his friendship with Stark to deliver most of the emotional connection. Too bad, this does not mean anything, as the entire reason for the boy to exist seems to be to connect with the audience. Granted, he helps Tony battle his PTSD, but the denouement for that is utterly inconsistent.
Iron Man 3 tries to focus on Tony as a human - many times do we listen to his inability to cope with the events of The Avengers
- and use a young boy as a ploy to add humanity to a bit which becomes impersonal pretty fast.
Soon the action turns to Miami, and the rollercoaster that starts, doesn't stop for a breather till the movie ends. Tony tracks the villains down on foot, and then uses his Mk 42 suit to save people from a crashing aeroplane before he can even start working on the final action set piece.
After a slightly wasteful bit where they show the bad guy flexing some of his powers never to use them again, the action moves to the climactic battle, which is every bit as glorious as the rest of the film.
Connecting all this is Shane Black's unmistakable and trademarked witty banter. The dialogue pops, crackles and sizzles, as one laugh-out-loud moment comes after another. If the script wasn't this weak, I'd call Iron Man 3's writing a masterpiece of modern superhero movies.
The performances are all spectacular, though Don Cheadle still doesn't feel like he is Stark's longtime friend. All the actors do a good job, and when the writing improves, the action set pieces are thrilling, glorious to behold, and lovely in their colour palettes. It's a very good-looking film, and it feels like Marvel has spent their money in the right places on the tent pole movie for their next phase.
Near the finale, Pepper is shocked at the level of violence and sheer madness that all this has culminated in. Quite possibly the most worrying aspect of the film is her reaction, where Tony Stark thinks nothing of claiming he would like to murder certain individuals. It's not just violent; it revels in the loss of human life at the hands of Stark. There's no Batman
code-of-honour, just a man who thinks nothing of human life when he is under duress.
This exemplifies Iron Man 3 - this is a film which is oblivious to its own flaws, and while the overall cause is just, the broken bits are out there for us to watch too, because it won't change what it is for anyone.