Superhero films aren’t even superhero films anymore. Superhero films used to be straight-forward, with ninety-percent of the movie starring the man in the tights. It was definitely much more about the heroes rise, the man in the mask rather than the man behind the mask. Even the most recent superhero films, as recent as Raimi’s Spiderman, was much more about the superhero than the alter-ego.
Marvel and Nolan changed thing. Batman Begins is the story of Bruce Wayne and the transformation into Batman becomes secondary and really just the final part of the film. The same can be said for the first Iron Man, which is a success because its much more about Tony Stark than the suit.
Robert Downey Jr transformed that character and made him the likable, clever, fast-talking and cocky billionaire that also wears a supersuit. If Iron Man was actually about the superhero wearing the suit and we had a film where we watched a robot beat up bigger robots, then it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful or as entertaining to watch. It would have been Transformers!
Iron Man 3 takes this idea a step further. Its much more about Tony Stark the character than Iron Man the superhero. It actually feels like he is in the suit for less than thirty minutes of the movie and its a better, much more original superhero film because of it.
In fact, it plays much more like a thriller. It’s about a man alone, stripped down to the bare elements, rediscovering who he is and what made him heroic and brave in the first place. It’s Tony Stark at his most raw, since the cave anyway, and Downey Jr plays it fantastically.
It’s also a stark (mind the pun) reminder of exactly how “super” Tony Stark actually is. It’s not just a billionaire that happens to have the money to build a supersuit. He’s a genius who can create things beyond people’s wildest dreams. He made that suit alone in a cave and Iron Man 3 brings that back home and puts Stark in that similar situation and it gives the movie a very fresh, down-to-earth feel.
It’s that down-to-earth feel that also makes it feel closer to the comics than ever before. The Avengers was huge, with wormholes, the Hulk and an alien invasion. It couldn’t be topped with one heroes story so just like the comics, after a huge crossover event, you start again, small and building from the ground-up. Iron Man 3 makes it a character movie again and its a very clever move.
That doesn’t mean it lacks the action and huge set-pieces. The destruction of Stark’s house is a great action sequence; brilliantly staged and put together, as is the final battle (which was surprisingly ruined by the trailer). It has blistering action and plenty of suit action, as well as much more Stark out of the suit, fending for himself and showing that he can be a hero without his gadgets and protection.
The final act of the film also demonstrates a surprising action hero in Don Cheadle. He had enough to do in the suit in Iron Man 2 but as Rhodey in Iron Man 3, he actually gets to demonstrate his military training and adept skills as a soldier. He more than matches Downey Jr in the hero stakes and also has fantastic, buddy banter which lightens the film brilliantly.
The humour is still there throughout. Tony Stark is still as real and biting as ever, with a quick one-liner and clever quip when the time calls for it. He gets great scenes, not just with Rhodey but also Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, a small boy who Tony needs part way through the film and also the villains that he has to face.
The villains are the master stroke of the movie. Iron Man has always lacked that threatening villain, always relying on the idea of a “another Iron Man” rather than something much more original. Ben Kingsley plays a very edgy, dark terrorist in the Mandarin and the support he has, powered by Extremis, that gives Stark something different to battle. It also has some great twists and amazing moments that nobody will see coming.
The more I write about it, the more I change my mind about the rating. I love Iron Man 1 and walked out of the cinema thinking that this was close but not quite as good as the original. The more I reflect on it, the more I think that this may just match the original, by taking what that movie does fantastically and building on it. Add to that the fact that it came after the biggest superhero event ever, and Iron Man 3 is actually quite an achievement as a third installment and a continuation of the biggest superhero franchise (and movie universe) ever.
Overall, Iron Man 3 is a triumph for Marvel who shows that you can follow the Avengers without topping the action and the spectacle. By making it a character driven piece, it is much closer to the comic book version of Tony Stark and his supersuit. It does give fantastic action, huge set-pieces and able support from Cheadle and an unbelievable performance from Kingsley. Not sure it quite matches the first movie, but for what it achieves as part of the Marvel Universe franchise, it is a real success for the comic book titans.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)