Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle, William Sadler, Miguel Ferrer, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak and Ty Simpkins.
Writers: Drew Pearce and Shane Black.
Director: Shane Black.
Though the top brass at Marvel Studios and their new Disney cohorts are positioning the third Iron Man instalment as a four-quadrant ‘Avengers’-size blockbuster, writer/director Shane Black’s underwhelming take on Tony Stark’s heroic alter-ego is very much a fanboy’s-own adventure.
Despite a central character steeped in cutting-edge technology, Iron Man 3 creaks through an overly familiar structure and blah tropes that hurtle the series back into the world of 80s action flicks. Brought on board to punch up leading man Robert Downey Jr’s smart-mouth dialogue between scenes of generic mayhem, Black achieves a modicum of success with some well-played one-liners. If Iron Man 3 outdoes the first two instalments in any significant way, it is with a welcome and surprising shot of non-Downey inspired humour in the form of Ben Kingsley’s Bin Laden-esque bad guy, The Mandarin.
But there are too many moments that recall Black’s past works (most famously, Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero and The Last Boy Scout, as well as punching-up tough-guy talk on Predator, The Hunt for Red October and Battle Los Angeles, too name just a few). Those familiar with his over-played beats will recognise such clichéd tools as the smart-mouthed kid sidekick (here, played well by Ty Simpkins), the hero’s fractured mental state (in one of several nods to the events in The Avengers, Stark has PTSD-like anxiety attacks), a cartoonish villain prone to monologue-ing (an OTT Guy Pearce) and the necessity for our protagonist to hit rock bottom (here, represented by snowy, small-town America) before ascending once again to full hero status.
Where Black falls noticeably short is in his depiction of the franchise’s key relationship between Stark and Pepper Potts (a game but under-served Gwyneth Paltrow). Keeping the pair separate for much of the film robs the mechanical vision of much needed humanity. Oddly, Black keeps the principal characters in different corners for long stretches – Favreau’s Happy Hogan is taken out of the action early-on; Don Cheadles’ own iron-suited soldier, War Machine, is off in Pakistan seeking out insurgents. Even Stark is separated from his suit for much of the films mid-section (not unlike the recent third instalment of The Dark Knight Rises, during which Bruce Wayne spent a long time sans suit and which resembles Iron Man 3 in its portrayal of a troubled tech-heavy hero).
Action set-pieces are top-tier, though exhibit no particular auteuristic vision (unlike, say, those of Black’s longtime collaborator, John McTiernan, in his heyday). A helicopter attack on Stark’s home (previewed heavily in the trailer) represents desktop effects work par excellence; a drama aboard Air Force One allows for some old-fashioned stunt work and green-screening; the hero-villain standoff finale has a been-there-done-that blandness. The scenes, like the rest of Shane Black’s perfunctory, fatigued film, will suffice for the fans who have to have their regular cinematic superhero fix, but will leave others generally unmoved.