Dir: Shane Black, 2013
Tony Stark, still suffering from the traumatic events of “New York”, is spending every waking hour cultivating his Iron Man suits in what girlfriend Pepper Potts believes an addictive manner. Meanwhile, the United States government are using James Rhodes as the newly-dubbed Iron Patriot to hunt The Mandarin, who is terrorising the US with unexplained explosions. When Stark joins the hunt for the Mandarin, he is forced to confront both his newfound demons and demons he created long ago.
Shane Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout among others, seemed well-suited to tackle a project that served as a third Iron Man outing, a follow-up to The Avengers and the start of Marvel’s Phase Two. Black’s directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang teamed him with Downey Jr and the two certainly had chemistry so where could we go wrong with a blockbuster franchise as assured as Iron Man? Unfortunately, Black delivers a screenplay that resembles an episode of Fringe disproportionately converted to his favoured buddy-cop format.
The Iron Man films have repeatedly stated that Stark and the suit are “one and the same” but Black is all-too keen to separate the two. The scenes involving Tony Stark as he plays detective fail to maintain interest while the Iron Man-heavy battles are too dumb and loud to entertain anyone over the age of six. Black’s attempts to balance the characterisation cause him to fall flat not from over-ambition as much as a misunderstanding of popcorn cinema.
Black manipulates Iron Man Three to his desired genre instead of tailoring the film to his talents as Tim Burton did with Batman and Kenneth Branagh did with Thor. Black is clearly having fun but his black comedy-action doesn’t mesh with the superhero blockbuster. Stark and company ineffectively use guns for extended periods while the genetically enhanced Extremis subjects are repugnantly invincible unless hit with a caustic remark.
The choreography of superhero action that we know and love is inexistent. Stark fights most of his battles suit-less (a dysfunctional attempt to reclaim the character’s humanity?) until the last twenty minutes where the film turns into a grandiose Lethal Weapon 2 meets Robot Wars. Yet the laboured moaning of Tony Stark as he lounges about Tennessee with a ten-year old boy is so horrifically nonchalant that the presence of Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot is sorely missed, as he’s the only character actually doing something.
Whatever emotion the original film was grounded in has been replaced by an erotic advertisement for the digital age. Black castrates the Iron Man character by removing all humanity from the film and instead lacing it with automatons and mutants. The original film portrayed Tony Stark as a flawed man using the technology at his disposal to make amends but now his technology is upgraded to a level of artificial intelligence whereupon anyone can be Iron Man – you simply need the snappy dialogue to be Tony Stark.
And with the dialogue, let’s discuss the trademark Shane Black characteristics that are brought to the piece. Downey Jr delivers the one-liners with the kind of offhanded snide that you’d expect but they don’t have the same zing that Black so often exuberates. The punchlines are pithy but carry no comedic weight, perhaps a drawback of coming off the back of the Joss Whedon-penned Avengers. In addition, any and all classic Downey Jr sarcasm is offered to the detriment of the drama that accompanies the anxiety MacGuffin.
Iron Man Three is a mess and a clear demonstration of a one-hit wonder that’s been revisited too many times. The colour scheme and special effects create the most cinematic Iron Man yet and there’s a nice twist involving a certain character but these merits alone aren’t enough to salvage Iron Man from the Marvel scrap heap. The disaster that was Iron Man 2, whose failure couldn’t have been surpassed, has been duplicated with the minor addition of snarkier dialogue and George Lucas editing techniques. Phase Two leaps off to a horrendous start and November’s Thor: The Dark World will tell if uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was the beginning of the end.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