To anyone familiar with the previous Robert Downey Jr./Shane Black collaboration, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you will recall RDJ delivers quite a few of his lines in narration; to anyone familiar with Black’s other previous screenwriting, such as the aforementioned Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon, you’ll likely also recall the writer’s penchant for setting films “around Christmastime”. It’s little touches like those that take Iron Man 3from being just another movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to being a Shane Black film. That’s not to say every Shane Black film either does or should occur during Christmas, but that’s just an example of how he made this film his own. There’s recently been news about the upcoming Ant-Man film; Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said that some of Edgar Wright’s script for that film would now need to be rewritten in order for it to fit within the established Marvel Cinematic Universe canon (because it was written some time ago), and quite a few fans lost their shit about this. Those fans opined that “This is what’s wrong with trying to connect so many films together”. Frankly, with Iron Man 3, Shane Black has shown precisely how to marry a filmmaker’s unique style with this series of films (and fans need to chill because Edgar Wright is going to be fine). Favreau managed to do it with Iron Man, but not so much Iron Man 2.
First, Robert Downey Jr. is flawless, as he always is with the Tony Stark character. Now that we’ve seen him portray Stark four times, he might as well just be the guy—and I’m not so sure he isn’t. However, because we have seen him three times prior to Iron Man 3, he’s basically an old friend, and we can always tell when something is different about an old friend. With Iron Man 3, Black puts it front-and-center that what happened in New York (the events of The Avengers) took a massive toll on Stark—which is revealed in the trailers, so not a spoiler. These are the kinds of beneficial things about having the sort of elongated film series Marvel has constructed: you can get to know characters, become attached, and see them develop into completely different people in a way that you just can’t get with one two-hour movie. Even the other characters of the film: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and JARVIS (Paul Bettany); they have all evolved beyond their initial roles in the storyline of Tony Stark’s life, which is how things happen in life.
As my fellow ProFan Rex mentions in his review of the film, those other characters do have a somewhat larger impact on the plot than in the previous two films. I have to slightly disagree with him, though, on wondering why these characters weren’t used this same way, prior to Iron Man 3. The fact is, these films—the previous twoIron Man films—have always needed to be a one-man show. Tony Stark/Iron Man is the only primary character, there have been zero secondary characters, and everyone else is a tertiary character, at best. In Iron Man, this formula was followed exactly and worked perfectly; Iron Man is still the best Marvel film and one of the best-constructed, all-around films you’ll ever see. With Iron Man 2, they threw the formula out the window; Rhodes/War Machine was made much too important to the plot, without there being any meaningful reason for Stark to have changed, and it felt entirely false. Now that we have experienced the events of The Avengers, though, and Stark has realized he’s not alone (and not invincible) those events could serve as the proper catalyst for him to have changed and open the door for Iron Man 3 to have the other characters of the film step-up and have it feel organic and not forced.
However, that’s not to say I’d consider them secondary characters in Iron Man 3; they’re still tertiary, and the show is still all about Tony Stark, as it should be. The film does add a secondary character, though: the suit. Of course, that’s still technically Tony Stark, but I’d say it’s arguable that the suit could be considered the biggest character of this movie; I really love how the suit was used here. As has been known forever, much of Iron Man 3’s plot is influenced by the Extremis storyline from the Iron Man comics, and that storyline deals heavily with the suit and whether Stark has become more Iron than Man. I’ll leave it at that. The new Extremis story elements are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the Iron Man universe we have already seen; so much so that you immediate accept everything about it, even though it does happen to be a little more “out there”. Again, that ability to have the story grow organically is another product of having an ongoing series. That fact helped everything in this film feel seamless, even the perfect, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, mid-fight Westworld reference. That gave me almost as big a chuckle as the Galaga reference in The Avengers.
The new guys added to the group are great, too; Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, and Guy Pearce (along with smaller parts for James Badge Dale, William Sadler, Ashley Hamilton, and Miguel Ferrer) all brought their A-game. Of course, the real standout newcomer is the young Ty Simpkins, playing a character who serves as an ad hoc comedic sidekick. Really, every performance in these three Iron Man films has been top-notch (save Mickey Rourke’s channeling of a dead-behind-the-eyes, wandering hobo in Iron Man 2; the same performance he gave for his three minutes of screen time in The Expendables).
Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 knocked it out of the ballpark, and we can only hope the other sequels can build—not off of Iron Man 3—but off of The Avengers, just as well as this film has. Thor: The Dark World is the first one that will try. We’ll see.