Iron Man 3 is the first ever season-specific superhero movie. The whole story is set at Christmas, and popular Christmas songs are played several times throughout the film. I’m unsure as to whether the film was intended for a December 2012 or 2013 release, but it was almost certainly one of the two. Then again, maybe Shane Black just wanted to make another film set at Christmas. Almost all the films written by Black feature Christmas, along with a hilarious voiceover by the main character. Iron Man 3 is no different, and Robert Downey Jr’s voiceover begins before the red Marvel logo even appears on screen. It’s a wonderfully well-written voiceover, featuring all the usual stutters and corrections we have come to expect and love from Downey’s Tony Stark. Despite these familiar vocal features, Stark is a very different man when the film begins (or, ten minutes in, after a 1999 prologue). His relationship with Pepper Potts is more intense, he has far more free time (no longer being the CEO of Stark Industries) and he is unknowingly suffering from PTSD following the events of last year’s The Avengers (Assemble).
Speaking of that film, nobody expected Iron Man 3 to top it, or even match its brilliance, wit, visual beauty and charm. Therefore, I shouldn’t have felt, whilst watching Iron Man 3, that I was being let down. I have become so used to going to see a Disney/Marvel film that is purely a trailer for Avengers (Thor, Iron Man II, Captain America), that when I see one with zero Easter eggs, hidden plot hints or props and only 1, short, and irrelevant appearance by another Avenger (Nick Fury isn’t even in this film), I feel let down as a fan. Considering Shane Black had written the script before Avengers was finished filming, the humour in the film couldn’t be more different to what Whedon gave us. In Avengers, all the best jokes were related to the already-known characters’ personality traits, and their relationships with one another. The jokes in this are far less specific to the series, and are mostly based upon current popular culture or just generic old fun!
Many critics have stated that this doesn’t feel like a step back down the ladder from Avengers, but rather a film on an equally epic level. I disagree strongly, and unlike Avengers, which felt like the height of last year’s Summer movie season, this feels like an introduction, on only a slightly larger scale than Iron Man 2 and Thor. Unfortunately, I don’t think any ‘bigger-feeling’ films will be released this Summer, and this really was my (and BuzzHub’s) most anticipated film of 2013. The reason for this lack of Avengers-level awesomeness isn’t the lack of other heroes, but the lack of a large threat for Tony. It’s like watching Earth’s Mightiest Hero save a kitten from a tree. From the start of the film, when Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin starts broadcasting terrifying propaganda videos on US television, it’s clear he is simply a crazed madman who wants to get his way, not the threat to human existence posed by Loki and the Chitauri. He’s still a far more sinister villain than Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash and his canary, but his Earthly origins cause him to not be particularly threatening.
The messages explored in the film in relation to The Mandarin are unexpectedly interesting and relevant. His thrillingly-shot TV appearances feature discussion of the US’s constant theft of Chinese images and ideas (Graumann’s Theatre, which he destroys in an early bombing scene, and Fortune Cookies) and transformation of them into gaudy, ugly, vain creations. This isn’t something you would expect to see in a Disney-distributed film featuring a heroic character called Iron Patriot, and comes as a pleasantly intellectual surprise. Another intelligent scene comes when Tony is in Tennessee, abandoned by his friends and robot butler Jarvis after his house is attacked by The Mandarin. He has teamed up with a young boy (played wonderfully by soon-to-be-a-star Ty Simpkins) and, at Christmas, together they visit the site of a suicide bomb attack that occurred in the quaint town years before. The atomic shadows left as a result of the bombing astound Tony, and the boy explains the spiritual reason given by the townsfolk for the absence of the bomber’s shadow. This is by far the most poetic scene in any Marvel film I have seen (that’s to say, all of them made after 1999), and gives the film a much-needed boost of emotion. An unspoken significance of these shadows relates to Tony’s reliance on his suits for an exterior personality, due to his father’s ignorance of him as a child, and his constant feeling of being hollow inside. These shadows possess only an exterior personality, and the people who’s bodies were responsible for their creation are no longer living.
Speaking of Ty Simpkins, i’m surprised he didn’t get his own character poster, as he features just as prominently and is just as important to the story as Don Cheadle’s Rhodey (and even The Mandarin). Cheadle shouldn’t be blamed for his uninteresting role in the film, After all, he played an important part in Iron Man 2, and his character was one of a small group who didn’t appear in Avengers. People may have just forgotten about Rhodes: ‘people’ meaning Marvel. However, the few minutes of screen time allotted to Cheadle give him some great comic moments, such as when he tells Tony his password. James Badge Dale gives a terrifying performance as Mandarin’s senior henchman, and his resemblance to Matthew Fox (i’ve been on a Lost marathon recently) gave me the creeps. Coincidentally, he and Fox both appear in the upcoming World War Z.
Throughout the film, Tony Stark appears to be very alone. Even when he is still in his massive house, living with his hot girlfriend (oh yeah, we haven’t mentioned Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts yet), his friends, Rhodes and Happy (former Iron Man director Jon Favreau, featuring heavily in the opening third but becoming incapacitated later, as we predicted) are too busy to hang out with him, and his suits are his only friends. Luckily, when he arrives in Tennessee later on, he meets his kid-friend almost immediately- in a wood-shed. Isn’t that original? Despite Mandarin, and Guy Pearce’s BIG bad Killian being a continuous threat throughout the film, the more active baddies who actually participate in fights and shoot-outs are the Extremis experiment guinea-pigs. I found no enjoyment watching these characters in action, and they look and act like a a group of mutants from one of the bad X-Men flicks, not IRON MAN! Badge Dale was the one exception to this bunch of bad actors, and luckily he didn’t do much Extremis-y stuff.
This was not the extraordinary Avengers follow-up we could have gotten, but it also wasn’t the massive failure we could have gotten. Fans of action, comedy, Christmas and the like will gobble this up, as have the critics. I, for one, stopped gobbling after the first eight-tenths, but only because I was full of decent food. Does that metaphor work? Who cares! It’s Christmas! Oh, wait…