Shane Black’s Back! – IRON MAN 3
Most franchises fizzle out, lose steam or simply get run into the ground. In some rare cases – I’m looking at you Harry Potter – they actually get better and better as they approach the end of their saga. The Marvel run (separated chronologically into “Phase 1″ and “Phase 2″) shows no sign of dissipating as it aims for the upper echelon of comic book cinematic history. Simply put, Iron Man 3 is a solid chapter in Tony Stark’s arc, that rare third installment that’s strong enough to stand alone and smart enough to mine the past. But you’re one of the critics who hated Iron Man 2 (2010). You ask me, “Hey Rockie, what makes this IM so special?” Well, look no further than the film’s director – Shane Black, who’s has been a consistent Hollywood talent for decades, the man who pioneered blending hard R action with hard R humor like some crazy sleazy alchemist. His scripts for the Lethal Weapon films (directed by Richard Donner) still impress with their seamless blend of action and character, and my personal favorite – The Last Boy Scout (1991) – is a sublime marriage of Black’s WTF? loaded script with Tony Scott‘s slick direction. And who knew that his directorial debut, the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) would be a hint of things to come – as he then joined up with Robert Downey Jr. for a voiceover-fueled neo-noir and now does so again, on a much grander scale. Over the course of Black’s IM3, as Tony Stark has to dig deep to conquer his problems, we get a glimpse of that sardonic, action-packed, character-centric humor that made Black a millionaire screenwriter. When we meet Stark he’s reeling from the New York attack that took place in The Avengers, manically struggling to juggle his Mach suits and personal life, and feeling vulnerable and exposed. He’s a man with a lot of gadgets who’s in constant need of human support: whether from his constantly put-upon girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), complete strangers (he teams up with a small boy in whom he sees a lot of himself), or the hilariously named Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), a militarized version of Stark himself. When a new terrorist threat (The Mandarin – an instant classic thanks to Sir Ben Kingsley and some clever writing) invades the defenses of the President Of The United States (what the William Sadler!?), Tony’s arrogant hubris bubbles over – a theme intrinsic to the Iron Man series and character. Not only does Stark have the Mandarin to deal with but also AIM – a group of scientists led by Guy Pearce – which IM3 ushers into the Marvel film world for no doubt future fun. All this – and the steady array of innovative Mach suits concocted by the brains behind IM3 – makes for a wonderful mix of action/adventure which will dazzle and amaze. There are some great supporting roles on display, including Rebecca Hall, adding some twitchy-face action, and the underrated James Badge Dale (check him out in my personal fave The Grey) as an explosively scene-chewing henchman. And have I mentioned this film is hilarious, with well-placed humor nicely balancing the action out? I have? Ok. Point is I loved Iron Man 3 because it manages to do everything right, taking elements of part one (the prototype tech and ‘geez, I hope this works’ shenanigans), elements of part 2 (‘A God Can Bleed!’), and introducing us to new elements (War Machine/Iron Patriot), all while managing to entertain and never stalling in the process. And by turning Stark into a humbled human this installment has made him into an even greater hero, one you actually care about. It’s a solid “Phase 2″ kick-off with Shane Black proving he’s the man for this (and other) job(s). Hey Marvel: more like this please!