Heroes. There’s No Such Thing.
There’s something specifically unique to comic books. A feeling one gets having read a really gripping and profoundly affective story. Sure, you can experience similar things with any artistic medium but with characters that have been around for fifty-seventy years, it’s always a treat when a writer surprises you, bringing you a story and fresh perspective to a character, universe and (admittedly) gimmick you’re all too familiar with. As far as film sequels are concerned, they almost never get to that stage. Toy Story did. And now Iron Man has.
As with all sequels, I’m just going to openly assume you’ve seen this instalment’s predecessors and plough on with the synopsis. In Iron Man, the suit gives Stark purpose, in Iron Man 2 his flaws overwhelm his new responsibilities and after the events in The Avengers, this film addresses his dependency on his armour. The story opens with a flashback to 1999 and highlights a few encounters an inebriated Tony Stark [Downey Jr] has with key individuals such as Dr. Maya Hansen [Rebecca Hall], who is working on a biotic regrowth formula, called Extremis and Aldrich Killian [Pearce], an awkward, crippled scientist, who is trying to get Tony to endorse his fledgling organisation, Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). The film jumps ahead to the present day and we learn that Tony cannot sleep and is privately plagued by doubts and fears. Simultaneously, a mysterious figure known as the Mandarin [Kingsley] is frequently broadcasting threats and warnings to the world, followed by merciless acts of terrorism. After one particular attack puts Stark’s long-term friend/employee, Happy Hogan [Jon Favreau], into a coma he openly challenges the Mandarin, revealing his home address. Naturally, the response is horrific and the Stark mansion is decimated by an aerial assault, leading the world to believe that both Iron Man and Stark have perished. And that’s all you get, people. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself.
One of the key factors to this film’s success is the unique writing and directorial traits of Shane Black. His sporadic, flamboyant style paired with an ability to reign in erratic spiralling plot threads and almighty action sequences serves to bolster and secure what could have quickly become a steaming mess. While Jon Favreau served decently as director for the first two films, Black’s almost Stark-like manner and oversight perfectly suits this franchise. On top of fine directing and a very clever, funny, gripping script is a myriad of glorious performances. Every single character interaction is brilliantly executed, relevant to the story and offers the audiences something, whether in the form of comic relief, empathetic welling or an adrenaline release. It’s ultimately quite tricky to discuss the extent of the characters and the performances without divulging a great deal about the story and not being able to sing the praises of a select few individuals is particularly frustrating. But I can briefly touch on the tonality and themes. The overarching theme of this film is the nature of protection. What we use to protection ourselves: personal bodyguards, high-tech weaponised armour, military personnel; the perceived threats we protect ourselves from: terrorists, losing control, rivals; and those we choose/fail to protect. Over the last decade, terrorist bombings and attacks have become a regular occurrence and one which every nation is seemingly at potential risk from. The poignancy and presentation of these broadcasted sequences strikes with such resonance that the threat of the Mandarin instantly feels real and, equally, Tony’s own doubts and concerns plague us – what can I do to protect the ones I love? For the average citizen, it’s an unanswerable question but for Stark, he overcomes these fears by creating things, tinkering, building, constructing and proving to himself that with or without the suit, he is Iron Man. The armour gave him legitimate purpose but it doesn’t define who he is.
I know I rant about music a lot in a film but it’s such a crucial element that a lot of filmmakers seem to overlook. And really, it’s one of the only areas in which this film stumbles and ultimately suffers. Marvel scores have never been massively impressive, they fit the film but they’re hardly as iconic as the characters themselves. One could argue that The Avengers’ theme was pretty epic but in actuality it’s fairly average. The real affinity comes through association with the film itself. In other words, you don’t like the score because it’s good, you like it because you liked the film. Brian Tyler’s score is far from perfect but it’s definitely a step in the right direction, conveying the power and bravado that Stark projects while emitting select and sombre evocation when the script calls for it. Having said that, Clint Mansell has recently been confirmed as scoring Thor: The Dark World, so I imagine that will probably be something rather special and hopefully set a trend across the Marvel cinematic universe.
Outside of The Avengers, this is probably my favourite standalone Marvel release. The balance of humour, action, wit and drama strike a perfect chord and really feels like an extension of the comic. As discussed with a friend of mine, my biggest fear now is that we’re a little too spoilt, that we’ve had it so good for so long, it’s only a matter of time before Robert Downey Jr. drops from the role and Marvel cast someone who simply can’t follow in his footsteps. But these are future rumblings and as yet, no real threat. What we should really focus on is the fact that the Iron Man films have gone from strength-to-strength and the days of The Fantastic Four and Batman & Robin are long behind us. We hope.
26th April 2013
The Scene To Look Out For:
After his very public defeat and the destruction of his home, Stark finds himself salvaging parts in a garage in Tennessee. There he meets a young boy named Harley [Ty Simpkins]. Unfortunately, one cannot simply describe acting chemistry, all you can do is fail to replicate it and eventually give an example. I think the closest thing I could say to quantify it is believability. Actors interacting with their co-stars is just part of the job but when two people understand their profession and more importantly, understand each other, you completely and whole-heartedly believe that what you’re witnessing is real. In that regard, Downey Jr and Simpkins have astounding chemistry. Every scene, every interaction was hilarious, enjoyable and surprisingly heart-warming.
There are simply too many to choose from and to expand on them in any way would utterly ruin the film for a lot of people. If I’m honest, this is one of those rare ensemble casts that works so perfectly together, that support and empower their fellow actors/characters rather than scrambling for attention and elevate the entire experience to one of sheer bliss. Yes, I realise I how gushy that sounds but it’s completely true. It’s no good, I can’t leave it there. Downey Jr, Paltrow and Cheadle are amazing, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley are exceptional, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau and Paul Bettany support beautifully and Ty Simpkins is a scene-stealing genius.
“I can tell you’re cold. Know how? ‘Cause we’re connected”
In A Few Words:
“Bigger, cooler, funnier, smarter. Shane Black has crafted the perfect Iron Man film”
Total Score: 4/5