Marvel continues their well-oiled machine.
Ahh, to be a fly on the wall at the Marvel Studios office. Once can only imagine the conversations that led to the release of Shane Black's IRON MAN 3. It's true that IRON MAN 2 slightly underperformed, both financially and critically, but considering the miracle that Jon Favreau had achieved with the franchise up until that point, the decision to replace him (or not pay him enough to return) for IM3 was a confusing one. On top of that, they opted to bring in yet another out of the box director.
Shane Black, best known for his legendary screenwriting (LETHAL WEAPON 1 & 2, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT), but had only directed one film, KISS KISS BANG BANG. (Seriously, if you haven't seen this movei, go do so right now. Why are you still reading this? Go see it.)
Lack of experience aside, the Marvel head honchos were sweet-talked into believing Black was capable of doing something astounding: continue the most innovative superhero franchise in town, up the ante of the biggest non-James Cameron film of all-time, and do so in a fresh way, all the while learning on the job. They very clearly did not want another CG Ironman fighting another guy in a metal suit. So, here's the spoiler alert: mission accomplished.
IM3 is an energy machine. If Robert Downey Jr. and Black had an actual arc reactor powering their noggins, they could not have been any more on top of their game. Every shot and every frame of this film has something witty, sharp, and original going on. The action works in a way that no Marvel movie has had before. Black has found a way to remind the audience that Tony Stark has emerged as the real super hero of this franchise, not his costumed alter-ego.
Not to mention this is the funniest movie I've seen in years, comedy or otherwise. The humor is organic and flows from start to finish. The exact same synergy that Black and Downey Jr. captured in KKBB is front and center here, only amplified by the fact that both actor and director never forget to use the surreal environment to their comedic advantage.
Now, there are many bold choices made here and not all fans are going to love them. There is a twist with the villain that nobody will see coming, that will be debated by comic purists for years to come. The second act sticks out a bit as Tony goes through his personal odyssey to basically get his balls back after a monumental ass-whooping. This portion of the film drags a bit and can seem a little out of place. That being said, one thing I enjoyed about this film, and most modern Marvel films, is that the creatives haven't been afraid to shake up the storylines a bit. There have been so many incarnations of these characters and stories over the years that it allows for Black, Favreau and Joss Whedon (director of THE AVENGERS) to dip into a variety of wells and create something new and exciting. If you're looking for a direct adaptation of a particular arc, go watch a SIN CITY, or a 300. These movies have become their very own monster, and are better for it.
The biggest fear about the hiring of Black was that he had no experience with the technical side of things, and fortunately, that has become a non-issue. Where he truly excels, however, is with actors and dialogue. Every single character in this film is well hashed out, from Favreau's Happy Hogan, to Guy Pierce's Aldrich Killian. Black knows that if a character appears in a film, they should have some meat on their bones. Look for Ty Simpkins' scenes with Downey Jr. to stand out, and I have to say this looks to be the most fun that Sir Ben Kingsley has ever had on film. No exaggeration.
Finally, yes, I saw it in 3D, and no, I'm still not a fan. There are a few brief moments where it actually brings something to the experience. It helps to make the audience feel as overwhelmed as Stark in the helicopter raid scene. At this point, Iron Man has defeated an entire alien armada, so losing a fight to three helicopters is a tough sell, but the 3D does help to create the sense of chaos that Tony needs to be engulfed in.
I won't go on about every beat of the film; that's for you to enjoy in the theater. The real story here is, yet again, Marvel has taken a chance on a small budget, dialogue-driven, and story-motivated director and come out better for it. Keep up the good work, boys.