Here we have the first Marvel film since Avengers Assemble; remember the build-up I gave (on this blog) to what is now referred to as the ‘first phase’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? This is the first part of the second phase, which is also set to include Thor: The Dark World in November, Captain America: The Winter Soldier next summer and Guardians of the Galaxy in late 2014. If Ironman 3 is an example of what we can expect from this second phase, then it’s fair to say we have a lot to look forward to, and Marvel Studios are as committed to this universe as ever. It wasn’t just about a one-off build up to a mega blockbuster for them; this is more about a long term project, the like of which we have never seen before in the movie industry. Ironman 3 is the first proof of that, and is a cracking standalone film to boot.
For the previous three films in which we’ve seen Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/ Ironman, the formula has been pretty standard. One man in a metal suit fights another man in a metal suit, or a man with a metal suit and a whip, or many men (alien versions of them) in metal suits. It seemed Marvel wanted to keep getting bigger, providing tougher enemies with a harder punch each time Ironman appeared on our screens. This is perhaps understandable, given the character we’re focusing on. But if one thing becomes clear as you watch the third instalment of this franchise, it’s that the galactic exploits in the Marvel films released since 2010’s Ironman 2 seem to have changed the rules slightly.
There is not a metal suit in sight when it comes to the main villains of Ironman 3, which includes Middle Eastern terrorist ‘The Mandarin’, given a fabulous yet not-altogether-faithful portrayal by British actor Ben Kingsley, who creates arguably the most memorable character of the movie. Also making an appearance is the Extremis virus, which gives its ‘victims’ regenerative capabilities and super strength with the slight drawback of occasional self-combustion. Former Memento star Guy Pearce heads it up as the charming Dr Aldrich Killian, who emerges as Ironman’s main threat despite an unassuming introduction early in the movie – which is also when we see that, more times than not, Tony Stark is his own worst enemy.
In fact, the nature of Stark himself, the man under the suit, is much more the focus of this film than the heroic caricature his adoring fans see him as. More psychological than its predecessors, Ironman 3 gets to the heart (quite literally) and soul of the man that Stark has been turned into through his past experiences. This confident, charismatic extrovert is certainly not invulnerable; he is, quite simply, a man, and he has his limits. Physically we have seen Ironman continually pushed to those limits and come back stronger; it is his mental limits that are now being questioned, and it appears that in this area, Stark is uncharacteristically short of answers. Anxiety attacks and depressive symptoms plague his private life, pushing him deeper into the safety net of his work and threatening his relationship with the ever-lovely Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
That’s not to say there is less action in this movie. Overall, the action in Ironman 3 actually outweighs that of the first two films. Perhaps it feels that way because there is a more emotional edge to it than before. But a case can also be made based on the sheer global scale of the final third; all of that extra time Tony spends in his basement in the first half of the movie really does provide a major pay-off later on. A pay-off that comes at great personal cost, of course, but the kind of ‘cost’ that you only find in Hollywood. And make no mistake, as good as this film is, it’s still very Hollywood at heart….which, if anything, makes it all the more impressive that it still manages to consistently surprise you throughout.
So, the last time we saw Ironman, he stole the show, saved the world and got a glimpse of a universe beyond his own. That has changed him. In Ironman 3, despite not being on the same scale, you sense there’s more riding on the conflict for Stark. There are moments when you find yourself wishing he would hold back a little, that he would just stop trying so hard, something which the creative mind inside the suit finds harder to do than anything else. Tony Stark is a typical perfectionist. In a way, he was much more comfortable when he was singlehandedly saving the world from hordes of space aliens. Now, all he’s left with is the bread and butter of just being Ironman. Some people may feel turned off by that, some may feel relieved to focus again on a character they’ve known for five years now. Both should come expectant of being pleasantly surprised nonetheless. Although the ending gives a suitable close to this trilogy, the next Avengers team-up can’t come soon enough – for either the audience or the new (Iron) man that this charismatic billionaire has become.
9 / 10.