Bare with me here, it's been a little while since I've written and during that time, some news came about and I also happened to catch a little movie... What movie was that you ask? I'll give you a hint... It involves some guy who happens to be a... Yeah it's obviously Iron Man 3!
... And it's also spoilerific, so you've been warned! If you haven't seen it, read no further!
Shane Black is the director of Iron Man 3, as he infuses his style in that the Marvel realm and crafts a film that not only functions as a great start to Phase 2, a great follow-up to The Avengers and a great Iron Man film... But it also works as a great standalone superhero film, one that's very unique to many others out there.
This is more than a good start for Marvel's second phase of films, and it only hints that the likes of Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy will surprise in similar ways and give us superhero films that others aren't giving us. Iron Man 3 is a different breed of superhero film. One that the marketing masterfully hid; it really is a unique and exciting film.
So what happens to the armored superhero in this installment of the series? It's a few days before Christmas and Tony Stark isn't the same man after the events of The Avengers, he has anxiety attacks about the big battle and his near-death experience when he sent a nuke to stop the Chitauri mothership whilst ending up in outer space. He spends his time building several Iron Man suits and testing a new prototype suit (Mark 42) that he can summon part by part. This makes for some clever moments and gags, as seen in the opening ten minutes or so. His obsession with building these suits greatly affects his relationship with Pepper Potts, who is very involved in the story this time around, going as far as actually fighting and suiting up! As Tony and Pepper's problems comes to a head, a new and powerful threat is after the United States: The Mandarin.
The character and writing taps into post-9/11 fears, particularly with the Mandarin's use of videos used to scare and shock the American people. The Mandarin has all the makings of an extremist, using the past atrocities that occurred in the country to justify his actions while also denouncing American "knock offs" such as fortune cookies on the side. The Mandarin is the leader of the Ten Rings, the terrorist group that captured Stark in the first film. From the trailers, it seems as if the man is out to personally destroy Tony Stark while also teaching the country and the world a series of lessons... Well, that was well-hidden by the marketing.
Our real antagonist is the bitter and vengeful Aldrich Killian. We first see him as a disabled and seemingly strange super-fan of Stark attending a New Year's Eve party in Switzerland back in 1999 where Stark and botanist Maya Hansen happen to be. Stark narrates, basically telling us that a big mistake he made at that party came back to haunt him... Big time. Aldrich Killian is essentially Buddy Pine from The Incredibles (all roads lead to Pixar!), he met a man he admired only to be turned down by him, but in this case Stark was a genuine prick to him. He offered to pitch to Stark and Hansen while also presenting them with work for his company, Advanced Idea Mechanics. At the party, we see Hansen's invention Extremis, which helps those with disabilities and regenerates body parts. It's very similar to what Dr. Curt Connors uses in The Amazing Spider-Man, but it's a small similarity.
Tony never sees Killian again until the events of this film, and the man is dead set on ruining Stark inside and out. The Mandarin is a mere decoy he's using to fool the country and his mysterious attacks - one of which severely injures now-security chief Happy Hogan - drive Stark to publicly warn the Mandarin while also foolishly giving him his address. Stark only realizes his fatal error after Killian's Extremis-injected henchmen nearly kill him, Pepper Potts and a visiting Hansen whilst destroying his Malibu home. Without JARVIS working and all of his tech locked away, he must use his wits to find the people responsible for everything... What ensues makes for a very exciting and sometimes even unpredictable film that goes for a different direction whilst still feeling like a genuine Iron Man film.
This is where Black uses comedy where it works while also upping the stakes. The Mandarin twist has already gotten on some nerves, but having not read the comics, I thought the twist was brilliant. The early sequences where we believe he's the main baddie are really effective and I do wonder what the film would've been like had there not been any twist. As some have speculated, maybe the real Mandarin is out there and that Killian or no one else aren't aware of his existence. That all being said, the sequence where we see who he really is came as a shock but it was a funny, well-done part. Ben Kingsley has a load of fun here.
But back to Killian, he's a real jerk and the screenplay gets you to really hate him. Guy Pearce gives him a suitably menacing demeanor while also making him come off as slimy and just plain repulsive. What was also really cool was how they handled the henchmen, the people injected with Extremis. They have strange fiery powers and they are almost invincible, as we see in the fight sequences. James Badge Dale plays henchman Eric Savin (who is Coldblood in the comics) and he's also good, along with Stephanie Szostak. The soldiers are convincing, and they function as pretty tough obstacles for Tony and later Rhodes.
James Rhodes, surprisingly, doesn't really take any names as War Machine/Iron Patriot. I would've liked to have seen more of that, especially in the climax, but since they use the suit for other things in the story, I can't really complain. Maybe in The Avengers 2, if he's in it, or a fourth Iron Man if they get around to making one. Don Cheadle is great in this, and the reason why he wasn't so good in the last one was because... Well, let's face it. Iron Man 2 had a weak script. Here, he's working with better stuff! This what Rhodes should've been in the last film so if he's in Avengers 2, we'll get to see how awesome he can be. One thing I loved about his scenes was why War Machine was renamed Iron Patriot, the jab at focus groups and political correctness was priceless.
Another new character is a 10-year-old boy named Harley, who Stark meets and trusts after his life's work is taken away. When I first saw that Stark would be teaming up with a kid in a behind-the-scenes look, I was a bit worried but Black handles it perfectly. Harley is a likable character and you immediately feel bad for the lonely kid. He makes for a great companion rather than an annoying comic relief device (though at times he can be a bit of a brat, such as in the scene where he triggers Stark's anxiety attacks after Stark tells him to stop), the dialogue between him and Stark works very very well.
What else did I like very much? I like how the story was handled. Everything was wrapped in enigma, making this Iron Man more of a mystery/detective film. This is good because, again, Marvel is branching out and not repeating what made everything else work. Iron Man 2 seemed grounded even though the first's ending implied that the sky was the limit, Iron Man 3 takes to the skies and does what the first and the other MCU films don't do. After all, what would Stark do without his suits and tech? How it's handled is brilliant, from his construction of makeshift weapons to his work inside of a news van. The way he fights without tech, particularly in a sequence in a small town in Tennessee, is also pulled off in inventive ways. Lots of unexpected surprises and twists make it a real winner. There's also a great amount of build-up that leads to two exciting climaxes that manage to throw more surprises at you.
The film is not without depth, as the story is extending upon Steve Rogers' criticisms of the man in The Avengers. Tony's selfishness and the events of this film come to change him for the better, making for a suitable ending and also adding more strong development to a character that we've seen in three feature-length films. This could've been another "Iron Man saves the day" adventure, but instead it's a great redemption film and one that actually wants to develop the character rather than not do anything with him rather than just having him fly around and stopping bad guys. The Avengers got praise because of this, and I feel that Iron Man 3 builds upon that and makes for a great character arc. I hope Thor and Captain America's sequel do the same.
Other than that, the film delivers the goods. The action is very exciting, how everything unfolds adds to that excitement. The acting is great from everyone involved, and Black's style works well despite the fact that he was essentially directing a PG-13 Marvel film that's to be viewed by family audiences. But as he put it, he was making a film that was suitable for the under 17 crowd while still keeping the edge. This may sound ridiculous, but I'd love to see him do that for a PG-rated Disney or Pixar film... Crazy dream, I know!
Iron Man 3 satisfies in many ways and opens up new doors for Marvel's ever-growing cinematic universe. Exciting possibilities are coming, and this film already showing what plans the studio has for audiences around the world. As a film on its own, it's a great action film that mixes in mystery and lots of twists.