11 May 2013

Review: Iron Man Three

(Dir: Shane Black, 2013)

A curious thing happened in the run up to Iron Man Three. With all the so-called first wave Marvel films (The Incredible Hulk possibly excepted) I experienced huge amounts of excitement and  anticipation thanks to the quality the series very quickly established, but in the build up to the third Iron Man film I was perplexed that I was feeling none of that. My only conclusion is that the let-down of The Avengers was to blame. Not only is that the weakest and least enjoyable of the first wave of films, the bewildering "popular" opinion that's permeated around it being one of the best superhero movies ever made only serves to taint the franchise somewhat. Of course I shouldn't let it do so, but sometimes these things can't be helped. (Full review here). And so it took a rewatch of the unfairly maligned Iron Man 2 to kickstart some of the excitement that should be there, as after all I do love the Iron Man films (read my summary of all first wave Marvel films).

The third film sets things off, after a little flashback detour to the end of the nineties, a little way post the events of The Avengers and introduces us to a new villain and a selection of other suspicious faces who are intent on some form of destruction, requiring someone in a metal suit to stop them. Whilst the first and particularly the second film introduced the S.H.I.E.L.D angle and agents Coulson, Romanov and Nick Fury, all intending to build up to something bigger, this film is free of those constraints featuring none of the characters from the bigger collective. It helps greatly with streamlining the story and making it feel like an Iron Man film, but what's the point in this group existing if they're not going to be called in to sort out threats such as what's taking place here?

The threat is an interesting one. Primary villain is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who's presented in the vein of a middle eastern terrorist but with his own insidious plan to bring the US president (William Sadler) to his knees. The use in the first half of handheld shot, rapidly edited videos showing violence, destruction and his threats to camera are creepily effective, but what they do with him in the second half is even more curious and surprisingly works. Then there's Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian who instantly appears devious and not all there, and as you'd expect Pearce does a decent job playing up the character in a similar way to Sam Rockwell's presence in the second film. Less effective is the Maya Hansen character (Rebecca Hall) who feels underused, especially when the science she's working on could've used more time and what we're supposed to think of her is somewhat confused.

Of course with any Iron Man film it's really the Robert Downey Jr / Tony Stark show. He is everyone's favourite loveable asshole after all. The first film saw him develop a conscious about profiteering from war, whilst the second showed us he could play with others and felt the weight of his family's legacy. The Tony Stark character development this time extends to coping with feelings of his own mortality and understanding what really is most important to him. As ever this is needed to soften out his arrogant edges, but he remains a compelling character so it's nice to keep getting little pieces of the puzzle added. With that in mind it's a shame that nothing is added to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who started out well but since The Avengers has become more annoying and one-note.

Where Iron Man Three loses it's way is with the biological tweaking of the bad guys - it makes for very interesting visual effects but feels a step too far in the wrong direction from the tech heavy focus of the prior two films. Yes the technology may always seem a little unrealistic but it's believable that we'd get there at some point in the near future, whereas this biological idea is just too fantastical, even in the context of setting this after an alien attack on New York. The visual effects are as impressive as ever but the climax is a borderline indistinguishable blur of CGI and explosions and I can only imagine what an indecipherable mess this would've been in 3D.

Iron Man Three fits neatly into the little world that's been presented to us and it's a decent sequel, but it's just not quite as good as either of the first two films. It's more of the same which is fine, but doesn't feel like it's moved on substantially enough, and as intriguing as the villains (or elements of them) are, they don't compare to either Whiplash or Justin Hammer in the second film. Shane Black was a decent replacement writer / director to bring on board for Jon Favreau (I was pleased to see him reprise his role of Happy) and as is typical of Black the script is decent. But what now? If (and it presently seems a big if) they do a fourth film, it'll need to work a lot harder to be worthwhile. More intriguing however is whether Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier can maintain the very high quality of their respective first films. The Marvel universe remains enticing, for now.

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