Some ridiculously belated thoughts on Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three, as it was titled on the BBFC certificate at the start of the film), two whole months after watching it (in 2D, because I don’t do 3D unless I have to, and I very rarely have to) because I couldn’t quite coalesce my responses to it (unless you count my tweet on the evening after I saw it). Not that this will necessarily read like a coherent, reasoned assessment of my feelings about a movie (I’m really selling this, aren’t I?), but carefully constructed prose is not the USP of this blog …
Let’s start positive, otherwise this might sound like a disgruntled fan who hates anything new (which isn’t true because I’ve never been a big fan of Iron Man and don’t care about his archvillains or staying true to the comics). This film is a lot of fun because Shane Black has co-written and directed a Shane Black film that happens to be a big Marvel blockbuster. I was very happy when I heard he was going to be back with Robert Downey Jr because I loved their previous collaboration, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with which this film shares a lot of DNA. The film starts with Downey Jr narrating in a jumbled, knowing fashion, much like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Similarly, this film is packed with great one-liners and snappy dialogue, mostly Downey Jr spitting out the zingy bon mots in his effortless style, but also in the ‘buddy cop’ section of Stark and Rhodes, or in the off-kilter relationship between Stark and the young kid he befriends. I’m guessing that a lot of this was Black, based on his previous work, but co-writer Drew Pearce must have had an input: the reference to Croydon is hilarious for a British audience, and Ben Kingsley shouting ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole!’ when Liverpool score a goal in the football match he’s watching on TV is one of the most hilarious reactions I’ve seen. I also liked the fact that this film, set after The Avengers, demonstrates the impact on Stark by having him suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from fighting aliens, nearly dying and saving the world; it works really well for the character and places the film within the Marvel universe (which, for the most part, is noticeable by its absence – no SHIELD, no Avengers [apart from the post-credit gag], no set-ups for other films).
However, for the most part, the film feels like a character study on someone who looks and sounds like Tony Stark but doesn’t really feel like him. I know that the emphasis of the film is on the man – separating him from all his armour and tools, and demonstrating the resilience and heroicness – but it does so in a way that counteracts the central idea of Stark’s statement: I’m Iron Man. Ignoring the fact that the entire film doesn’t happen if the small army of Iron Men had done its job at the start of the film when Stark’s home is attacked and defended him, it also ignores plot logic to put Stark in a situation where he has to rely on himself to save the day, but without showing how it is possible. Tony Stark is an engineering genius, who can do things mechanically that separate him from mere mortals; he is not a superhuman with the fighting skills of someone like Captain America, which happens several times in the film. When attacked by people powered by the Extremis virus (who are superpowered, faster than normal and can recover from injury), he is able to do things physically that the character has never displayed before. When he infiltrates the lair of the Mandarin with homemade Tasers, he is able to take down professional bodyguards with fight skills he doesn’t have (practising boxing with Happy Hogan in Iron Man 2 doesn’t count). When he is in the suit, he’s a superhero who can win these fights, but not when he’s out of the suit – that’s the point of the suit.
I enjoyed the general plotting, taking the idea of Extremis from the comics (for which Warren Ellis gets a ‘thank you’ credit, along with other Marvel creators) and fusing it with a character who uses the Mandarin concept (Kingsley is great, both as the Mandarin and as the failed actor who is portraying him for Aldrich Killian, played competently by Guy Pearce) for evil purposes, even if the evil purposes amount to not much more than a James Bond-style villain’s plot. There are some good set pieces, although the final big fight scene is a little messy, with lots of generic Extremis-powered henchmen fighting empty Iron Men suits. It’s just that I wasn’t satisfied with the film as a whole.
The film tries to have its cake and eat it by having more action for Pepper Potts (the Oscar-winning Gwyneth Paltrow, let’s not forget) but at the same time making her the damsel in distress; I liked that she put on the suit (I had hoped she would get the Rescue suit from the comic) and saved Stark, even saving the day at the end of the film in a ‘deus ex machina’ moment because she has been injected with the Extremis virus, but they still had her captured and tortured by the villain so the hero has to come and save her. Rebecca Hall was wasted as Dr Maya Hansen, described as a ‘strong female character’, but whose main job is to be shot by Killian at an appropriate juncture. The worst part for me was the epilogue scene (after Stark has blown up ALL HIS ARMOURS, just to put on a firework display for his girlfriend instead of saving them for the next time there’s an alien invasion), where a magic wand is waved and Pepper is cured of the Extremis virus and Tony Stark has the shrapnel near his heart surgically removed all in the course of a minute, and everything is all right again and there are no problems any more. I felt quite insulted by that flimsy pushing of the reset button to return things to normal, no explanations, no effort, just a voiceover by Downey Jr.
It feels weird that this film has been the most successful of the bunch, but a lot of that is down to Downey Jr’s charm and the knock-on effect of being an unofficial sequel to The Avengers. As I tweeted, I put the overall enjoyability of the films as IM>IM3>>IM2, but it would seem the world disagrees. This film had a lot in it to enjoy, but the reaching for some sort of closure for a trilogy in case Downey Jr didn’t want to do any more Iron Man films rings hollow, and is one of several things that meant I left the cinema with qualms instead of the warm glow of being entertained.