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Iron Man III

Iron Man III

The ageless Robert Downey Jr

dir: Shane Black

Third-parters are almost never good. They never work out well, whether in comparison to the first two instalments, or compared to any other decent films in general. Aliens III? Matrix: Revolutions? Superman III? Can you think of a third parter at least as good as what came before it? The only one I can think of is Return of the King, which many callous people think of as being The Kiwi Flick with Three Hours of Endings. But I don't, since if one happy ending is a good thing, then lots of happy endings has got to be even more super amazing.

You could argue that the difference is when the third part of a film trilogy is an organic part of the story, rather than a second sequel, whose purpose is just to capitalise on diminishing returns. Where Dark Knight Rises fits into this I couldn't tell you. Where some would argue 'necessity', others would argue 'doesn't say anything it hasn't already said twice before'. So whether it's Shrek the Third or Jaws III or Robocop III, or Spider-Man III, we're generally programmed to expect much more of 'more of the same' -ness to predominate, as well as a certain tiredness to the premise and mistakes particular to thirds that just have to be made.

I would argue that Iron Man III is the best of the three Iron Man movies. I know it doesn't seem likely, but it gets everything right both inside and outside the context of 'super hero flick' that I could hope for. It was so hellishly entertaining, so clever in many of its aspects, and thoroughly satisfying on any comic-book level I could have desired that it really is quite surprising. A pleasant surprise, not a surprise like finding a nipple growing out of your elbow.

The other argument I generally make about third instalments is that they end up repeating the events of the first flick, just in a louder and more repetitive fashion. It goes beyond callbacks and references for the geeks. Basically, the screenwriting template for 3s is 'pretty much mirror the events of the first flick, but add stacks more villains'. That's not a formula for quality. It's a formula for printing money and sadness.

Iron Man III is smarter than that. It's even subversive, for a summery blockbuster. Shane Black, infamous for giving the world the screenplays for such films as Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Last Action Hero, somehow managed to convince the people at Marvel that he should helm a film costing $200 million to make and probably half that to market. How did that happen, when he's only directed one film thus far, being Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which didn't really make a bundle or work entirely well?

Well, Robert Downey Jnr, in some ways, is probably as powerful as Tony Stark is in his world. Downey Jnr said "hire my friend Shane Black to direct the 3rd one or I walk" and they said "yes sir, Mr Downey Jnr, sir, would you like some teenage groupies with your order, sir?" They worked together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and from that alone I can easily guess it's through his desire that this came about. People might not remember, as well, that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was one of the first steps in redeeming Robert Downey Jnr in Hollywood's eyes, because his intention at the time was convincing studios that he could be relied upon to turn up on time and perform without being coked out of his mind.

Mid 2000s. It's only been since 2006-onwards that the world's love affair with him was rekindled, because he was poison before then. The early 2000s were not kind to him. They were great for me, the late 90s - early 2000s being a particularly great time in my life, but he was in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, in and out of people's houses.

How unreliable was he? Mel Gibson had to vouch for him, and pay the insurance on him, in order to get the US version of The Singing Detective done.

When Mel Gibson is the one saying 'no, don't worry, he's fine now', you know you've gone beyond rock bottom and drilled through the centre of the world in terms of bringing oneself low.

Now, he's king of the world. He could probably buy James Cameron's Titanic and set himself at the prow and bellow "I'm King of the World!" endlessly and no-one could dispute it. Iron Man, The Avengers and those darned Sherlock Holmes flicks have seen him become, ironically, probably the highest paid action star in the world.

How bizarre, what a bizarre world we live in. That quixotic charm, that capacity for arrogant self-effacement and rakish, fevered mania have all combined in the public's mind into the perfect combination of what they didn't know they craved in an actor, but now want desperately. It's virtually impossible to separate how we see Robert Downey and how we see the characters he plays, especially Tony Stark, the hero of at least four films thus far.

