Writer-director Shane Black takes the great work of Favreau and Downey Jr. to another level in this excellent sequel in Marvel’s Iron Man franchise…
Oh, why did it take so long for Shane Black to make his directorial debut. The man you may remember as the bespectacled mercenary in John McTiernan’s Predator didn’t get behind the camera until 2005’s subversive Kiss Kiss Bang Bang despite working in Hollywood since the mid-1980s. The film is a joy to behold, starring Iron Man himself Robert Downey Jr. alongside a rejuvenated Val Kilmer who delivers a performance, under the guidance of Black’s direction and screenplay, that remains a career stand out. With Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau relinquishing his duties at the helm for part 3, Black writes and directs the second sequel to what continues to be Marvel’s most assuredly realised and enjoyable comic book-to-movie franchise. Fittingly, the man whose writing credits include such cult classics as Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Action Hero, successfully continues the great work of Favreau, Downey Jr., and the rest of the Iron Man production team, in bringing this intriguing superhero to the big screen.
Following the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Downey Jr.) is struggling to come to terms with life in the aftermath of New York’s near total destruction. The panic attacks he suffers show a fragility other superheroes don’t have, highlighting the fact he is a human whose genius, alongside a rampant ego, has made him a superstar hero-figure thanks to the advanced technology he has developed. Perhaps overcompensating, he has built a number of Iron Man suits, and continues to experiment using them remotely. This, along with his delicate mental state, has put pressure on his relationship with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Amid Iron Man’s inner turmoil, a terrorist known as The Mandarin, is constantly evading worldwide intelligence agencies, leaving no evidence at destructive bomb sites. Puzzling the US government most is the complete lack of any explosive device. When one of his explosions seriously injures Stark’s close friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), it becomes his personal vendetta to trace The Mandarin and enact revenge. However, he puts his own life in danger and that of Pepper when he reveals his home address to international media. The Mandarin attacks through henchman Eric Savin (James Badge Dale), nearly killing Pepper who escapes by donning an Iron Man suit. Stark, unable to stay with Pepper during the battle at his home, escapes but his own suit is badly damaged. He must work with limited resources (reminiscent of the first Iron Man) to fix his weaponry and discover The Mandarin’s whereabouts and true identity before the villain closes in on his primary target – the US President (William Sadler).
What makes Iron Man so good is Tony Stark’s humanistic qualities and his fallibility. He has shades of light and dark (a mixture of wry, self-serving humour underpinned by a magnified ego that is balanced by his determination to help those in trouble) which are beautifully delivered by seasoned actor Downey Jr. He’s a terrific actor whose body of work includes some astonishing performances. He lends Iron Man gravitas, depth and authenticity when other superhero movies feel so shallow, immersing us in his plight. His fight, whether it is with his own demons or some otherworldly enemy, is therefore engaging and relevant.
Writer-director Black has a unique knack for serving plenty of laughs with stylish action-adventure, so is perfectly suited to the Iron Man universe. His action sequences are well orchestrated without overstating themselves. Certainly, he isn’t one to rely on fast-moving pretty pictures to satisfy short attention spans, ensuring that the film’s adventure is underpinned by balanced character development and emotional relevance. Indeed, Stark’s eventual pursuit of The Mandarin emerges because of vengeance, making his investigation into the terrorist’s whereabouts and ensuing battle even more intense and arresting. This is complemented by revelations about his past, adding a good degree of depth to proceedings.
Iron Man 3 is another triumph from this Marvel film franchise. The character is one of the most interesting and entertaining superheroes to emerge from Marvel comics and make a mark on cinema. Fittingly, each of the films he has appeared in have served the character well. Writer-director Shane Black has shown a willingness to give fans what they want while stamping his authority in a way that utilises his strengths (memorable characters we care about, conflicts that resonate, humour we can laugh at), giving Iron Man 3 the sorts of qualities that can be enjoyed by those not necessarily infatuated with the whole superhero craze.