Custom-Made Terrorists and Big Metal Patriots:
Iron Man Three
There are strange people out there who are hedging their bets by giving mixed signals on whether they enjoyed this latest Marvel super-hero outing. I don’t care, because here it is: the only thing not inspired, surprising and eye-popping about Iron Man Three is…well, that’s it. That title. Iron Man Three.
Come on, you guys get paid a ginormous amount of loot to come up with ideas—and that was the best you could do? Well, obviously one person sitting in on the think tank tentatively raised his hand and said: “Uh…how about it if we shake it up a little by making ‘three’ a word and not a…eh, a numeral.”
High fives all round! Great idea!
But in fairness it’s really the only thing that sucked about this, the fourth outing for self-proclaimed ‘billionaire-genius-philanthropist’ Tony Stark, the man inside the suit. And this time around, in case there were some out there dim enough to think that is all he was, we get to spend more time with the likeable egomaniac as himself. And he comes up trumps.
This is the seventh film in the movie sequence that can be called ‘The Avengers Initiative’; and it is the first to kick off Phase Two of that series. And it’s fitting because the original Iron Man started the whole thing very impressively in a film so good and unexpected that even non- genre fans were into it. Its sequel Iron Man…eh, 2 (actually, I can’t remember if it was a number or the other thing) was a drop down in quality; but really that was because the bar had been set so high. Well, that and the odd idea of having the real climax at the beginning and then getting way too busy for the rest of the movie.
His next outing was in Joss Whedon’s outstanding The Avengers, which must rate as one of the best super-hero films ever and which brought together Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye; as well, of course, as the Tin Man himself.
John Favreau was in the director’s seat for the first two, as well as playing Tony Stark’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan. This time he is acting only, now looking after security for Stark Industry CEO ‘Pepper’ Potts. (“I got tired of people laughing when I told them I was Iron Man’s bodyguard.”) So taking over as director is Shane Black, who also writes the script in partnership with Drew Pearce. Black will be remembered, before he took a long sabbatical, for scripting the first two Lethal Weapon pictures, Last Action Hero and The Last Boy Scout, amongst others. His only other film as a director was the 2005 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which starred his main man here, Robert Downey Jr.
A Botanist Sowing the Seeds…
“A famous man once said we create our own demons. Who said that? It doesn’t matter. Now two famous guys have said it.”
And so Tony Stark begins the film and takes us back to New Year’s Eve, 1999. This is the Stark we remember from the opening of the first film: vain, drunken and rather dismissive of those around him. And here are sown the seeds (Jesus, that’s corny) of his future misery. He has a one-night stand with a brilliant young botanist who is experimenting on plants in an attempt to regenerate damaged organic material. And if I have that wrong that’s because she actually has a much fancier and impressive title than ‘botanist’, but you get the gist. In fact, now that I come to think of it, wasn’t The Lizard trying to do something similar in The Amazing Spider-Man? No?
I went to see this in the company of a six-year old called John. John, when I finish writing this I think that I’ll get you to explain that part to me.
His real mistake is in dismissing as a nerd a man with the rather wonderful name of Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce). He cruelly tells the enthusiastic young guy, who is trying to pitch a project to him, that he is interested in his ideas and should go up to the rooftop and wait for him. And thus does the poor sap see in the new millennium, standing on his own, with his thumb up his ass. You can see how this would SOW THE SEEDS (yes, I’m doing it again) for REVENGE in later years.
So much for the prologue. In the here and now, Stark isn’t really quite as cocksure as he once was. In fact, the events of The Avengers have left him with panic attacks, especially when he hears the words ‘New York’. He possibly isn’t the only person who feels like that but it’s rather unfortunate when you’re a high-flying billionaire.
Meanwhile the botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) has come into the employ of Aldritch Killian, now having shed his goofy image and emerged as a bit of a hunk. Completely up himself, of course; but a hunk none the less. Together they have been working on her formula and indeed are re-growing missing or amputated limbs. They need Stark’s help in perfecting it, however, as it has the not inconsiderable drawback of turning people into living bombs.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining as bombs that leave no trace suits a certain terrorist mastermind called the Mandarin just fine. Absolutely brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley with a bin Laden beard and an odd English accent, the Mandarin is surprising, to put it mildly. And trust me, he gets more so.
The middle section of the film finds Stark stuck, without suit, in Tennessee; and here we see him at his best. There is a lovely homage to the James Bond movies where he has to use his ingenuity to break into the Mandarin’s compound. And for viewers older than six there is a witty scene and reference to the seventies science-fiction classic Westworld.
In Tennessee Stark develops a working partnership with a precocious but likable kid called Harley, played by Ty Simpkins; but instead of getting treacly the writers undercut this nicely. When Harley tells Stark that his dad left eight years ago Stark replies: “That’s what dads do. They leave. Don’t be a pussy about it.”
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Gwyneth Paltrow back once more as ‘Pepper’ Potts and, again, the chemistry between herself and Downey is sizzling. Don Cheadle is also back as Colonel Rhodes aka War Machine. Only this time they have changed his iron suit to a red, white and blue design and given him a name change (after a survey, of course). Now he is…IRON PATRIOT! I love the way the gung-ho mentality is made fun of, and yet we can respond to it as well. In its way it is, dare I say it, respectful of the rules of the material. Which reminds me, you would have thought that the very existence of a team of super-heroes called The Avengers would have made the idea of one going it alone kind of redundant? I mean, a global threat called the Mandarin? Why not just call up your super- mates? Well, that ‘s addressed. I’m not going to say that you’ll buy the reasoning on it but at least they don’t merely pretend that the other crowd have just gone away.
I’ve begun to think that Guy Pearce is good in anything he turns his hand to; and I really think that this series would lose a lot without the voice of Paul Bettany as JARVIS, Tony’s robotic helper.
I watched this in 2-D since I haven’t particularly enjoyed the encounters of the third kind that I’ve so far tried. But I promise you: as well as often being laugh-out-loud funny it is consistently witty and has some truly spectacular action sequences.
Over a dark screen at the end of this film the voiceover utters that line again: “I AM Iron Man”. And with that Downey has given the people behind this franchise a real headache because it is impossible to imagine anyone replacing him. He IS Iron Man.
As always with these films, you should stay until the credits have rolled because you’ll be rewarded. This time it isn’t with a teaser but with an amusing and brief appearance by David Banner aka The Hulk.
And if you wait on even beyond that, as the ushers swear at you and try to force you out the door you will see one last nod to James Bond—a final credit that reads:
Tony Stark Will Return