DIRECTED BY SHANE BLACKSTARRING: ROBERT DOWNEY JR., GWYNETH PALTROW, DON CHEADLE, GUY PEARCE, REBECCA HALL, TY SIMPKINS, STEPHANIE SZOSTAK, JAMES BADGE DALE with JON FAVREAU and BEN KINGSLEY
There will not be a more comprehensively American contribution to the superhero universe than Iron Man, and I have maintained this position ever since I saw Tony Stark take on a partner-in-crime of Stark Industries in a battle that destroyed half the city but had him ‘come out’ in style in an unexpected(?) resolution in the first film. I guess I cannot make it any clearer that I did not think much of the franchise.
But I cannot say the same about Iron Man 3. It comes out a year after the super success of the Avengers and actually refers to the film in so many places – which might not be the smartest move considering it has us viewers ask what the Incredible Hulk was doing when the Iron Man was in chains, mortally wounded. Or any member of S.H.I.E.L.D. for that matter. Perhaps I was too keen on the lookout that I got ahead of myself a little bit, but I thought I could see certain characteristics of the Avengers absorbed into characters old and new in Iron Man 3. I would break two of the biggest and most exciting revelations Iron Man 3 has if I told you what those are. I will only say that they are just about enough to guarantee your satisfaction, if the action sequences have not done that already.
There is not too much of a graduation where the plotline is concerned. This is where I would return to my previous assertion that there is no superhero who is as American as Iron Man. Please understand that I use Iron Man and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) interchangeably. Somewhere in the beginning of Iron Man 3, Stark makes the assertion that the machine is a part of him. It is a scene where you would like to shout out loud at the screen, in clarification. The actual rectification comes much later, actually, in the last shot of the film. The Iron Man is not part of Tony Stark. Tony Stark is Iron Man. It’s Dr. Jekyll’s Hyde-side, where both people are salvaged by patriotism – something Stark calls plain old-fashioned revenge. Interesting. Kidnapping the President is like kidnapping the woman he has vowed to protect. Both deserve to be avenged for. On the one hand we have the man. On the other we have the patriot.
Iron Man 3 borders on being a buddy-comedy on so many levels. Actually, so did the previous two. Maybe not the first film that much. Stark and Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle, beefed up and striking), Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, whoa!), Potts and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, like a sunrise in Barcelona), Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Stark and JARVIS (voiced by Paul Bettany). And, oh, Stark and Harley (Ty Simpkins, endearing) – a kid sidekick who is snarky by sheer innocence, possibly the most unbelievable character in recent times, miles ahead of Max in Real Steel. Stark makes a fair Charlie too. At no point in the film do these people (with the exception of Dr. Hansen) face actual threat. Stark himself had gone through bigger crises than the one in this film. Blasted, kidnapped and on the verge of death, he made Iron Man in Iron Man. His makeshift arrangement for a heart gave him complications in the second film, and he was on the verge of death, again, due to poisoning. In Iron Man 3, it is anxiety attacks. Hardly threatening.
At no point in the film do we doubt that all would be well. Something would happen. Someone would step forward and take the fall, only to rise again. Stark. Rhodes. Harley. Dr. Hansen. Pepper Potts too, like the twelfth member in Ocean’s Twelve, does an exciting cameo. This reassurance is further backed by Stark playing narrator in the film. Thou shalt not take me seriously. This is one film that has played to the true spirit of Iron Man. It’s like Charlie’s Angels of America. There is even a red-white-and-blue suit which Stark never wears. Col. Rhodes does. So does the President and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the bad guy. Talk about political correctness! Iron Man 3 does well by keeping Russia and the Islamic nations out, even though many of the henchmen look like they’re from either of these places. Still, the wounds of America are self-inflicted. The remedy lies within. Where is he located? Stark asks JARVIS, in pursuit. Pakistan? No, says JARVIS. He is in Miami. It is part of a bigger comedic routine which, I have to say, is hilarious. Long story short, Stark asks Harley (boy-genius, like Stark himself) to shut JARVIS down and reboot him because he seems to be getting the last word of every sentence wrong. But Harley confirms that the man he is after is actually in Miami, Florida. He is called the Mandarin (HA!) and is a crony with the American dream acting from behind the scenes – that of total control. In him, we see the coming together of so many things distinctively American. The faux-British accent. The method actor. The junkie. The sell-out in Ben Kingsley.
There are so many scenes that typify this self-identification, some of which you might miss; some of which are in your face. The American President is held for an oil spill. For that he is sentenced to death by oil. Col. Rhodes does well to reemphasize. It is only a reason to kill him, as Killian says. He is the pioneer of a new brand of biotechnology called Extremus – a mechanism that taps right into your brain cells and alters your DNA, in a quest to find the ultimate superhuman. There is a flaw, however, which also serves as a regulatory mechanism, for the people at AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics). But the flaw is not merely physical. It has to do with the very conceptualization of the superhuman. I see a vague sort of intersection with an X-Men-styled pacifism here. The idea of the superhuman lies not in strength, but in control. Iron Man has a suit which is detachable. I hear that the actual Extremus arc has him fuse his suit with his body – where the man becomes one with the machine. The film does not support this concept. It separates man from machine and brings death to all who do not wish to do that. Power is power only when you can step out of your skin and – I don’t know – criticize yourself? Even if you were to ultimately resolve the question in your favour, like Stark always does. It is after all a toss between two Capitalists – one who lets the State do its job, another who wants it to do his. Both of them control it, nonetheless. The common man – who is but raw talent and aspiration – becomes a pawn in their game, as dispensable as Dr. Hansen. No marks for guessing what happens to her.
All aside, what is most exciting about Iron Man 3 is its action choreography. As I have always maintained, the beauty of an action sequence is in the elaboration. Lightning strike or blitzkrieg, it first has to make sense. Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) frames his action sequences keeping the viewer in the middle. Also interesting to note is the amount of time that Stark actually spends outside his suit, which goes well with the theme of Stark as the Mechanic, as he introduces himself to Harley. He is not the man in the suit. He is the one who made it. But he is also the suit. It is pretty confusing, if you think about it. But don’t. For the love of great visuals and spectacular action, watch Iron Man 3 discarding all analysis as I have made above. Or watch it, keeping them in mind, as long as they do not come in the way of childlike delight. And most importantly, watch it in 2D. For a better, more intimate experience, take your suit off. By suit, here, I mean your 3D glasses; your multiplex death-mask.