Sunday 28 April 2013

Iron Man Three

Through A Glass Starkly

Iron Man Three
USA/China 2013
Directed by Shane Black
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: Tiny, slight but sharp, splinters of 
spoilers working towards the heart of this review.

Please Note: The posters advertising this movie refer to the title as Iron Man 3 whereas, on the actual print of the film I saw playing at UK cinemas last week, it was definitely Iron Man Three... which is how I will refer to it in this review. 

You know, I really have always liked screenwriter Shane Black’s work a heck of a lot. Specifically, I loved his writing on the first Lethal Weapon movie, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. When he got his directing gig on another gem he’d written (adapted from an old Mike Shayne adventure) called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I was blown away all over again. I think this guy is a true artist when it comes to popular culture and I look forward to him getting his Doc Savage movie off the ground (as long as it’s set sometime in the thirties that is). Which is why I kinda regret some of the things that I feel I need to write here to give Iron Man Three a fair shake of the stick.

I also really loved the first Iron Man movie. I think it’s certainly one of the best two or three super-hero movies ever made and it delivers some serious and sometimes morally challenging ideas with the grace, delivery and style of a 1930s screwball comedy, especially in the scenes of dialogue between Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr) and Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). I couldn’t say enough good things about that first movie when it was initially released and that’s not really changed in terms of the first one now. The second movie though... well the Stark/Potts relationship took a backseat for the most part and ultimately, I felt kind of let down by it and, though it pains me to say it, I feel the same about Iron Man Three in some regards.

Now please don’t get me wrong here... I thought Iron Man Three, the fifth film to feature Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man (so it’s really Iron Man 5 if you’re counting people!) had some fantastic stuff in it and some of Shane’s writing in the smaller, dialogue filled sequences is absolutely brilliant. In fact, on paper, there’s really not much not to like. The main title character is changed by the events of this movie, which may well have some sort of impact in future films and some new concepts are introduced such as not having to be in the Iron Man suit to be able to pilot it, for one, and then the next logical jump from that being that you can command a whole army of empty suits into your personal crack unit... that was a nice idea (although how they top this kind of thing in future movies I don’t know).

It’s absolutely filled to the brim with some nice moments such as Happy (played again by the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Jon Favreau) being addicted to the TV show Downton Abbey and the brilliant portrayal of The Mandarin by Ben Kingsley which, if you know as little about the screen incarnation of this character as I did, will be quite a pleasant surprise to you when Tony Stark’s character gets to met him in the flesh. The movie also deals with concepts such as a lead character who inadvertently makes his own demons (which I think is a road we’ve kind of been down on before with Iron Man but it seems to work pretty well here) and also dealing with the psychological consequences of the heroic “save and fall” that Tony Stark pulled off in the fourth Iron Man film, The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble). This is all good stuff and there’s enough good writing on show to tie everything from Tony Stark’s past screen exploits together in a neat and appropriate package, which is just what Shane Black does.

I think the main problems, for me, were the deadly dull bits between the strong dialogue sequences and the sometimes not so kick ass action sequences... and also the ongoing issue that you need to keep having foes who are able to take on Iron Man and try to get them as credible as you can within the silver screen edition of the Marvel Universe that nobody questions it. It was always done fairly “real world” by using people with technically brilliant weapons or weaponised armour in the first two movies, but here Shane Black takes a more organic, “more human than human” approach with ex Neighbours TV soap star Guy Pearce playing a scientist who has invented a drug to give people the ability to grow limbs back (The Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man really needs to work with this guy, I think) and also to turn them into either super-powered villains or, in some cases, powerful bombs. I guess this could have been handled credibly in a kind of “4-colour-Cronenberg” kind of way but, alas, the flashy, orange CGI work and over the top nature of the super-powered beings in this did seem to scratch a little at the credible surface of even a movie that has characters such as Iron Man running around in them. I guess, since The Avengers, all bets are off when it comes to credibility of the antagonists but I would have preferred him to face a more realistic set of villains in this one. I guess I can see why they felt they needed to do this, though.

