QUICK TAKE: Third time’s the charm for a franchise that is developing a heart all its own
Whoever it was at Marvel who said that under no circumstances are they prepared to hire Robert Downey, Jr. for the titular role in the Iron Man franchise deserves mention in the same breath as those folks at Decca Records who rejected The Beatles’ audition tape. Luckily for Marvel, Downey, Jr. finally bagged the role and has been carrying the franchise (including The Avengers, where amidst the smorgasbord of superhero types,
Tony Stark oozed showmanship and style wearing it effortlessly) almost entirely on his charisma and chutzpah. After a solid start with Iron Man, even the relatively weaker follow up lit up whenever he took the screen in an avatar very close to the real Downey, Jr. (a trait that has been milked to perfection by a certain Guy Ritchie in a couple of movies about a certain detective).
In Iron Man 3, Jon Favreau (who directed Iron Man 2) steps back into the Executive Producer’s chair (he even has a bit role as Stark’s Head of Security) and lets Shane Black (who co-wrote the script as well) direct a blazing film that entertains the good old fashioned way – with an elaborate enough story (pretty well told) that keeps the twists coming, memorable characters, grand settings and pure fantasy fun. (The end credits which roll in a slightly retro fashion are a nice touch and nod to the film’s intentions to be pure entertainment.) But that does not mean that it does not forward the Iron Man Universe; it does so in gamechanging proportions.
The world gets darker and grimmer as the stakes escalate for Tony Stark, who post the events in The Avengers isn’t quite active as Iron Man any longer, his position sort of usurped by War Machine/Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who has been rechristened Iron Patriot and works under orders from the United States’ President. As Stark tinkers away at making more iterations of his suit in his lab at his mansion, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the CEO of Stark Industries receives a business proposition from Aldrich Killam (Guy Pearce) for investing in a research project involving enhancing the DNA structure of humans.
But everything is disrupted when a mysterious terrorist who calls himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) starts carrying out random attacks both abroad and in the US compelling Tony Stark to publicly vow revenge. The plot is deep enough to explore Stark’s insecurities almost throughout its duration as we find him losing Pepper and his house in Mandarin’s ensuing attack. The action in Iron Man 3 is visibly grander than the earlier two films and it feels as if it is trying to make up for a lot of the ‘quiet’ time it otherwise has; ‘quiet’ time in which Stark bonds with an eleven year old as he hunts for clues for the whereabouts of the Mandarin.
The cast has always been competent enough and Paltrow this time stands out as Potts who has to face more adversity than she has thus far. Rebecca Hall as Maya, Tony’s old scientist flame from a one night stand in Switzerland does pretty well too but it is Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley who add some unexpected dimensions to the performances, their consummate actor personas fully finding room for justification in a script that doesn’t necessarily always lazily print directly off the summer superhero movie template.
Iron Man 3 buzzes with action (sharp editing, solid VFX and some neat sound design); it has the wisecracks by the dozen (at one point one of Mandarin’s minions says to Tony – That’s all you got? A cheap trick and a cheesy oneliner? And Tony replies – That could be the title of my autobiography, sweetheart!); but most of all, it quietly beats with a heart of its own that subliminally looks at the cycle of creation and destruction through Stark’s eyes. It is that way a fascinating character study too and that’s where it wins. And yes; only Tony Stark can wear a Dora The Explorer Limited Edition girl’s watch and make it look way past cool.