Marvel’s Cinematic Universe kicks off Phase 2 in style as Tony Stark has his biggest adventure to date.
NB: This review originally appeared on Behind the Panels.
“Things haven’t been the same since New York,” confesses Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) to a stressed Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He is of course talking about his intergalactic battle alongside friends in the Big Apple, but a knowing script is also tipping its hat to the Goliath cinematic elephant in the room.
Director and co-writer Shane Black has been presented with a unique problem in delivering the third chapter in the Iron Man saga. Along with following up the already successful first two films from Jon Favreau, the eyes of the world are literally on him as he releases the first glimpse into the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the $1.5 billion box office giant The Avengers. For the director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the writer of the Lethal Weapon series, this is just another day at the office as he escalates the franchise to a new level of grandeur.
As the world faces a new threat from global terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), the US responds with christening James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) their Iron Patriot in his ‘borrowed’ suit of armour. Tony Stark works like a man possessed. Unable to deal with his growing anxiety attacks following the Battle of New York, he no longer sleeps, building dozens of suits of armour in an attempt to protect those he loves. When a series of attacks coincide with the return of former colleague and lover Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), along with the ambitious Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Tony’s worlds collide and he is forced to fend for himself for the first time in years.
The dilemma facing director Black was always going to be one of escalation, with the series of Marvel films leading up to The Avengers taking us deeper into their comic book world. Iron Man began with a relatively straightforward story of a billionaire learning to be a better man, yet it was a series that ultimately lead us to thunder gods and aliens. With this third outing, based loosely on Warren Ellis’s Extremis story arc, Black and co-writer Pearce’s screenplay brings us full circle and back to the idea that Tony Stark and Iron Man are one in the same. Following a similar narrative structure as Black and Downey Jr’s own Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it may be a shock to the system that Stark spends a fair amount of time out of the armour. The film segues into detective story territory, making a pleasing union of genres and a willingness on Marvel’s part to be bolder with its superhero films.
Unsurprising for fans of the series, but in contrast to the sombre promotion of the film to date, Iron Man 3 is filled with the same characteristic humour as the previous entries. Like many of Black’s scripts, it often threatens to go over-the-top without quite crossing the line. Case in point is the introduction of a young boy (Ty Simpkins) to help Tony, which reaches Bad Santa proportions in Tony’s unsentimental treatment of his major childhood traumas. While some comic book fans may quibble with the treatment of the traditionally ridiculous Mandarin, let’s just say that Kingsley’s performance might just be the revelation of the picture.
Yet Black doesn’t skimp on the action either, with his trademarks stamped all over this big-budget action flick. The “Barrel of Monkeys” skydiving sequence is a nail-biter, and the show-stopper finale almost matches The Avengers in pound-for-pound adrenaline, bringing the previously underused Gwyneth Paltrow into the limelight in a satisfying fashion. Iron Man 3 pleases on all levels, delivering smart and sophisticated action next to convincing human drama. As the credits roll, and we are promised that “Tony Stark will return”, we can rest assured that Marvel’s Phase 2 has kicked off on the right iron-clad foot.
Iron Man 3 is released in Australia on 24 April 2013 from Disney. It will be released in the US on 3 May 2013.
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