What do you do after The Avengers? Once the big party is over, where do you go? – Problematic questions for both Tony Stark and Marvel Studios.
It’s a dilemma both know all too well. Without the scope of an extra-terrestrial playing field, Iron Man 3 marvels in a feeling of bringing things back down to earth, and it’s all the better for it.
The natural studio compulsion is to no doubt go bigger, harder and faster but without his hero friends here, grander is a lengthy reach.
And in recognising the enormity of trying to beat Avengers, Marvel has shown once more that in continued franchise development in the hero universe, they have no peers, well not yet at least.
Phase two initiated then and how. Where it would be conceivable to think that turning it down a notch would prove tricky, Writer/Director Shane Black has turned a potential pitfall on its head to arguably go smaller, but most impressively – closer, to conclude perhaps this part of Tony Stark’s story.
Naturally, Downey Jnr has owned Iron Man so far and arguably The Avengers, but this is every bit about Tony Stark, the Iron Man without the suit.
Separating the man from the can after an assault on Stark’s Malibu home, Marvel’s cheerleader is humbly stripped to mortality once more, having to rely on the same intellect that crafted an escape from caves in Afghanistan.
That assault after Stark’s calling out of nemesis Mandarin comes after sleepless nights and all manner of new tinkering and panic attacks, it’s a darker Stark than seen before, essentially suffering post-traumatic stress and unfamiliar inferiority after brushes with wormholes and death.
Iron Man 3 picks up the pieces superbly with a full-circle story of the evolution of an egotist to a humanist, to try to answer through a journey of retribution the question of whether the man makes the suit or the suit makes the man. Like DC’s Bat, the susceptible man under the metal hood makes for a far more relatable story.
But don’t worry, everyone’s favourite corrosive hero isn’t going soft. Downey excels once more, his put downs as scathing as ever with the midway introduction of youthful tinkerer Harley, an unlikely ally that makes for some warming interplay without Stark betraying his caustic indifference. It also proves a nice mirror for Stark the kid seen in IM2 adding to the feeling of vulnerability outside of the suit but the emotional charge isn’t quite electrified to its full potential.
Black’s deepening twisty plot not only gives a balanced mix of mayhem, laughs and sentiment but also layered bad guys in Mandarin’s (Ben Kingsley) full frontal campaign of terror and Guy Pearce’s superb right hand evil genius Aldrich Killian, creator of Extremis, a brain enhancer capable of repairing lopped off limbs, generating a genuinely menacing Terminator like army capable of getting Anthony and Co’ very hot under the Iron collar.
A sub-plot of mysterious bombings seemingly impossible to execute is a brilliant irony on former warlord Stark’s legacy, with damaged patriot’s part of the war machine he was once a key cog in.
The renamed War Machine now repainted red, white and blue as Iron Patriot and anchored by Lt. Col James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) provides the welcome buddy antics that Black has founded his stainless reputation on ever since Lethal Weapon and his other seminal action vehicles, not to mention his other Downey Jnr. collaboration Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Assisted by Drew Pearce their screenplay is a perfect fit for the Iron Man/Downey brand of bombastic bravado providing as much punchy prose to equal the eye-popping action.
The intimate focus on Stark matters occasionally labours proceedings, stealing away further potential for action outside of the standout set pieces of the Malibu home ocean descent and the rocket fuelled finale, but it’s a frantic enough end that qualifies as a more than satisfactory pay off.
The change in tone still leaves room for fun and lots of it with support from Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) playing a larger part as Tony’s rock, more so than ever when getting to suit up.
Frantic, fun and very ferrous, for Marvel Studios’ first third there’s proof that bigger isn’t always better and often, smarter. Rather than beginning to rust Iron Man 3 is even shinier than ever.