The editing was something I lament on this movie, especially in a long battle towards the end of the story (which is where most of the action is located anyway... towards the end of the film). I did have trouble following the speed of the cuts and found placing the shots which flashed before my eyes in this sequence into some kind of coherent order fairly challenging, to be fair. As a result, the final fight in the movie didn’t really hit any emotional high points for me (which are often best done in isolation anyway) and I did find some of the footage kinda incomprehensible as I tried to follow along. And despite that, I still feel the movie needed about 20 - 30 minutes of judicious pruning in certain areas when it comes down to it. A shorter, tighter film may have worked better.

Another weakness of these particular Marvel branded movies is, of course, the consistency of the musical scores...

Marvel have done a heck of a lot of things right in the last five years or so when it comes to the specific subset of the Marvel Universe films they are bringing out as opposed to films series like Spider-Man and X-Men from other studios. They’ve gone for mostly great scripts, well thought out choices of director (Kenneth Branagh for Thor for instance, was one of a few strokes of genius) and they are inhabiting all these movies with a strong set of well established, “serious” actors who lend a certain amount of weight to their roles and who are not, as often happens, ignoring the ensemble nature of the way the characters all need to work together. This is all good stuff, of course.

Why then, are they completely compromising all that by not giving each subset of heroes who make up The Avengers their own, string of signature scores? Take this particular sequence of Iron Man films, for instance. We’ve had three stand alone Iron Man movies (not including The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers within this example, because it just makes the water muddier when it comes to music) and three separate composers scoring each one with completely different leitmotifs for the characters. Seriously, people, we had Ramin Djawadi, John Debney on the second and now Brian Tyler on the third... all of them are excellent composers and all of them have done brilliant and appropriate scores for these films... but none of them match up with each other. Why?

The only stab Marvel made at musical continuity was getting Captain America: The First Avenger composer Alan Silvestri back for The Avengers, but this didn’t do much justice for the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man characters in terms of melodic value and binding the characters together with an integration of those specific melodies. So Iron Man Three does, unfortunately, continue the trend of completely ignoring the musical continuity of the character in every way except style (there’s usually a lot of percussion in the Iron Man movies, for sure).

Having moaned about all that, though, and my general dissatisfaction with certain elements of the film... there are still a lot of really great scenes throughout the running time which are more than worth paying the price of admission for. I’ve already mentioned Ben Kingsley’s scene stealing performance as... well, anyway, his few but amazing scenes. In addition to this you have the Tony/Pepper scenes still fairly sharp and witty in the dialogue and you also have a teenage character for some of the movie who really reminds us that, although it’s never really in great shape, Tony Stark does have a heart and is a real human being who is trying to do the right thing. And I still love the character’s arrogance and the way that his self awareness of his personality informs the audience that you can’t take this guy at what’s showing on the surface... a real testament to Rob Downey Jr’s continued excellence at playing this, and many other, characters.

So I’m done with this one. It’s not the best but even so, it’s a heck of a ride and although you might find yourself dissatisfied with certain sequences, there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff on show and the director, production team and studio should feel proud that they’ve been able to deliver an above average super-hero movie again. It’s not that easy to do.

One last thing... this film continues the trend of the movies having an additional scene after the last drop of the end credits play out... and it’s pretty cool and I was pleased to see one of my favourite living actors sharing some screen time with Robert Downey Jr again. Let’s just say that, if you were a fan of the last movie starring this character... you will want to stay seated for this last, little sequence.


  1. You know I can't really argue with anything you said about the movie. I think you are right in many aspects and have even touched on some that I haven't thought of. I do like the movie. It looks and feels different at some parts as the other 2. It has more heart, but not loosing that cockiness which we love RDJR for! lol He seems to have found his way, without revealing it all to everybody else. Only Pepper may know him truly. I loved the scenes with the kid and in a way makes you wonder if this was Tony when he was that age. Of course Tony realizing that himself very quickly after meeting that boy. I really hadn't thought about the soundtrack much, but understand what you mean and yes I do think that Iron Man should have a score that fits him and is repeated throughout all the Iron Man movies. Hope you understand what I mean with that. I have noticed too that fight scenes nowadays are a jumble of fast action, which is hard to follow. I mean you concentrate on one thing and within a second you are taken to a different one and it can go back and forth. In the end you can't remember much of what you have seen. Too fast, too much, too confusing. All in all it is still a nice movie. I did not read or still read the Iron Man comics, but my oldest son's best friend does and he was with us. He could not get over what they did to the Mandarin. As you already pointed out Ben Kingsley did a wonderful job with this character. But all my son's BF could talk about afterwards, was how they made him into this comedic character. Now note that he didn't really say he did a bad job at it! lol I guess he just prefers him as the mean, bad character as it is portrait in the comics? Anyway, it was a enjoyable movie! Just thought I let you know my little opinion! ;-)

