You have to hand it to Shane Black, he’s got me torn in a good and bad way. There’s no questioning his screenplay skills, the man can write.
Past work includes Lethal Weapon 1-4, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the latter being his directorial debut. Yet I feel this latest instalment in the Iron Man franchise, whilst generally good, may have missed a trick or two.
Plot wise, this picks up soon after the events of Avengers. Tony is in a bad way suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and the like.
Then, to kick him whilst he’s down, The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) appears on the scene; a shadowy, terrorist-type figure, taking credit for a series of bombings, issuing death threats to the President – that sort of thing.
One bombing results in the injury of Tony’s former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau), which is the last straw. With a ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, Tony tells The Mandarin to pay him a visit, which he duly does with attack helicopters and missiles.
With his house in ruins and precious iron suit out of power, Tony is stripped back to his wits and surroundings to fight back – much in the way he was in the original. Although this time in snowy Tennessee in winter, as opposed to a sandy cave in the Middle East.
Throw the suave and sophisticated Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and former flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) in the mix, as a pair trying to convince Stark Enterprises to buy into their ‘extremis’ product (an experimental regenerative treatment) and you’ve got the basis for a rip-roaring film. Let’s face it, anything would be an improvement on Iron Man 2 at this point.
Happily, Black largely delivers. He’s known for sharp, witty one-liners – not only from the main cast, but minor characters too – so Stark should suit him down to the ground. I say should, as there’s a few minor quibbles that stop this being a truly great superhero flick.
First off, what’s with everything being a back-to-basics origin story these days? Batman and Bond ‘went dark’, with Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel appearing to follow suit. Seems hero characters are all being stripped back with Hollywood saying ‘We must have an origin story or people won’t buy into it!’ Not true.
Luckily it’s not all darkness, Black is a dab hand at a quick, witty lines to lift the tone. However, to nit pick somewhat, you could argue he uses this skill a bit too much. Yes, play to your strengths, but there were times when dramatic tone was needed to build tension and Black retreated to his comfort zone with an amusing line and the moment was lost.
This was clear to see when Tony suffered from anxiety attacks frequently early on, but these were often dismissed or trivialised by other characters and the scene quickly moved on. Surely there was more mileage in exploring his mental state more thoroughly? It would have added depth to Stark’s character.
Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen was an intriguing character and got me thinking maybe she’d add depth to Stark’s journey, yet Black shied away from exploring this too. Kingsley’s Mandarin was similarly short-changed on the dramatic front. Most surprising, given the calibre of these actors the director had at his disposal.
That aside, Black more than delivers on action and humour – perfect for this character – yet perhaps falls short when it comes to dramatic depth. As a result we’re left with the funniest Iron Man to date – the extra comedy putting it on par with the original – but you’re left feeling that, instead of another gag, more substance at times would have been more refreshing.
Let’s leave you with classic Black, ‘This isn’t good cop bad cop, this is fag and New Yorker.’
Crash, bang, wallop – Shane Black action movie masterclass
Iron Man – behind the scenes