I’m surprised to find myself writing, after two Iron Man solo outings and The Avengers (which was essentially half an Iron Man film), that Iron Man 3 not only doesn’t suffer from superhero fatigue, but that it’s actually the best entry in the franchise so far.
There are numerous reasons for this, and a major one of those is undoubtedly Marvel’s decision (in line with other recent appointments) to hand the directorial reins to Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black, whose last feature was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang all the way back in 2005. Black has instilled a new vigour and energy into the franchise, both through his direction and in the script, which he co-wrote with Drew Pearce.
To say the film takes risks is perhaps to overstate what Black has done with Iron Man 3, but within the Marvel 12A-rated event movie bracket, into which this film falls, it’s a genuinely zippy and, remarkably, unpredictable piece of entertainment.
We pick up the story some time after the events depicted in The Avengers, events which appear to have left Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) with something of an existential hangover. In reality, the script – perhaps unavoidably – glosses over those events with varying degrees of success. The references to the alien invasion are pretty funny, but the absence of the other heroes was always going to be the elephant in the room, and that aspect is not even remotely touched upon. Thankfully, because Iron Man 3 is such good fun, it doesn’t become an issue.
A new terrorist – Iron Man’s nemesis from the comic books, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, having fun with a silly accent) – is blowing up targets seemingly at random with a strange new weapon, and Stark – at times deprived of his suits – must find a way to stop him.
The film casts Tony Stark in a new light – this is the most vulnerable we’ve seen him – but it’s a relief to find that this doesn’t detract from the sarcastic tone of this iteration of the character. This isn’t Marvel ‘going dark’ as we might have expected; they’ve simply added a few drops of a grey into the otherwise colourful formula, and for the most part it works. Because Black and Pearce have kept Tony’s personality fundamentally the same (and their script, by the way, is laugh-out-loud funny), they are able to guide the character through murkier waters fairly freely, and we’re spared any jarring shifts into and out of what might be considered deeper waters.
The regular supporting cast is all in place – Gwyneth Paltrow is likable as Tony’s long-suffering partner, Paul Bettany voices Jarvis, the AI that Tony built to run his inventions, and director of the two previous films, Jon Favreaux, returns as Happy Hogan – in addition to new characters played by Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall, both of whom make a positive impression on the series.
Unlike the disappointing Iron Man 2 – which lacked the wit of the first film’s script and failed in its attempts to adequately pre-empt The Avengers – this entry is a thoughtful, unexpectedly enjoyable superhero romp. Downey Jr has never been better as Tony Stark, and the whole thing is rejuvenated thanks to the new writer/director combination.