  2. Hi Petra.

    Thanks for stopping by and reading.

    Yeah, I can understand the point about The Mandarin. I've only read two Iron Man comics proper... the very first appearance from Tales of Suspense and then another issue from not too long after, where they gave him the traditional yellow and red armour.

    I've gotten so used to EVERY superhero movie ever made compromising the strength of the adaptation that I just try to ignore it these days. If I had my way, Daredevil would have been wearing his original yellow costume, Hulk would have grey skin and Nick Fury would have been fighting right alongside his Howling commandos as Sgt. Fury in the first Captain America movie. Plus, all these films would be set in the same year in which they were first written.

    So yeah, I do take on all your points. I just hope Shane Black treats Doc Savage gently when he starts work on the new movie.

    Thanks for reading and commenting lady!

    1. Shoot reading your reply just made me think of something! The powers to be are banking on the audience that hasn't read the comics or books!! This way they can pretty much do things they way they want it instead of sticking with how the character got introduced to the people. Hence your points about Daredevil having yellow costume and Hulk having grey skin? See I only know the Hulk from the series with Bill Bixby. Does he really have grey skin? Anyway, I also agree with having them set in the year they where first written in. I mean look at Captain America (don't know when it was written, but think the time it played was probably really close to it if not spot on?) I mean these Hero's didn't just come out of the blue from nowhere. They came from years back, originating as comics or possibly book. Sorry don't know much about comics! So what is wrong with bringing them out in that time! Besides if they are smart they have many, many years that they can evolve the character in, to accommodate getting to our time now. Technology in movies is so advanced that even a movie playing in the 30's can be a really action packed and exciting flick. To think the possibilities!! So here again I am agreeing with you. I think starting back in years can make the people that know where the character originates, fall back in love with on a new level and for years to come! Like I said was just thinking about all that! ;-) xox

  3. Hi Petra.

    Okay. Captain America was originally created and set in the second world war. So that bit is right. In 1939, The (original) Human Torch and Sub Mariner strips also ran. Sub and Torch occasionally crossed over and battled each other. In the 70s, a strip set in the 1940s second world war was written called The Invaders. A team of superheros which included Captain America, Bucky Barnes, The Human Torch and The Sub Mariner.

    Also in the 40s were Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes. Some of the Howling Commandoes themselves turn up in the Captain America movie. Nick Fury has very obviously been relocated in the new movies to modern times, among other things. However, when spy movies were the rage in the early sixties, Sgt. Fury became Nick Fury, Agent of Shield. The characters never really age much in comics (like most literature characters as they evolve over the years) and probably they didn't realise these characters would be popular enough to run and run anyway.

    Daredevil had a yellow costume for a few issues before switching to the red. He was created in the early sixties. The Incredible Hulk was accidentally coloured with grey skin (the printer read the instructions wrong on the very first print run) for the first issue, switching to green skin for the next five or so issues before getting cancelled (and revived later). He was also an early sixties character.

    I used to be really into comics (don't buy them anymore... don't have the room or the money for all the quality titles now on the market) but I used to know a fair bit about them about 15 - 20 years ago when I got back into them again when I had RSI (and consequently couldn't even hold a paperback book open for longer than a few seconds).

    Yeah, I'd much rather watch a superhero movie set in period. Batman and Superman in the 30s. Spiderman and Thor in the 60s. But it costs more money on sets and props and a lot of today's kids (who are the repeat watchers who get the money into the box office) aren't that into it.

    But, yeah, it would be nice.