2013 | Shane Black
Iron Man 3 is the first in the franchise to not rest entirely on the performance of its wonderfully charismatic leading man. Hardly the main attraction in the Marvel universe, Marvel Studios were making a massive gamble by revealing Iron Man as the first in their cinematic lineup. A leading actor with no big successes to his name and a director mostly known for his acting credits, the first film in the trilogy was a breath of fresh air in a stale comic book adaptation environment. Helping to increase the standard expected of comic book adaptations, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 faced an even greater challenge: following up the enormous success that was Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
Iron Man 3 takes place not long after the first Marvel superhero team-up, The Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is devoting more and more time to his suits, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) continues to head Stark Industries and we are introduced to an old acquaintance of Pepper’s, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a bioengineer who has devoted his career to maximising the potential of the human brain and body. Meanwhile, a terrorist known simply as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has launched several attacks throughout the United States, and has hijacked the airwaves to teach the American Government lessons in humanity.
It is the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, turning Tony into far more than a wisecracking weapons manufacturer turned wisecracking superhero. Providing depth so far unforeseen, Stark begins to feel a lot more human and a lot less like a cutout from the comics in which he stars. Director Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s script is the strongest of the Iron Man series, and probably the strongest of the MCU, as it spends a lot of time on something the others are happy to ignore: character.
Heavily driven by Tony Stark’s onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (caused by the events of The Avengers), the film spends a lot of time dealing with the issues Stark faces in being the man without a suit, Tony’s sanctuary when things seem too hard to deal with. With the suit gone, Tony is forced to not only fight against the actions of his nemeses Aldrich Killian and the Mandarin, but also the barriers set by himself, the only form of self-preservation he knows. He has become emotionally absent from his loved one Pepper, becoming so absorbed in his work, driven by his desire to protect her. He is an emotional mess, and he’s the first to admit it.
It’s a much more complex character examination than the first two films, with incredibly simplistic development in the first and none whatsoever in the second. His interactions with loner child Harley Keener (Ty Simpkin) are banter bordering on tempestuous bitching, showcasing how adolescent Tony Stark is when things aren’t going his way, and serves as much more than just comic relief, but also a strong criticism of the character himself.
The pacing of the MCU films is a strength of the series: despite different directors helming each film, they are all built and executed perfectly around the same beat, providing a consistent sense of pace. Iron Man 3 is certainly one of the most even of any of the MCU films. Even Aldrich Killian’s exposition-heavy dialogue moves along at a rapid pace, helped by another incredibly strong performance by Guy Pearce, and the most compelling action scenes move along briskly, yet smoothly enough you’re never left wishing scenes went for just that tiny bit longer.
The action sequences are creatively choreographed and filmed, providing a sense of individuality and charm lacking from most MCU entries, and certainly lacking in the first two Iron Man films. The film’s showpiece, a breathtaking battle between Tony Stark’s suits and superhumans, is almost trumped by a chilling attack on his Malibu home, as Tony provokes the Mandarin into open conflict, struggling to cope with the effects of his PTSD, and his own personal fear of the unknown and unseen villain he has no idea how to defeat.
The film is sharp, at times an almost direct satire of the government of its country, yet remains broad enough to maintain the huge financial success of the “Golden Age” of comic book adaptations. Invested heavily in character, Iron Man’s most interesting attribute, director Shane Black ensures his film will remain one of the deepest and compelling instalment in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.