If you were in prison, comatose or pinned to the ground by a fallen armoire this weekend, it's possible you didn't see "Iron Man 3." All the rest of us, it seems, ignored our mothers' protestations and spent a couple of hours of this fine sunny summer weekend indoors in the dark, watching Robert Downey Jr. suit up as Tony Stark/Iron Man for his third solo outing. In fact, judging by these numbers, so did mom. The "Iron Man" threequel (read about some others here) is already in the history books as the second biggest domestic opening of all time, right behind sister film "The Avengers," and looks on track to be another billion-dollar movie for the unprecedentedly successful Marvel Universe project. But with Shane Black a new recruit for the director's chair (Iron Throne?) and expectations vertiginously high for the launch of Phase Two, the finished film could be expected to show at least a few stretch marks. Our early review is here and since then, many of The Playlist have managed to catch up with it, so here's what we thought worked and what did not. **Spoilers abound.**
When Shane Black was announced as the co-writer/director of "Iron Man 3," there was a certain amount of inherent excitement, especially since this would serve as the long, long awaited directorial follow-up to his deeply brilliant comic noir "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." (You can read about the scripts that had Black riding so high back in the day right here.) But there was also trepidation – would Black's voice be lost in a sea of explosions and Marvel-mandated concessions? Well, those fears should have been laid to rest – "Iron Man 3" is so ridiculously Shane Black-y that it'll have fans of his squealing for joy. While some of his more R-rated trademarks have, obviously, been set aside (no one utters the word "fuck," for example), there are still plenty that have been implemented. There are the obvious stylistic tics, like the Christmas setting, an abundance of rapid-fire, wisecracking dialogue and book-ending the movie with a hyper-meta voice over narration. But there's also stuff like how many reversals and reveals there are: the fact that he turns Tony Stark into a detective for a large section of the movie; an element of "Lethal Weapon"-esque buddy movie (especially when Stark and Rhodes are on the boat, with Rhodes (Don Cheadle) getting a long-overdue heroic action sequence all his own); and how the violence is intensified dramatically (we've never seen one of his pulsar blasts go through someone before). It's great to see a Marvel movie with a marked authorial voice, especially when that voice marries into the universe so well.
Quick, name a great action sequence from the first two "Iron Man" films! You had to think about it for a moment, didn't you? Let's face it, the real attraction of the first two entries in the franchise was a rehabbed and quip-ready Robert Downey Jr. ready to step up to his megastar destiny. But you would be hard pressed to cite anything in those movies to match the white knuckle thrills of the airplane rescue in "Iron Man 3." With the President snatched from Air Force One by a baddie disguised as Iron Patriot the rest of the crew are left to fall to their death... unless Iron Man can do something about it. Unlike the climax (we'll get to that), which is an orgy of left-right-and-center action, here we see Iron Man forced to be crafty and find a way to save everyone, with the clock ticking fast. No amount of firepower will save him, and so Stark forms a human chain of sorts relying on not just his own abilities, but on the bravery of the plummeting "ordinary" people too. He brings the President's crew to safety, dropping them gently in the water to a rousing chorus of grateful cheers (from the characters, though we wouldn't be surprised if audiences applauded too), only for us to discover that relieved Tony was operating his Iron Man safely and remotely (which we're not too sure why that is, except that it gives us a neat reveal -- minor quibble). While the CGI might be slightly dodgy, the entire segment is cut for maximum effect, with images of innocent bodies in helpless free-fall a truly terrifying sight.
While Marvel is hesitant to let anybody indulge in the beloved "Demon in a Bottle" storyline (in which Tony Stark becomes a full-fledged alcoholic and Rhodes has to take over the Iron Man guise), Black and his confederates were at least able to chip away at his bulletproof aura by saddling him with crippling panic attacks. This works well for a couple of reasons – one, it acknowledges the events of "The Avengers" in a real and palpable way. That wasn't just some crazy superhero gang-bang, it was something that has consequences for the participants, particularly Tony, who, it should be remembered, zoomed through an intergalactic wormhole with a nuclear bomb on his back (mind you whether it has the same consequences for anyone else is up for debate, see below). Secondly, the panic attacks give Tony something else to fight through that isn't a crazy terrorist or bad guy. It's also really interesting that most of these panic attacks are triggered by children (we love the bit where the kid at the diner asks about the wormhole – so creepy) suggesting another way in which Tony is considering his mortality. The only downside to these panic attacks is that they don't affect him in any way during the whirligig climax (which in general will figure in the less complimentary portion of this piece) – you'd think that he'd be racked by a panic attack and that is why Pepper would plummet to her (seeming) demise or it would cause him to fuck up in some other, catastrophic way. But no. He's cool. Maybe he did some breathing exercises right before the big battle began?
With the whole audience (that we saw it with anyway) now savvy enough to know they have to wait through the long, long credit roll for that trademark juicy little nugget at the end, you have to be sure the nugget delivers. After all, there's only so much wonder overstimulated viewers can express at how many VFX artists are credited (although, seriously -- the entire height and width of the screen being full with names is pretty staggering and it lit up the auditorium like daytime). And this one does deliver, giving us a sweet character moment between our beloved Tony Stark and the one other member of "The Avengers" who we most want to see more of -- Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Nothing blows up, no one turns green, but, aside from delivering a kind of unnecessary "reason" for the voiceover narration, the piece really serves as a timely reminder that there's a lot more to love in the Marvel kitbag. Oh, and that if there's one man who can challenge Downey Jr.'s Stark for all-out, not-giving-a-shit, tortured-but-on-top-of-it cool, it's Ruffalo's Banner.