It looks like the third time is a charm for the big screen adventures of Tony Stark. After a less than stellar second film, Iron Man returns to form in the first blockbuster of the Summer.
Under the direction of Shane Black, Robert Downey Jr. seem fully alive and present in a way that he wasn’t in the 2010 sequel. Having worked with Black before on the brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, RDJ seems to trust his director completely and Black delivers the goods in spades.
Picking up after the events of last Summers Avengers, we find a Tony Stark that is not as sure of himself as he was at the end of that film. In fact, he seems to be falling apart from Anxiety attacks that haunt him in his dreams, so he does what any sane person would do: He just doesn’t sleep. The whispered question that drives him night and day is “How did you get out of that wormhole?” . Tony finds himself in a world where there are Aliens, Gods of Thunder, a Super Soldier and a giant green hulk that is almost unstoppable. Tony, who for so long has thought of himself as the baddest on the block now finds himself just a guy in a tin can.
Tony is trying to prepare for whatever comes next by building an almost insane amount of new suits, custom-made for almost any threat that may arise. As the film starts we find him working on Mark 42, a suit that he can call to him from anywhere, and you can bet that will come into play before the end.
With a flashback to new years eve of 1999, Tony meets the man, Aldrich Killian, who will cause him massive amounts of pain in the future and in this flashback we also get to see Happy Hogan with the greatest mullet this side of Billy Ray Cyrus and for a brief moment, Yensin, who will save Tony’s life in that cave at the start of Iron Man.
After alluding to him in the first and second film, The Mandarin finally makes an appearance, and as portrayed by Ben Kingsley, he was worth the wait. After an explosion almost takes someone close to Tony, he rashly calls out the Mandarin on live television and that is when the film really takes off.
I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns this film takes, but I will say, its great fun to see Tony as the underdog for a change. By the time we find Tony in the snowy hills of Tennessee with a broken suit, his home in ruins and the world thinking he is dead, he is in a position where we can root for him to pull everything together and save the day.
Now of course he is going to save the day in the end, but it is to Shane Black’s credit that there are moments when it actually seems all is lost for our intrepid hero. Watching him improvise weapons and work with whatever is at hand is a joy to behold.
I don’t want to go into too many specifics about the last half of the film, but I have to say, I haven’t seen a director put his hero through so many beatings on-screen since Sam Raimi spent 90 minutes tormenting Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD 2.
Almost from the beginning, Tony is fighting for his life and it is breathtaking to watch. RDJ seems to be having the time of his life and it shows in every frame. The whole cast here is excellent, with Gwyneth Paltow and Don Cheadle deserving special attention. The chemistry between Tony and Rhodey is so good that you can absolutely buy that they are best friends. Their back and forth banter is just a joy to watch. This is where Shane Black really shines. Back in 1987 Black re-defined the buddy cop film with Lethal Weapon and there are scenes here that bring that film and its central relationship between Riggs and Murtaugh to mind.
Another Shane Black signature is setting the film at Christmastime, with liberal use of Christmas songs on the soundtrack. This is only his second film as a director, but Black has absolute control of the frame and he has a gift for action scenes. The final battle should be chaotic, and it is at times, but we as the audience always know what we are looking at on-screen and the geography of the action is clear.
If it seems like I’m avoiding talking about Extremis and how it ties into the film, rest assured, I AM avoiding it. I’m avoiding it because the joy of a film like this is just experiencing it in the theatre. The only thing I will say is this: nothing in the film is as it seems at first. Some of the twists I saw coming, but there are a couple that blind sided me. They blind sided me in a good way. It’s so rare that a film can do that, that when it does, I am giddy.
The Avengers, and the events in New York are mentioned, but just in passing. This is Tony Starks film from front to back and even though we know that Iron Man will return for The Avengers sequel in 2015, if this were to be his last film, it sends him off in style and leaves no loose ends hanging.
There are several stunning set pieces in this film, with a mid-air rescue towards the end that really stands out because it wasn’t filmed with green screens, it was actually done with stunt skydivers and if you have a fear of heights like I do, you will find yourself gripping the arm rest of your seat.
One final word about formats. The film was post converted to 3D and to my eyes, the conversion was pointless. See it in regular 2D but if you are thinking of 3D, spring for the IMAX 3D. This is a film to see on the biggest screen possible.
All in all, I think this is a spectacular film and one not to miss.
5 stars out of 5.
Until next time, keep the projector threaded.