Much like Tony Stark, Marvel Studios have been tinkering with Iron Man for over five years now, striving to upgrade and improve upon the previous model. In some ways, the success rate of the franchise mirrors Stark’s own cinematic journey. The first Iron Man (2008) was an unexpected hit, delighting cinemagoers whilst sowing the seeds for Marvel’s ‘Phase One’. Iron Man 2 (2010) saw both protag and film succumb to expectation, whilst Avengers Assemble (2012) took the character’s popularity to new heights. Enter Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 (2013) – a fun, action-packed superhero yarn that’s arguably Marvel’s best solo instalment to date.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is struggling to adapt to life after the game-changing events of Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble. Unable to sleep and prone to anxiety attacks, his increasingly alarming behaviour is beginning to concern his best pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and taint his relationship with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). However, Stark is forced into action once more when an attack by new villain The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) severely injures a close friend. Thus, with Iron Man 3, Black and co-scribe Drew Pearce present us with a smart, back-to-basics narrative which puts Stark’s ingenuity firmly back in the limelight.
With our former-playboy philanthropist deprived of almost all of his toys, it’s an ideal opportunity to see Stark’s brilliant mind at work, whilst also allowing for a sizeable amount of introspection on the character. It’s almost cliché to say it these days, but it really is difficult to imagine anybody other than Robert Downey Jr. inhabiting the role of the man beneath the armour. Put simply, he’s the main reason why the character is still so likeable five years after his cinematic debut, and in Iron Man 3 produces his best turn yet. What’s more, the scenes with unlikely ally Harley (Ty Simpkins) are among the best in the film, with the pair both immensely fun to watch. Indeed, as the young actor remarks, they’re “connected”.
When the suit does come into play, the action scenes – bolstered by a swelling score from Brian Tyler – are imaginative, funny and spectacular. A sequence where Tony must make do with only a gauntlet and an armoured leg is a riot, but the thrilling showdown is easily the strongest finale in a Marvel solo film to date. There’s more than enough repulsors to go around too, with both Cheadle and Paltrow getting in on the act. As for who our hero faces off against, however, whilst Black and Pearce deserve praise for bravely putting their own stamp on the villain, here they’ve perhaps taken one too many liberties.
Those with any knowledge of how The Mandarin is depicted in comic books will know just how iconic a villain he is – Iron Man’s Joker if you will – but whilst watching you never get the feeling that you’re watching Stark battle his greatest foe. That’s not an indictment on the performances however; Kingsley gets to put his acting repertoire to very good use. Great performances, fantastic dialogue, and impressive action make Iron Man 3 easily recommendable. Just as he did in 2008 with Phase One, the armoured avenger has gotten Marvel’s next slate of films off to a great start.