Shane Black faced a daunting task. Not only did he inherit a well-established franchise, but Iron Man 3 would also be the first Marvel film since the insanely successful Avengers film. I’m sure many folks have been wondering if he would be able to deliver a sequel that was not only better than it’s predecessors, but that could also kickstart Marvel’s Cinematic Phase 2 series into high gear. Two years ago I wrote an article on the reasons why Shane Black was the perfect director to take over Iron Man from Jon Favreau. You can read that here. Now the world can see for itself as Iron Man 3 has hit theaters. So, the question remains, how did Shane Black do? Pretty exceptionally, as it turns out.
Obviously, the first two Favreau-directed Iron Man films had a very specific tone and rhythm to them. Black deftly handles keeping the feel of the first two while also bringing his sensibilities into play. He wisely is able to forego any sort of ego in order to recognize what makes a great Iron Man film. While Favreau leaned more towards improvisational dialogue it’s clear that, while some of that remains, this time it was more tightly scripted. Honestly, I think the film is better for it as I felt the second film almost went to far with the loose talk. The banter here feels sharper and less rehearsal-ish, if that makes any sense. Basically, we just got our definitive Iron Man film, one that doesn’t feel out of place in line with the other two and gives us a shining bookend to the first.
As for the story, the film opens thirteen years ago, literally at the very end of the millennium. Amidst the revelry we see a familiar face and meet a couple of new ones. The familiar person plays nicely into the first film, while the other two show up later in the present day. After the flashback, we arrive in 2013, to find a broken Tony Stark, basically going through PTSD due to the events of Avengers. He can’t sleep and he’s building and refining new suits of armor at an alarming rate. Tony is having frequent panic attacks and can’t shake his near-death experience through a wormhole. He is obsessed with protecting those closest to him, namely Pepper Potts, but his very actions seems to be driving everyone away. At the same time, the Mandarin has made his presence known on an international scale with a series of bombings using an unknown incendiary device and directly threatening the US President. When the Terrorist makes it personal with Stark, the Industrialist finds himself more lost and alone than he thought could be possible. Heavy metal super-heroics ensue and I leave the resolution for you to discover for yourself.
The acting is superb in this film. Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow are very comfortable as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, making their fourth appearances as their respective characters. The chemistry between the two is as sparkling as ever. Don Cheadle makes his sophomore appearance as James Rhodes and while he doesn’t get a tremendous amount of screen time he certainly makes use of it. Guy Pearce never lets Aldrich Killian descend into a one-note character and James Badge Dale makes you wish his character had more to do. However, Ben Kingsley nearly steals the movie at least a couple of times as the uber-terrorist, The Mandarin. From the trailers and previews I honestly thought he was going to be the weakest part of the film, but he is actually pretty phenomenal. You’ll have to see for yourself as to why I think that. Of course, it is always fun to see Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, especially with his flashback mullet.
Overall, this is a terrific film, full of humor, drama, heroics, twists, turns and surprises. Iron Man 3 not only serves as a boost or adrenaline for Marvel Movies Phase 2, but kicks off the summer movie season in fine fashion. Iron Man 3 also works extremely well as a bookend to the Iron Man series and makes the perfect ending to Tony Stark’s cinematic journey. This is definitely a case of a sequel outshining what has come before and raises the seemingly insurmountable bar set by Avengers to new heights. Tony Stark and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have never looked so good. And, as always, be sure to stay all the way through the end credits for a little extra treat followed by a promise for the future.