As the film opens, he intones in full voiceover mode, that we create our own demons. They are not external to us, there's no interest in these kinds of stories for having the conflict come from a completely separate place. Whether it's Batman or Spider-Man or Iron Man, the crucial comic book hero dynamic is that the villain is created by the hero, and often vice versa.

We don't and can't understand this yet, but when the story starts with a flashback that's all about what an arrogant, womanising prick Tony Stark used to be, and some poorly realised super technology that he should have taken more notice of, we know that both are probably going to play a significant part throughout the flick.

During this flashback to New Year's 1999, we see a few things: Tony's bodyguard had a mullet, Tony liked some thin, brunette, at least for a night, and the brunette was a botanist who somehow had a healing tech that also randomly exploded. And on this auspicious night, there's a guy with a limp, bad teeth and long stringy blonde hair, desperate to talk to Tony Stark. Sure, he's played by Australia's Own Guy Pearce, and has the highly awkward name of Aldrich Killian, a name I don't think even supervillians or serial killers would give their children, but really they should have just called him Syndrome (from The Incredibles), because that's essentially what he is. Snubbed by Stark, by this most Ironest of Men, Syndrome vows to use technology to become the superhero he always knew he should be.

A bunch of years later, and Syndrome isn't the fright-inducing name on the hearts and minds of children everywhere. The name that strikes terror into the hearts of middle America is The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a terrorist whose purpose is to kill heaps of people, find a light beer that doesn't make him feel bloated, and to bring the mighty nation to its knees. He records these shadowy videos reminding us of a certain former leader of a freelance terror-inducing person-killing organisation who met his match a couple of years ago because, if the events of Kathryn Bigelow's film Zero Dark Thirty can be believed, he pissed off the wrong redhead. Wispy beard, contempt for the Great Satan, he has it all, and he is terrifying.

Stuff happens, and Stark is brought into this conflict because of his arrogance. We are also given reason to believe that the events of the last Avengers film have him still reeling with some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which leads him to not sleep and to keep making Iron Man suits for all occasions that he can think of. Here we have Beach Iron Man, with SPF 50+ dispenser and frisbee catcher appendages; here we have Bar Mitzvah Iron Man, which can shoot gefillte fish and envelopes filled with money at kids who've reached that special age.

It's common for the hero to be brought low before he can Rise Up and save the day. We are not surprised when it happens here, because, frankly, he had it coming. Or, we saw the trailer, and that's pretty informative. What the trailer doesn't show us is how the technology of his invention is limited, but not his genius at its use. The suits can allow him to do something like save the life of the love of his life from harm, but they can't entirely save the day, because he still loses everything and seems like he's given up the ghost. This prehensile Mark 48 suit can magically go wherever he wants it to, and allow him to destroy a helicopter by throwing a piano at it, but it's apt to fall apart even as it's saving the day.

This happens throughout, and it's probably wise. There are limits to technology, and even in its manic, almost magical applicability in almost every circumstance, we're constantly being reminded that it's the Man behind the Iron that's the real superhero. As if the purpose of the flick was to reiterate Stark's response in The Avengers when queried by Captain America as to what he amounts to without the suit, the whole purpose of the third film is to remind us that it's his resourcefulness and mad engineering skills that make him formidable, more than the suit.

Sure, we can't get enough of engineers being superstars, because frankly they deserve it more than anyone else, but that's the way this flick is focussed. As such he spends the vast majority of the flick out of the suit. I'd say it's almost 3/4s of the flick. For those who were just desperately hoping for more and more of that metal guy blowing shit up, they're probably going to be disappointed. That's not to say that there isn't a bunch of action, there's heaps of it. Oodles of it. It's an action film, after all, but the makers of these flicks know that the real reason people like these flicks is because of Robert Downey Jnr motor-mouthing and cracking one-liners all over the place, not just watching a CGI guy in a red and gold suit battle other CGI stuff.

The villains, the other ones apart from The Mandarin are a strange bunch. Mostly, and here's where the story gets somewhat subversive, the main villain and his entourage are war veterans who were grieviously wounded in one of America's many recent wars with whoever. This strange technology / medical treatment makes them heal super fast, and get all hot and bothered when they want to, in surprising and painful-looking ways. It also makes them kind of evil, though that's never explained, nor does it have to be.

