After watching Avengers Assemble last year, one of my thoughts coming out of the film was wondering how Marvel would be able to top itself and with Iron Man 3 they had the perfect answer. Strip Iron Man to the bare bones and get Shane Black to direct. And you know what? It really works and Iron Man 3 is a great follow up to Avengers Assemble and a great start for Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now the plot of the film starts of really well with Tony Stark having to face his demons, not just the after effects of what happened to him in Avengers Assemble but also events that started 13 years prior to the start of the film (with a brilliantly handled little cameo from a major player in the first film to set the scene). This provides a great way to expand upon Stark's character and show that he is suffering from some kind of damage, mainly psychological. There is also the way that the second half of the film mainly forces Stark to rely upon his wits and intelligence to escape, bringing back to mind the Stark who built a miniature ark reactor in a cave with a box of scraps. The way in which issues regarding military experimentation and the nature of modern terrorism, especially in regards to the media, are also handled really well, again mainly in the second half of the film. Now there are some really well handled twists near the end of the film so I won't say anything more about the plot for fear of spoilers but I will say that the end of the film is a perfect summation of Tony Stark's character and all the stuff he has gone through throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, all the Christmas related stuff in the film, from Christmas songs being played to the massive present Tony Stark gets Pepper Potts solidify that this is a Shane Black film.
Speaking of which, the main strength of this film is Shane Black's dialogue and the performances. Black is known for really witty, snarky dialogue and with Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang he proved that he could work really well with Robert Downey Jr and that same spark between Robert Downey Jr and Shane Black's dialogue is very much present in this. Simply put, Robert Downey Jr gives his best performance as Tony Stark in this film. He really shows the vulnerability faced by the character but still manages to put in some great comedic one liners. There is also some fun to be had between Downey and Ty Simpkins in the second act of the film. Now their scenes could have easily become annoying but these two play off each other so brilliant, which is really impressive given Simpkins age and this prevents the whole, partnering with a kid plot from becoming annoying like it is in so many other films. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle get a lot more to do here than they did in the first 2 films and it really pays off, especially for Cheadle who gets some brilliant dialogue to himself. Paul Bettany gives his best performance as JARVIS in this film and Jon Favreau is entertaining as Happy Hogan, especially with a few little Downton Abbey jokes (and I do find it a bit sad that I recognized the moments from Downton when they came on.
Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce also give great performances, Kingsley in particular who really relishes the character he has to play but I don't want to reveal anything more about these two for fear of spoiling the film, Needless to say, these make up for lackluster performances both from this film and from the previous films (looking at you Sam Rockwell). Speaking of lackluster performances, James Badge Dale and William Sadler didn't really leave much of an impact and I found that all the interesting stuff with Marco Sanchez came too little, too late. The biggest casualty though is Rebecca Hall. Don't get me wrong, I really like Rebecca Hall, she was brilliant in The Prestige and The Town and she gives a great performance here but she is completely wasted in this film. It honestly feels like half of her scenes were cut out of the film to prevent it from getting into the 2 1/2 hour length and I really wish that this wasn't the case. It's a shame to see great actors wasted in films like these, although this wasting is not as bad as how Toby Jones was wasted in The Hunger Games (and before you ask, I will try to stop mentioning how much Jones was wasted in The Hunger Games, at least until the sequel comes out).
The action is also a bit hit and miss. The stuff in the second act of the film feels really clumsily edited and filled with so many cuts that I could barely see what was going on in these scenes, especially a fight scene in a bar at this point. However, once the final half hour kicks in, Shane Black goes all out in the action scenes. They are all really well put together, especially the "Barrel of Monkeys" scene, especially since very little CG was used in this scene. Plus, the final action scene in the film was brilliantly handled and provides the best final action scene out of all the Iron Man films.
Overall, I really liked Iron Man. Some aspects aren't handled as well as others, mainly the wasting of Rebecca Hall, but when the film works, it really works and it is a perfect show that Marvel can successfully follow up Avengers Assemble and if this is the last of the standalone Iron Man films then Marvel and Shane Black have made the perfect ending to this set of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
My Rating: 4.5/5
P.S. As always, stay through the credits, it's not really a major moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it's a great gag and a great explanation for the traditional Shane Black type exposition (you'll understand when you see it)