While we film fans, die hard comic aficionados and non, can thank Jon Favreau (and Robert Downey Jr.) for bringing Iron Man to life in an entirely fulfilling and believable way. That said, there were more than a few problems with its formulaic sequel. So, sometimes, it’s necessary to bring some fresh legs into the game to help the series go out with a win. For those of you not sure who Shane Black is, check out Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Monster Squad, The Last Boy Scout and of course Lethal Weapon…we’ll wait. There’s a common set of themes running though all his movies and without sounding like it’s a boring formula, or on the flip side something esoteric, Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black film up, down and sideways. Sure he wrote and directed it but it’s more than that. It’s rare that a film can embody and idealize the spirit of the person behind it but Iron Man 3 most certainly does.
Shane Black brings more fun, tons of humor, style and snark to the Marvel Universe (in an Avengers film or otherwise) than anyone has previously. Of course Robert Downey Jr. nails every single line he delivers but it’s only with Black’s material and the entire cast to parry against that Downey shines being sarcastic, condescending, elitist and then heartwarming all in one breath. Iron Man 2 felt more than a little underwhelming and flat (granted this film isn’t perfect either) so upping the ante for this third film Shane Black succeeds in making a biting and engaging comic book film even if there’s a buddy cop film just waiting to rear its head. If you’ve seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and love Lethal Weapon then you are in for a treat because this has the same intangible feel to it. Not selling this effort short by any means but Iron Man 3 is pretty much the same as Shane Black’s other films only with some colorful tech/full body hardware to compliment the colorfully witty dialog and hilarious (and very near scathing) banter.
What Black does with his film, especially the liberties taken with the villains, is actually quite bold and ballsy though it may really tick off some fans of the comics. We’ve seen other films become bloated, sluggish messes because there’s “too many cooks in the kitchen” regarding the villains *cough, Spider-Man 3 cough* but even though we get some noteworthy headlining talent Iron Man 3 really goes for broke while it somehow avoids being cumbersome. Giving credit where it’s due the success in balancing the story and characters goes to Black even if he pulled the rug out from under us regarding one of the villains.
As far as heroes go, inner demons are nothing new (e.g. the “Demon In A Bottle” storyline) but one element most signature and noteworthy to the Iron Man universe is that Tony fights battles on both external and internal fronts. It’s interesting that his foes (if it’s not Tony getting in his own way or being a danger to himself), are nearly doppelgangers only they’re just a hair smarter, stronger or more intimidating. Whether it’s Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer, or even Ivan Vanko it seems like all of these Iron Man movies showcase Tony fighting an equally dapper alter-ego in addition to himself. Case in point, Guy Pearce raises the bar and does a stellar job playing Aldrich Killian as he fleshes out the Extremis plotline. It’s far from a mustache twirly role but still something that is way more comic bookish (his swagger and his powers) than any and all of Tony’s 42 varied and highly stylized Mark suits…in case you’re wondering, yes, all 42 of them are in the film.
What is inviting, refreshing and satisfying about this third film is that we see more of the human in Iron Man and that makes Tony’s character even more three-dimensional. Further it shows us a richness behind the superficial fast-talking facade. Many times a hero is nothing without his gadgets or skill set but through a couple impressive (and humanizing) scenes/sequences Black’s story helps separate the man from the machine showing that Tony and Iron Man are two separate entities; while they are symbiotic they can co-exist and operate independently.
As usual, Stark has no filter on his genius brain and no quarter when it comes to things he says. But this story puts Tony in situations that make him the most human and vulnerable. Further he ends up really needing help, quite a lot in fact, even if he’ll be the last one on the planet to admit it. There are a lot of fun scenes with a temporary pint-sized sidekick (recalling the charming Goyo/Jackman chemistry in Real Steel) and it also gives more depth to Tony as a person. These little contrived scenes compliment the countless, if hopeless exchanges with Pepper about how Tony needs to grow up. Just when you think he might have a change of heart, like a reflex comes the unflinching sarcasm that makes Tony so delightful and detestable at the same time.
If Shane Black, with his story and direction, is a breath of fresh air, the same and more can be said for composer Brian Tyler who seems to come completely out of left field. He knows what Shane Black is after and crafts a pulse-pounding and incredibly epic sounding score to match the film’s tone and ambitions (seriously, take an hour and have a listen to the whole album). It’s big, bold and gives immeasurable vitality to the film. It has hints of James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer and even Michael Giacchino in some delicious riffs that hark back to the fun and energetic films of the sixties and seventies. Easily the most full-bodied sound of any of the Avengers films and it would be a crime if Tyler wasn’t asked to follow up his work in future Marvel installments.
It’s exciting to see a talent like Shane Black making films again. He takes familiar tropes (like the “buddy cop” plot element that here is used sparingly and organically), gives it just enough spin to make it fun and almost entirely original. It’s asking a lot for the final leg in a trilogy (intended or not) to be the strongest, as historically that’s rarely been seen, but Shane Black and company deliver the goods and then some. Without question he sure would be welcomed back as the scribe/director for any Marvel picture from here on in. At the end of the day or, better, the 2 hour and 10 minute run time (including the expected but unexpectedly hilarious post-credit scene) Iron Man 3 is, hands down, the best of the series.