Director: Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany
Watch Iron Man 3 online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“They say a man creates his own demons…” narrates Tony Stark before rewinding back to the beginning of his story, which sees him pair up with Don Cheadle’s sidekick to take out another bad guy.
A wibbly-wobbly voiceover. A bickering odd couple. Robert Downey Jr. Marvel’s latest sequel may be called Iron Man Three, but it’s closer to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2. Except, you know, starring Iron Man.
All the Shane Black trademarks are in there – somebody even says the word “ficus” – but magnified by a multi-million dollar budget. Yet while the scale is huge, Black and co-writer Drew Pearce make sure that everything feels small. Paltrow’s previously annoying Pepper Potts is now just as important as the latest threat to America. All of Stark’s rockets and gadgets are nothing without the man controlling them (and vice versa). The events of The Avengers? A recurring nightmare in our hero’s sleep.
The latter is a telling sign that Marvel has finally found the secret to managing their epic web of franchises. After Iron Man 2’s bloated Avengers-promoting screenplay, Joss Whedon’s superhero mash-up convinced them of the best thing to do: hire a great filmmaker and get the hell out of their way.
Black gleefully seizes the playing field – then pulls it out from under us completely. Shane’s Iron Man is a fully developed non-superhero; a mechanic who frequently misses his landings, has to fix things without his armour, has no sympathy for small children (Ty Simpkins) and talks at all the wrong times. And Downey Jr. clearly loves playing him.
Reunited with the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director, Robert’s timing is perfect. It this is to be his career-defining role, it’s no bad thing. He now wears Stark like Stark wears his suit; it’s impossible to imagine them apart. Guy Pearce’s slimy tech genius and Rebecca Hall’s romantic rival are equally impressive, despite all-too-brief screen times. The show is stolen, though, by Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin – guaranteed to be the most memorable Marvel villain ever played by a British actor on screen.
The cast are thrown together at a thrilling pace, middle act aside, with CGI blending seamlessly with the absurdly extravagant choreography. But while the action, threat and drama are all tense, what really strikes you is just how funny it all is. Funnier, in fact, than most recent comedies. The trailer paints Tony’s third outing as an epic Stark Knight Rises-style climax, but Pearce and Black keep reducing everything down to that tiny, human level – a string of anticlimaxes determined to undermine every straight-faced scene in the script. This focus on character means that in between the self-aware voiceover and buddy cop bickering, the movie’s themes still build up to a satisfying final act; a mature payoff that works on both an emotional, and explosive, level.
Only when the end titles roll, to Brian Tyler’s superbly jazzy score, do you really take in the full subversive personality of the film. Perhaps the only summer blockbuster to be set at Christmas (alongside Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss, Shane Black’s made the perfect seasonal boxset), Iron Man Three, as the credits defiantly call it, is that rare thing: a surprising Hollywood sequel. But that’s partly because it’s not a superhero movie; it’s a Shane Black movie with superheroes in it. And that makes it hilariously, unexpectedly, stupidly awesome.
If it wasn’t such a neat ending to a trilogy, you almost wish they’d make another.
Iron Man Three is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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