By 2008 the Marvel Comics adaptations weren’t looking too healthy. The Fantastic Four films had been turkeys and the overlong and confusing Spiderman 3 had skittled the high expectations raised by the sensational Spiderman 2. Iron Man, however, was like a 50,000 vault surge of electricity to the ailing Frankenstein corpse of superhero movies. The film combined powerful dynamic action sequences with a slick futuristic visual style that included stunning holographic computer technology and hardware to leave to both tech and petrol heads salivating. Best of all though, it had a terrific central character in the cocky but likeable Tony Stark who was played to perfection by Robert Downey Jr. Stark was the ultimate American hero: a super-rich, uber-capitalist, party animal who loved blowing stuff up. The franchise was soon in trouble, though, as a messy plot and Mickey Rourke’s ridiculous electric-whip wielding villain let down Iron Man 2.
Unfortunately, despite huge, elaborate action set pieces, multiple villains and even more hardware and sophisticated computer technology than before, Iron Man 3 doesn’t quite restore the franchise’s mojo.
Number three sees Tony Stark as a troubled man stressed to the point of anxiety attacks by his violent adventures in the previous two Iron Man films and his Avengers escapades. Having handballed responsibility for Stark industries to love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) he’s virtually a house husband who bickers with his robot butler and tinkers with new Iron Man technology. He’s soon blasted out of retirement, though, when Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) a once nerdy scientist turned slick yuppie super villain, begins a deadly terror campaign fuelled by his resentment of Stark. Faced with a presidential kidnapping and disturbing public bombings, Stark has to confront Killian and his army of genetically enhanced super soldiers.
The Iron Man films are largely about video game style destruction and here, the all-important action scenes are, for the most part, impressively orchestrated and feature some stunning cinematography from John Toll. The problem is that director Shane Black doesn’t know when to rein in the sensory assault as the action becomes a manic, headache-inducing frenzy of activity where it’s difficult to know what the hell is going on. It’s almost like the cinematic equivalent of attention deficit disorder as the film leaps frantically between multiple explosions and fight scenes.
Admittedly, a lot of this film is played for laughs with Downey undercutting nearly every violent confrontation with a smug quip. Unfortunately he delivers his lines so fast it’s often hard to know if he’s actually said anything funny.
Writer/ Director Black whose Icarus-like trajectory as a scriptwriter in the 1980’s and 90’s saw him pen the first two Lethal Weapon films before nosediving on The Last Action Hero, draws heavily on his familiar bag of tricks. He includes numerous scenes such as the obliteration of a hillside house that recall Lethal Weapon 2.
The film tries to add an intriguing existential layer to the story and to Stark’s character by having him face the dilemma of whether he is a hero or just a clever mechanic in a suit. Unfortunately, Iron Man 3 doesn’t explore this theme in any great depth. Also, fan-boys may be miffed by the fact that this soul-searching means Stark barely dons the suit in the first hour.
Downey still exudes that amiable Stark arrogance although, for a large part of the film, he’s more like James Bond than Iron Man. His invasion of a compound looks more like something out of a Bond film than a Marvel Comics adaptation.
With Lawless and now this film, Guy Pearce seems to be carving a niche for himself as a smug, leering and intimidating villain. Hopefully for Pearce this is an avenue out of peripheral roles and into headline status.
Iron Man 3 also includes a large but underused supporting cast. Sir Ben Kingsley appears as The Mandarin, a long-time Iron Man nemesis from the comics, who’s eerily reminiscent of real world terrorists. The Mandarin character has a bizarre secret which allows Kingsley to play a range of emotions but this hardly ranks among Sir Ben’s most memorable roles. Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Rebecca Hall also appears as an evolutionary botanist and brief love rival to Pepper but she soon becomes a superfluous character.
In the end, there’s enough ear-shattering destruction in this film to please most of the franchise’s fans but it’s a pretty hollow spectacle. Let’s hope future instalments in the Iron Man saga reassert quality story telling ahead of the video game action frenzy.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Shane Black.
Release date: 24th April 2013.
Running time: 130 mins.
- Film review: IRONMAN 3 from Built For Speed
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- Film review: THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN, from Built For Speed
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