Well. What can I say about this film without dropping a huge, clanging, 'suit of armour down a stairwell' type spoiler? Iron Man 3 is a terrific film that has at least one colossal plot twist. I'll do my best to preserve your enjoyment of this superb movie but every line of this review will get you further down the highway to the plot-spoiler danger zone.
There's a memorable scene in The Avengers where Steve Rogers says to Tony Stark, "Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?"
In this movie, we find out.
A friend of mine once suggested that he'd pay good money to see a movie called Tony Stark: Rich Asshole. This is that movie.
While, yes, there is that big showstopping scene previewed in the trailer where multiple suits of remote-controlled armour show up and Unleash Hell, for fully 75% of Iron Man 3's running time the Armoured Avenger is nowhere to be seen.
And yet….it's fantastic!
In Iron Man 3 Tony Stark out-detectives Bruce Wayne, he out-shoots Jason Bourne and he out-wisecracks John McClane. The real brilliance of Kevin Feige's Marvel masterplan is beginning to reveal itself. Marvel have created a self-consistent universe in which they can tell any kind of story.
This one speaks more to the setting of the upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D tv series than it does the cosmic sensibilities of Thor or Guardians Of The Galaxy. Drew Pearce hasn't written a conventional superhero movie at all. While there are some heroics in it, there's a lot more besides.
Iron Man 3 is a big armour-plated piñata and when you smash it open, a great comedy, a cracking buddy action movie, and a heartwarming Christmas slusher all come tumbling out. Shane Black, he loves him some Christmas.
The film has a bracketed flashback structure, the same kind that we nearly got in The Avengers. You won't find out who Tony's talking to until the after-credits stinger. Although if you watched The Avengers closely you can probably guess.
The opening scenes take place in 1999, before the action of Iron Man 1. You can tell it's 1999 because Happy is in full hilarious Pulp Fiction Travolta drag. It's just one 'Monica In A Fatsuit' away from a classic Friends episode. That scene's not just there for fun though. It sets up a lot of stuff that happens later.
That stuff happens quite a bit later. The traditional Bang-exposition-bang-defeat-montage-bigger bang structure is thrown away here. Pearce tells the story as it occurs to him.
It works, because there are cool moments such as a 'Dr Manhattan threesome moment', some funny business with a giant busty rabbit and some excellent realisation of Tony Stark's PTSD/existential crisis from Robert Downey Jr. Before too long though Stark throws down the (Iron) gauntlet to The Mandarin and that extreme episode of Grand Designs we saw in the trailer kicks off.
After that, it's Tone alone. Cut off from Pepper, Rhodey and Happy, Stark is forced to make new friends. Yes, you heard right, there's a loveable tousle-haired moppet in this one. When an action hero befriends a kid, it generally means that the film's a stinker. Downey rescues the situation here, as he did in the somewhat slow opening segment, by just being so charismatic and charming and dang watchable that you're willing to overlook the Whistle Down The Wind element.
Anyway, it's about here that the pace starts to pick up. Stark pulls off a cool trick straight out of the Steven Seagal playbook to slow down the Mandarin's henchmen who are supercharged with a — and here is where what I say might be considered a touch spoilery — variant of the Extremis serum. The plot departs considerably from anything you might have read in the comics though. Aldrich Killian, as played by Guy Pearce and The Mandarin, as portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley are markedly different to their 4-colour templates. I think you'll like the changes. I certainly did.
These is more than one moment in this film where I'm sure you'll think "oh, these guys have seen the Chris Nolan Batman films, then." But not in a bad way.
From that mid-way point there's a constant build towards the insane climax, which features Tony jumping in and out of different suits in mid-air as he's fighting the Extremis-enhanced bad guys. Rhodey gets a fair bit to do too, although his best moments are not as Iron Patriot but in the action-comedy buddy movie section segment where he and Tony get to replay a few scenes from I Spy.
Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts gets a lot to do in this movie. Not just serving up wisecracks and cocktails but getting involved in some of the most brutal action of any Marvel movie to date.
There is one moment – keep your eyes open, because it's quick and I may have been mistaken – where the CGI guys may have been dozing on the job. I'm sure Tony loses a leg for a few seconds. But by that stage everything is happening so quickly that the action starts to build up in your cerebellum like a severe food-colourant high.
And then it's over. But even then there's an amazing retro credit sequence with 70s music and stills from the entire Iron Man trilogy. And then that stinger scene I told you about. It doesn't lead forward to any other Marvel property, it just makes you love the characters a little more.
In Phase One Marvel built their universe. In Phase Two, they're going to have fun in it. You're going to want to be in on that.
- Now listen to the Iron Man 3 podcast special for a second opinion.