Who is Iron Man?
Billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist – qualities that could apply to both Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. The role has always seemed interchangeable between the actor and his onscreen counterpart, with a mirrored story of celebrity redemption and a wit and charisma that belongs to most movie villains. The answer may seem obvious, but by using this soul-searching question as the impetus for Iron Man 3, the franchise returns to the essence of what made this superhero the biggest box office ‘buster of all the solo Avenger films.
As such, Stark is transported to a remote place, far from his lab and girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). It’s taken him full circle, from being being trapped in the deserts of Afghanistan and battling the Ten Rings terrorist group, to crash-landing in Tennessee and pitted against Marvel’s leader of the Ten Rings, the Mandarin, played with all the acting range that warrants Ben Kingsley’s knighthood. Like all villains in the Iron Man movie universe, however, he’s been stripped of his alien connections and made relevant by turning him into “the ultimate modern-day terrorist”. He punctuates the movie with threatening Bin Laden-like messages and, after Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is badly injured in an attack, Stark decides to leave his own public message, inviting the Mandarin to his Malibu mansion.
Aside from the obvious ties to Warren Ellis’ Extremis mini-series (2005), Iron Man 3 also puts its own spin on Daniel and Charles Knauf’s Haunted arc, where Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) believes she’s working for the good of the world, but the Extremis virus is actually being used to take down Tony Stark. In the movie, Extremis co-creator and founder of AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics), Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) uses the treatment to undergo a makeover. It turns out he’s been suffering from a severe bout of the uglies, so his drive to develop this virus doesn’t seem as well-intentioned as Rhys Ifans’ Dr Curt Connors in The Amazing Spider-Man. Instead, he treads the well-worn path of rejected victim to supervillain, but at least he has more of a plan than Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer and Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2.Fighting on the side of Uncle Sam is War Machine (Don Cheadle), rebranded as the Iron Patriot. He’s given plenty more to do in this film, aside from defending his new name from a sardonic Tony Stark, and even Pepper has her own arc (plus a nod to Rescue from the comic-books). But perhaps the most talked about supporting cast member – whose appearance in the trailer kick-started its own Twitter feed – is the Giant Bunny. It turns out to be a Christmas present for Pepper, and we can’t decide what’s weirder: the realisation that Stark has no idea what women want in their stocking, or that this is a spring-timed movie set in December. Isn’t terrorism awful no matter what the time of year?
Perhaps they were looking for a way to shoehorn the striking visual of Stark carving a path through the snow with his battered Iron Man suit behind him, looking like a Marvel-branded sleigh. The cold climes and blue tones will give Film Studies students plenty of textual analysis ammunition but the rest of are left feeling like we’ve wandered into one of those year-round Christmas shops. We’re sure a re-watch in 7-8 months time will have us feeling festive, though, particularly the ET moment where young boy Harley (Ty Simpkins) discovers the broken-down superhero in his shed. Steven Spielberg would never have signed off on Stark’s retort to Harley’s dad disappearing six years ago, though: “Well, that happens. There’s no need to be a pussy about it.”
Things start to move into Terminator territory as Stark becomes the boy’s protector when the Extremis super soldiers start coming after him. Just like the T-1000, they appear like regular humans and are downright creepy because of this. However, behind the special effects fireworks and superb action pieces on display, there’s a real story at its heart that you could accuse Avenger Assemble of lacking. There are a couple of unexpected turns before the credits roll, along with an answer to the question of who Iron Man really is, but that was never really in doubt.