Shane Black really should write every Hollywood action movie. The famed 1980/90s writer (Lethal Weapon) turned director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey, Jr.) takes over the Iron Man directorial reigns from co-star/producer Jon Favreau in Iron Man Three (as spelled in the end credits) and brings it to bold, interesting new heights.
This is easily the least Marvel comic book or usual Iron Man like film of them all. Iron Man himself is actually barely in the film. His many suits and the suit maker Tony Stark, however, are in it quite a bit. Black's trademarks are everywhere with the banter, dialogue, Christmas setting, voiceover, and buddy cop feel. He and Marvel kind of reinvent everything that came before, remixing the superhero genre nicely.
Black and co-writer Drew Pearce have stripped down Tony Stark to his bare essentials, literally and figuratively. There is no S.H.I.E.L.D., random and distracting cameos from Samuel L. Jackson and company, or any of the Avengers. Apparently, they strictly stick to more global issues. Tony must deal with some domestic terrorist threats and on his own.
There's much more of a 1980's style detective, buddy action feel disguised as a superhero film with some fun theatrics. The cast is fairly small, populated with five star talent. Sidekicks Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle get more to do as they play into Stark's journey for redemption. Unlike Iron Man 2, this is not a placeholder or a expositional bridge to a team up sequel. The film stands on its own and wraps up the Iron Man saga nicely but not definitively.
Downey tones down and sheds most of his usual antics for a tempered, grittier performance. The one liners and jokes are still there but wrapped in some heavy anxiety and PTSD after the events of The Avengers. He faces off against some strange yet amusing villains in Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian (a nerd turned slick talking rival) and Ben Kingsley's The Mandarin (the mysterious Oriental inspired terrorist ring leader). The biggest achilles heal of the Iron Man franchise has been its weak villains and number three mostly rectifies this in inventive ways. Unfortunately, Rebecca Hall is criminally underused as a throwaway ex-lover scientist and antagonist used to confusingly move the plot along.
Pearce's baddie develops a regenerating super soldier like formula that is very poorly explained. Soldiers essentially become weird lava monsters who can regenerate limbs and never die. In fact, the big end battle resembles Terminator 2's climax on steroids. Killian's motivations stem from a weird supply and demand war monger attitude that never proves very substantive or fleshed out. It plays more like cookie cutter political thriller in its plotting while shedding some of Marvel's usual comic book conventions.
Iron Man 3 mostly succeeds on the strong filmmaking chops of director Shane Black as he indulges his own style well and integrates it nicely into the greater Marvel cinematic universe as it veers wildly from the source material and comic book cannon. Black commits to affirming the superhero action comedy schtick. Not all the jokes, gags, and non sequiturs are winners and some of the action in the third act gets muddled, but the film on the whole is otherwise solidly constructed in its momentum. Despite making very little logical sense, the film is undeniably fun and enjoyable.
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