Iron Man 3

He’s back in black.

Or rather, Black.

Like not crediting an orange peel for holding together the delicious citrus within, it’d be a crime not to acknowledge the work famed fanboy screenwriter cum director Shane Black has done with this third instalment in the ”Iron Man”series. Inheriting the job from Jon Favreau (who retains an executive producer credit, as well as plays a minor part in the film), Black’s doused the well-worn comic book movie template with a freshness, hipness, and humour that fans and non-fans of the series will relish.

”Lethal Weapon” scribe Black’s directorial debut ”Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (2005) was an amalgamation of genres that offered then comeback kid Robert Downey Jr one of his funnest roles in years – that of a goofy charmer that, thanks to some savvy detective work, manages to overthrow the flick’s bad guys.

If anything, ”Iron Man 3” is a companion piece to it – more so than the first two ”Iron Man” movies (2008, 2010) – with Black again playing up Downey’s goofy, charming unlikely hero role (he’s not even in his Iron Man suit for a large part of the film, suggesting Black believes the goods lie within the Tony Stark character more so than the armoured man – and he might be right!) in a film that weaves humour, thrills, large-scale stunt spectaculars (though on a much more grandiose scale here than in the mid-budget ”Kiss Kiss”), bromance (also a theme in Black’s other films, namely ”Lethal Weapon”), hip dialogue, and – a staple of Black’s screenplays – Christmastime.

Black’s screenplay, co-written with Drew Pearce, puts new shine on Iron Man’s coat – and having now fronted three films (including 2012’s ”The Avengers”), the goateed Avenger probably needed a good sprucing. No, he did. Definitely. With the novelty – though fun – of having Downey play up Stark’s billionaire playboy now passed, and with general consensus of these films being that they’re about “a smart-ass superhero trading punches with a bad guy… and that’s it”, Black knew it was time to offer audiences, and the franchise, something different.

From the opening credits, with Eiffel 65’s ‘Blue’ playing over the studio logo before swiping into narration by Downey (a first for this series), it’s clear Black’s in-charge of this latest operation, and not – as much, anyway – executive producer Favreau or, arguably, Marvel. And as the film pushes on, what with its amazingly clever villain twists, as well as a plot element that essentially leads to the mortal Tony Stark, not the impenetrable Iron Man, the main star and protagonist of the film (as I said, he’s hardly in the suit), and a bigger focus on characterisation and emotion (can’t remember caring so much about anything in ”Iron Man 2” – yes, the one with Mickey Rourke and his electric chains – you?), it’s also clear this isn’t so much ”Iron Man 3” (Black didn’t even want the film called that, he fought for ”The Iron Man”) as an unofficial reboot of the series.

If you’ve seen the trailers or TV spots, you’ll know ”Iron Man 3” pits Tony Stark (Downey) – now battling anxiety issues as a result of the traumatic, eventful occurrences of ”The Avengers” – against a terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

But there’s much more going on in the film than those quick commercials suggest. There’s a clever plot device concerning another scoundrel, (Guy Pearce, giving his all) and a botanist blast-from-the-past (Rebecca Hall) of Stark’s , that elevate the film to… well, be much more than..the one with Mickey Rourke.

And with so much of the film concerned with stripping Stark of his powers – in this case, his suit – requiring him to instead use his own wits and ‘hoodie’ to beat the baddies, there’s a surprising ‘plain clothes detective’ element to the film.

Black makes good use of Downey and aforesaid co-stars Kingsley (excellent, he is), Pearce and Hall, but he utilises the individuals talents of the film’s well-picked support band, which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, back as Stark’s love interest and aide Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as best bud military man cum superhero colleague ‘Rhodey’ (aka War Machine aka Iron Patriot), and Jon Favreau, as bodyguard cum head of security Happy Hogan. Newcomers to the series James Badge Dale, William Sadler, Ty Simpkins and Dale Dickey also get to play parts significantly more dimensional than the usual thin prototypes the comic book genre usually provides.

Black’s not as good a filmmaker as say, Christopher Nolan, whose ‘Batman’ trilogy is somewhat unbeatable in terms of A-rate superhero flicks, but if his handling of ”Iron Man 3” is any indication, he’s definitely a plum fit for the genre and should, just as Avengers’ Joss Whedon has been, be made one of the joint chiefs in charge of the Marvel movie world.

Aware that even these fun Marvel movies – ”Iron Man” was the first of the current line of ‘Avengers’ movies – get a little stale after a while, what with each film’s stencils not too dissimilar from one the one that came before, Black’s gone out of his way to make a movie that, although featuring a comic book character, isn’t necessarily a… comic book movie.

It’s inevitable that some will question the filmmaker’s choices here (especially his handling of ‘The Mandarin’ character), but all others will rejoice ”Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2 : The Lethal Weapon Known Last Boy Scout Tony Stark”.

”Iron Man 3” is the best ‘Iron Man’ yet- – and I say ‘yet’, not just because I’ve enough smarts to know the series will kick on for a while yet, but because I’m actually enthusiastic to see another one. Black’s finally convinced us Tony Stark is more than cool vox-pops and robot hands.

Full Marks (geddit!?).

The Iceman

Gaëlle Cohen