For his 'downtime', the time where Tony doesn't have a suit and has to lay low and regroup, he ends up in some small town, some small Tennessee town with some connection to the convoluted plot, which most people hopefully aren't going to care about. No-one pops Tony's spine back into place at the bottom of a prison which is just a hole in the ground, but he has been, we are meant to believe, humbled by recent experiences. To underline that fact, he's given a kid side-kick, which I would ordinarily grumble about, but it leads to one of the single greatest moments of Robert Downey Jnr's entire career, when he hurriedly intones, "Look, dad's leave, there's no need to be a pussy about it" to the poor kid. Yeah, I've spoiled it, but the whole dynamic between a manipulative kid and an abusive arsehole adult works beautifully.

After spending time with the hicks, more than ever he has to prove he's still hot shit without the suit, but we're not fools for expecting that the suit, whichever version, will probably make it back in the nick of time during some action sequence at the very last possible second but also in the funniest way.

He has a hilarious A-Team moment where he improvises a whole bunch of weapons from stuff he picks up at a hardware store. With this he leads a one-man attack on a compound which he believes will bring him closer to getting revenge, REVENGE! on that evil Mandarin.

Well, it turns out that, and you'll probably be amazed, that not everyone and everything is what it seems, and that the villains here, like the media-savvy villains in our 'real' world who pledged to destroy the forces of neatness and whiteness, were, in many senses, created by the forces of niceness and over-consumption.

Throughout, he who puts the Junior in Robert Downey is grand: grandiloquent, grandiose, grandstanding. It's his film, no-one disputing that, he owns every scene, he comfortably acts or overacts as the situation demands. People who love him and his work will be thrilled with both him and his work here. He's great spitting dialogue, he's great in the action scenes where humans are involved, and he's got nice chemistry with everyone he needs to have chemistry, including, it's painful to say, that supreme business-woman of the future-present, Gwyneth Paltrow/Pepper Potts. She, too, finally gets to shine at the end, in a sequence where I couldn't help but wonder if they were tipping their hand as to the next villain in some future sequel.

Of the action sequences, the destruction of Stark's Malibu pad; a barroom brawl that gets out of hand, the skydiving sequence and what happens immediately after, a sequence on Air Force One, the takedown at the drug-dealer-like mansion, the strange Iron Patriot stuff culminating in the battle at an oil platform, are all competently handled and look like they're making sense, even if they're not really making a lot of sense. The plot machinations at certain times confused me, but none of the action. It was all well thought out, well sequenced and well-realised. I have to say that 3D enhanced all these onscreen machinations not one bit. Nothing I saw looked any the better for being in 3D, so I'm guessing it was all done in post-production. At least the 3D didn't obscure what was going on.

It doesn't have the precise balancing-act type stuff going on like in The Avengers, and doesn't have the sturm und drang of the Nolan Batman flicks, but it works to a surprising and pleasing degree. I wouldn't want Shane Black directing an adaptation of a Philip Roth novel or writing the screenplay to a sequel to My Dinner with Andre, but he's a perfectly 80s natural when it comes to cheesy action flicks. Lives them, breathes them, expels them out into the world fully formed. He's like the non-evil offspring of Jerry Bruckheimer, Don Simpson, Joel Silver and Michael Bay, and that's the guy you want helming Iron Man III.

And that's what we got in this flick, both Shane Black and Robert Downey Jnr at their witty best. As great as they are, Ben Kingsley almost steals the film from even a chattery ham like Jnr, with a performance that straddles the two furthest points on the acting spectrum of the possible. It's as good as we could have hoped for, and turns out it was a lot.

8 times war, what is is good for, absolutely nothing except providing the henchmen for villains in action flicks out of 10

"You don't know who I am. You'll never see me coming." - even for a villain, that sounds awfully masturbatory and stalkerish - Iron Man III