The Pitch: Man Of Steel Plating.
The Review: Ever had that feeling, after a big event in your life, that it was so great that what follows can’t help but be an anticlimax? It was my eighth wedding anniversary this week, but I still remember my wedding day as if it was yesterday; however I can count on the fingers of one hand the days since which have come close to capturing that level of excitement and spectacle. When you build up to something for so long, what follows cannot help but suffer by comparison. Imagine, then, if your big day involved the culmination of over half a decade of planning and preparation, cost $220 million and went some way to redefining the art of the possible as far as blockbuster cinema goes. Where do you go next? When the current run of Marvel movies started, Iron Man was almost a standalone exercise, with a bolted-on tease after the credits suggesting there might be bigger plans afoot. Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 got lost in the rush to set up sufficient backstory for The Avengers, coming over as little more than a succession of directionless exposition with a fight or two thrown in. Now, with The Avengers having become a global box office behemoth and The Avengers 2 already announced, it’s a huge relief that Iron Man Three has managed avoid the pitfalls of the previous sequel, finding its own rocket-powered feet and deliver a cracking piece of summer entertainment.
That’s not to say that The Avengers doesn’t cast a long shadow over Iron Man, it’s just one that director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pierce don’t feel the need to sit in for very long. Tony Stark is a hero, but one that’s graduated to the realms of superhero, so when a plain old hero’s needed the American government calls on Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and his cynically rebranded Iron Patriot suit to help combat the threat of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). It’s probably just as well, as Tony is still haunted by his demons: those living with him after the almost apocalypse in New York that he and his “superfriends” put an end to, but also those he’s less immediately aware of. An encounter at the turn of the millennium with scientists Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) barely registers with the Tony of that time, but when both come knocking at the door of Tony’s girlfriend and Stark Industries boss Pepper Potts (Gwynneth Paltrow) thirteen years later, they’re both bringing trouble with them, and soon Tony is having to rely on all of his skills, not just his impressive collection of suits.
Iron Man Three manages to strike an excellent balance between the requirement to tell a self-contained story and the needs of the continuing MCU (that’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if you’re surprised it has a name, then clearly you’re not a geek). Even The Avengers fell guilty to the origin story curse that blights so many superhero movies, with almost the first hour pure exposition in an effort to bring the characters together. IM3 gets straight into the story, and after a brief prologue it’s up and running almost immediately, delivering the two key ingredients you want from a summer action-adventure – action and adventure – in spades. Knowing that the appeal of Iron Man is as much about Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma as it is about rocket-powered shiny helmets, Black and Pierce sensibly strike a balance between the amount of time in and out of the suits. It’s to everyone’s credit that both sections work equally well, the pace never being allowed to flag and Black’s trademark whip-smart dialogue keeping the entertainment levels high at all times. The marketing material may have given the impression that this is a darker take on the Iron Man story, but the reality is much lighter – not quite the intensity of the first Lethal Weapon, but avoiding any of the worst excesses of the later Weapon films.
The attraction of the big budget has also assembled a strong cast, and as well as the strength of the returning members (Paltrow especially managing to dial down the unnecessary smiling so often blighting her performances) the new cast are all reasonably well served, with the possible exception of a slightly underused Rebecca Hall. It’s Ben Kingsley’s performance that’s likely to generate most of the discussion after you’ve seen the film, and it’s one that appears to have angered some of the hard core of geekery. Being a soft core geek, and a film fan first and foremost, for me his portrayal of The Mandarin makes perfect sense in the context of the MCU and is one of the highlights of the film. The other is the banter between Downey Jr. and Cheadle, who come across as an effective, believable and still charming pairing, just as most other central pairings have in Shane Black films over the years. It’s the best of the Iron Man movies, avoiding the total inertia that set in once the final suit was built in the original and gaining more momentum in each scene than its sequel ever did, and I’d go as far as to claim that this beats any of the Marvel Phase 1 movies produced (take that, Thor, Hulk and Captain America). It also proves to be another game changer: The Avengers proved it was possible to take the stars of half a dozen big films and successfully blend them together, and IM3 proves you can put them back in their own environments and keep them just as successful. Roll on Thor 2.
Why see it at the cinema: Continuing a fine Marvel tradition, a decent blend of action and humour gives you plenty of reasons to see this on as big a screen as possible.
Why see it in IMAX 3D: It has the advantage of being the biggest screen you can normally find, so if you can do this in any form of IMAX it will help to make sense of some of the busier moments, the final battle looking especially fine on the large format screen. However, none of the film is shot using IMAX cameras, so it doesn’t fill the screen. The 3D is significantly less essential, suffering some of the usual brightness issues and having little or no thought for shot composition.
Should I stay through the credits? If you stay right to the end there’s a cute scene, but it’s more a nice Marvel moment you can take or leave rather than a big set-up for Phase 2.
What about the rating: Rated 12A for moderate violence, threat and language. A fairly MOR movie in terms of 12A output, there’s no F-bomb and it’s certainly not Dark Knight brutal. Anyone who’s had no issue with Marvel films at the same rating before will have no issues here.
My cinema experience: Managed to see this twice, once on a Friday night late showing in 2D at Cineworld Cambridge and then a second time in the company of Mrs Evangelist at an afternoon matinee at the BFI IMAX in London in 3D. Both showings had decent crowds, most of whom stayed to the end of the credits (although feel sorry for the guy sat next to me at the Cineworld, who turned to his girlfriend and exclaimed, “I waited twenty minutes just for that?!”).
The Corridor Of Uncertainty: Just over 25 minutes of ads and trailers at the Cineworld showing, about par for the course. The BFI IMAX start their ads before the advertised start time, so despite having a small lady come out to announce the film at the start, it was still barely fifteen minutes before the film got under way.
The Score: 9/10