Iron Man 3 (2013)
It’s no secret that Iron Man 2 was a disappointment. One of the least popular Marvel movies, it did more harm to the Iron Man franchise than good, and many fans were left with a feeling of indifference. With Jon Favreau out as the director (yet still on as bodyguard Happy Hogan), enter Shane Black, who had previously worked on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Downey Jr., to much critical success, hoping to inject some new life into the movies.
Hot take alert: this is my favourite of the Iron Man movies. I am well aware that I am in the minority on this, having been told time and again that it is the worst of the three, but I can’t help but disagree. Finding the first two a little uninventive and a touch on the slow side, this is a story told at break-neck speed – after The Avengers, there is no more time to waste.
Following the events of the aforementioned film, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is suffering from PTSD after having to dispose a nuclear warhead into a black hole, a thing many of us would be unable to cope with. Not entirely aware that he is somewhat changed, he spends his nights making copious amounts of Iron Man suits, until terrorist The Mandarin (Kingsley) makes his grand entrance.
No need for formality here, we all know who he is. Due to Black’s fast-paced dialogue the movie starts at an alarming rate and never lets up, with characters out-doing each other in the quipping stakes, faster than an episode of Gilmore Girls, making it one of the funnier films in the MCU (“I loved you in A Christmas Story” being a particular favourite).
Downey Jr. goes from strength to strength playing this character, with each performance a little more nuanced than in the past. Due to the PTSD Stark is experiencing, he is able to bring a little more vulnerability to the role, and this he does with ease, and I’ll fight anyone who claims that Downey is a one-trick pony, only able to play the arrogant genius either attempting to save the world or Victorian London.
The supporting cast, especially those returning, are also great. Paltrow and Cheadle have finally found their groove, and perhaps are now of use to the franchise, having not been given enough to do previously, whilst new cast make impact on limited screen time. Ty Simpkins, especially, as Harley, a boy with which Tony befriends, is incredibly sweet and charming, and has good chemistry with the star of the show.
So, in regards to the script, written by Black and Drew Pearce, let’s address the elephant in the room. Much of the revile geared towards this movie is its second act twist, which reveals that Kingsley is not The Mandarin at all, but a patsy named Trevor Slattery hired to portray a terrorist, with Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian behind the whole charade.
It’s actually a pretty smart decision on Marvel’s part. The Mandarin of the comic books is an incredibly problematic character, a racist caricature of Chinese culture. To include the original iteration of the character could potentially sink the who movie, and should never be done, and to see Kingsley go from menacing terrorist to goofball actor is in and of itself funny and enjoyable.
It also proves that Marvel still has some twists up its sleeve and not every superhero movie needs to be cookie-cutter, as many are. Sitting in the cinema, I was genuinely shocked and surprised during the revelation, and grateful that I was still able to experience that in the day and age of spoilers.
The problem for me after this moment is the villain that we’re left with. Pearce is a terrific actor, probably one of the most underrated working today, but his motivations for revenge on Tony are tedious at best. Breathing fire and kidnapping Pepper as a trophy, it’s all very been here, done that and got the T-shirt, and the third act action sequence follows suit.
If rumours are to be believed, Maya Hanson (Hall) was intended to be the villain, and this would have made a far more interesting dilemma for Tony (how do you physically defeat a former lover?). Due to alleged worries that having a woman as the villain would not sell as many toys – as if they needed the money – Hall is given such short shrift that it’s a wonder they didn’t axe her character from the movie completely.
The film has fairly large issues with its villain past a certain point, but other problems are few and far between. Funny, simultaneously sincere and not, with some decent action beats, this is still my favourite of the three, and I encourage anyone who has not seen it since release to give it another go. It’s good, I promise.