I can’t be the only person to notice this but the man in charge of Marvel’s film productions, Kevin Feige, totally stole his business model from a rapper/music producer named the RZA. Back in 1993 RZA founded the immortal Hip-Hop group The Wu-Tang Clan as a sort of loose collective of New York MCs who would each work with RZA to put out solo albums one at a time and then form together to put out full collaborative Wu-Tang albums and then repeat the cycle thereafter. That’s exactly what Feige has done with The Avengers: he’s made each member of that supergroup fully capable of working simultaneously as a solo act and as a group member. It must also be some sort of cosmic coincidence that the Wu-Tang member who’s had arguably the best solo career is Ghostface Killah, who has throughout his career adopted the alias Tony Starks and whose debut solo album was called “Ironman,” which was of course named after the comic book hero who would become the breakout star of Marvel’s “phase one.” It was only natural that marvel would go to that breakout star for their first solo project in the wake of the massive success that was The Avengers: and that’s exactly what they’ve done by sliding Iron Man 3 into their summer 2013 slot.
Iron Man 3 is set a few months or so after the events of The Avengers and at something of a low point in the life of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Tony is as rich as ever and his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is intact, but his experience fighting off the Chitauri invasion at the end of The Avengers has left him somewhat traumatized; he’s been obsessively upgrading his Iron Man suits and losing a lot of sleep in the process. The state of the world isn’t great either. A terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been attacking prominent targets in the United States and has been interrupting television broadcasts in order to brag about it. The President (William Sadler) has responded to these attacks by re-branding a James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) piloted War Machine as “The Iron Patriot” and sending him on reconnaissance missions, but so far these have been fruitless. Eventually Happy Hogan (John Favreau), who has been promoted to Stark Industries’ head of security, finds a link between The Mandarin and the leader of a prominent think tank head named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and this discovery lands him in the hospital. Incensed, Tony declares a personal war against The Mandarin, but it’s a war he may not truly be prepared for.
The Iron Man character is of course very popular right now, but Iron Man 2 clearly proved that the producers couldn’t just throw Robert Downey Jr. into any messy film and expect him to turn it to gold. As such, the creative team has been changed up for this third sequel. Shane Black has been brought on as director and co-writer, which is a choice that I must say I’ve been conflicted about. On one hand, Black isn’t some kind of lame studio hack like Louis Leterrier, but given the voice he’s employed on previous films there was a danger that he’d turn the film into s total snark-fest. Fortunately that isn’t really the case. Like Joss Whedon before him Shane Black has managed to inject this film with some of his signature humor while knowing when to rein it in. In fact, this has been billed as the darkest installment of the series to date, but that’s kind of a relative term. If I were to develop a “seriousness scale” from 1 to 10 (with ten being the most serious) the first two films would probably land at 4 and 3.5 respectively and this one would land at something like a 5.
In fact, I think most audiences have come to expect only slight differences between installments in Marvel films, that studio has come to really hedge their creative bets for better or worse. Pretty much any review of any of their films could probably just go “did you like the last one? Then expect this one to be more of the same except very slightly better/worse.” This has the same expensive CGI heavy actioneering we’ve seen before in this series and more of Robert Downey Jr. cracking wise. Some of the previous film’s negatives have also carried over, namely the franchise’s pathetic inability to create memorable villains. I thought they’d be able to reverse that by bringing in The Mandarin (who is pretty much the only noteworthy villain in Iron Man’s entire comic book rouge gallery), but he isn’t has big of a presence in the film as the trailers would have you believe. Black comes up with a fairly amusing twist on the character, but for much of the run time the film’s villain role is taken over by a fairly bland corporate villain played by Guy Pearce.
I wish I had more to say about this film except that “they didn’t screw it up.” It takes almost no real risks and suffers no major setbacks. It improves slightly on its predecessor, which I suppose makes up for the fact that Iron Man 2 was slightly worse than the first. This “play it safe” attitude of Marvel’s is going to come back and bite them in the ass eventually, but not this time. Iron Man 3 is a perfectly enjoyable modern summer blockbuster that will leave few fans looking for “more of the same” unsatisfied.
*** out of Four