Christmas has come early.
Given the time of year it's perhaps a more fitting statement to say that Christmas has arrived extremely late, but nevertheless, the yuletide spirit that makes up the third instalment of Robert Downey Jnr's metallic hero will certainly put you in the mood for whipping out a mince pie when you get home and sit down to think about the rip-roaring yarn that the Marvel/Disney team have once again produced.
Set post-Avengers as the American people try to move on from the alien invasion in New York, Iron Man Three begins a few days before December 25th with a sleep deprived and troubled Tony Stark finding ways to distract his tired and constantly active mind. He's working hour after hour, pushing his Iron Man suit all the way to a revolutionary 42nd design, a suit which forms in place around him with a wave of his arms. It's impacting his relationship with girlfriend Pepper Potts, and also putting his body through serious amounts of strain.
The script gives Downey Junior a narration that feels comic book in tone, almost a self-aware nod to the fact that we are watching the film as Stark begins by discussing a pivotal moment of his past when he shunned a meeting with Guy Pearce's creepy scientist Aldrich Killien. It's a nice set up and every bit of it is relevant to what follows. It also sets about the light tone which director Shane Black holds steady throughout, allowing the plot to drift into darker territories when required but always keeping a laugh, cheer or thrill just around the corner. It makes for a funnier film than any phase one Avenger tale, a more personal story than either previous Iron Man and it gets you under the skin of our hero as he fights his demons over what being Iron Man means for his loved ones and his life.
Enter The Mandarin.
A man seen for the first third only in viral home videos; a cloaked villain with Gandalf's bushy beard and Steven Seagal's ponytail, delivered in rasped, uneven tone with a wicked twang by Sir Ben Kingsley, The Mandarin is a mystery and a puppeteer who is blowing shit up with irregularity in location and size. He speaks words that often make no sense, addressing William Sadler's President with a list of supposed rules and messages that are unclear. His motives are purposefully hidden from view, a distraction for everyone as Pearce's Killien returns to ask Potts for help in developing a technology that can unlock human potential.
As the plot unfolds and Stark foolishly threatens and teases The Mandarin into action, Iron Man Three finds itself twisting into a plot of at times complexity and absurdity. To spoil anything of the films second half would do a disservice to the intelligence of the script, the audacity of the plot and the riskiness of the producers to take the film and the source material in directions that you wouldn't dream of expecting. The Mandarin himself states that "you'll never see me coming;" It's a certainty that there's a lot more you won't expect as Stark begins to unravel the mystery behind The Mandarin's bombings and it's connection to Killien's work.
The set pieces are breathtaking, the main plus being that the final battle, a scene someone revealed in the trailers, is much stronger than either of the previous outings. Instead of the "Transformers-esque" metal crunching carnage the action is intense, personal and a thrill to experience. The quality of each set piece throughout means that no particular one stands out as dampening the others, it's all fantastic.
Balancing the action with prose is something the Iron Man films have always been good at, and here it's even better, in particular Stark's partnership with Ty Simpkin's Harvey being a real driving factor at helping you see a different side to our hero. Paltrow, Cheadle and Favreau add layers of consistency to the world and all three are never better as Tony's right hand men and woman. All in all, much of the dialogue is delivered with plenty of humour and spoonfuls of gusto, and it keeps the films two hour plus running time zipping past in no time.
The film does have a few small weaknesses; it's decision to cast two main villains in Pearce and Kingsley means that as things unravel the true reasoning behind the mayhem and the science to go with it gets a little lost. Upon reflection you can piece it together nicely, but at the time you'll be a little frustrated that it isn't clearer. Also there's no denying that even though the film tries hard to express how personal the story is for Stark, you can't help but feel he does things the hard way too often. He does have an army of Iron suits at his disposal and there are plenty of times he could have used them but didn't...
When Christmas finally arrives and the dust settles it is clear that should Downey Junior decide to hang up his shiny red boots sometime in the near future, he finally has the perfect solo film that his performance deserved. It's pure spectacle, the perfect welcome to blockbuster season 2013.
A Christmas based film in the Summer means that you can leave the theatre and find some sunshine to sit, relax and wait for the next instalment. That'll be arriving as Christmas actually arrives in real life, when the days darken, when the skies cloud over and the rain begins to fall. Listen out for the thunder, it's arrival means something is coming. Something from The Dark World Above...
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