In scene after scene – dockyard shoot-out; protagonist chained up in basement; heroine chained up in villain’s lair; arbitrary shots of hookers and beauty pageant contestants – its clear that ‘Iron Man 3’ is un film de Shane Black. This works to its benefit and detriment in roughly equal measures. To its benefit in that Black’s script is a godsend after to Justin Theroux’s rambling, unfocused ‘Iron Man 2’ screenplay. To its detriment in that you can never quite shake the feeling that Black would have been happier if Tony Stark were a burnt-out alcoholic cop with a shady past and didn’t go around wearing a flying metal suit.
Which isn’t to say that Black doesn’t deliver two big-ass set-pieces involving the suit: one involving some sky-diving, the other at the aforementioned dockyard (involving, to be honest, a fuckload of flying metal suits). It’s just that the rest of the movie doesn’t seem to be in the same key.
Herein the problem: the bits of the film that work do so because they’re demonstrably Shane Black moments; but these moments are not in the key of Tony Stark. And what made the first ‘Iron Man’ such an unexpected delight – and such a smash success; it was ‘Iron Man’, after all, that kickstarted Marvel’s five-year box office supremacy – was Robert Downey Jnr’s unapologetically showboating performance as Stark. Billionaire, genius and philanthropist wrapped up in the same flamboyant package as playboy, smartarse and arrogant twat – every facet of his character held in such perfect equilibrium as to make him irresistibly entertaining.
And yet ‘Iron Man 2’ had him depleted and riddled with self-doubt, while this new instalment sees him traumatised by the events of ‘Avengers Assemble’. Hence, a Tony Stark who suffers panic attacks, a Tony Stark who burrows into a cocoon of introversion, a Tony Stark whose latest refinements on the suit are riddled with tech issues that leave him vulnerable. Hey, folks, remember the Tony Stark who partied with hot chicks, dealt one-liners like a card-sharp cutting a deck, and drove the most expensive model Audi have ever built like the freeway was his own personal race track? Yeah, I remember him too, and I miss the dude. Can we have him back next time, please?