A regression in the usual strong work from Marvel Studios, Iron Man 3 suffers from director Shane Black’s mishandling of this popular superhero character, with a campy tone and poor character development making for a disappointingly sub-par movie.
When charting the trajectory of Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback to superstardom, Black played a vital role having cast the Oscar nominated actor in the lead of his buddy cop noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Only natural then that a favour is repaid, and so when original series director Jon Favreau decided against returning for Iron Man 3, Black found himself filling the much sought after director’s chair.
Yet a favour repaid has resulted in a disappointingly unfulfilling threequel. Rare is the misstep from those at Marvel Studios, yet the first chapter in this phase of Avengers-centric set of films does away with many of the great things that made the recent spate of Marvel superhero movies so great, and instead we get a slapstick heavy, campy vibe that is closer in tone to the buddy cop formula that dominates Black’s filmography.
Plot wise we find genius billionaire superhero Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) dealing with severe emotional issues resulting from his epic battle alongside his superhero friends in The Avengers.
It’s never quite made clear why Stark has become so psychologically damaged after this particular round of high action adventure entertainment, yet we take on this character development as the cocky hero deals with a methodical terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and a professional rival named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, who although usually solid hams it up big time here).
Rebirth and retribution are the key themes for Iron Man 3. Problem is Black fumbles both, with cheekiness replacing that much needed gravitas to make this chapter in the Iron Man story work.
Where the similarly themed The Dark Knight Rises took to its story of resurrection in the shadow of great evil with an earnest (but a never dreary) seriousness that made it not only a visually spectacular watch but also an powerfully emotional one, Iron Man 3 is void of any empathy for its characters and their plight.
Downey Jr. in particular is just too much. While always one step away from going overboard, at least Favreau knew how to bottle Downey’s kinetic energy to make for entertaining viewing. Under Black’s watch Downey hits full throttle out of the gate and never lets up, stripping away any sense of empathy thus turning his cocky superhero into a pure super-cock.
Black’s misguided direction doesn’t stop there. An enjoyable villain in the Mandarin is criminally denied his full potential to become one of the great bad guys, frequent forays into tonally campy scenarios brings the level of this blockbuster down to a retro-fitted James Bond knockoff, and gapping plot-holes constantly threaten to swallow whole a too-smart-for-its-own-good script that focuses too much on twists and not enough on strong characters and stronger tone.
In the end all that saves Iron Man 3 is its top end effects work. Yet while Marvel’s superhero films will always be great to look at, what made them special is the work put into adapting these comic characters and their environments to the big screen. With Iron Man 3 a big step backwards is taken.