“The events of Loki’s attack on New York City has left Tony Stark a completely changed man. Now saddled with a severe case of insomnia and post traumatic stress disorder, Tony spends his sleepless nights the only way he knows how – coming up with new prototypes for the Iron Man suit. But now new events require that Tony suit up again. A villainous madman known only as the Mandarin has staged a horrible attack on the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and is coming for Tony. An angry Tony wants to confront the Mandarin face to face, who proceeds to stage an attack on Tony’s Malibu mansion and leaves him with absolutely nothing – no Pepper, no toys except for a defunct Iron Man prototype called the MK42, and he’s stranded in the middle of Tennessee. Tony believes the attack on the Chinese Theatre and an attack on a small town in Tennessee are related. As he puts the pieces together and tries to get the MK42 working, he discovers far more sinister forces at work greater than the Mandarin himself. But how does an event from Tony’s past fit in with the events of the present?” (courtesy IMDB)
The box-office sensation Iron Man 3 (2013) earned more than US$1.2 billion worldwide, outgrossing both Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010) combined. The second-highest grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the fifth-highest grossing film of all-time, it’s taken more than half a century of hard work for Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, to get to this point. Created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber and Don Heck in 1963 for issue #39 of Tales Of Suspense, he was originally imagined with bulky grey armour, but was reimagined as a gold colour in the next issue. Ultimately, his familiar sleek red-and-gold armour appeared several issues later. Iron Man relies on the powered armour for his strength, invulnerability and array of weaponry. The armour was invented by billionaire industrialist and military contractor Tony Stark while he was a prisoner of the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war. At age 21 Stark inherited his father’s company when his parents were killed in a car crash, and decides to fly around the world in an effort to take stock of how the company’s products were being used.
While visiting Vietnam to see how mini-transistors were being employed to win the war effort, he is captured by a warlord named Wong Chu. Chu forces Stark to work with fellow prisoner Yin Sen, a famous physicist, and together they hatch a plan to escape which requires building a powered suit of armour. Stark fights his way free of the prison camp and saves Jim Rhodes, a wounded American helicopter pilot, from the North Vietnamese. Upon his return, Stark continues to work on the armour, making improvements that will allow him to become Iron Man. Throughout the early issues of the comic, Stark maintains that Iron Man is actually a personal bodyguard because they are often seen in the same location but never at the same time. Six months after his first appearance, Iron Man joined the Avengers as a founding member – along with the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp – and he also worked with Nick Fury and SHIELD.
In 1968 Iron Man got his very own title and has been published continuously ever since. Stark battled alcoholism in the eighties and the addiction caused him to have such radical personality changes that even the Avengers turned their back on him. After he cleaned himself up a bit, Stark had to do battle with his own armour which gained sentience and deal with a couple of heart attacks. Iron Man made his first media appearance outside the world of comics in the animated television series The Marvel Super Heroes (1966) with actor John Vernon providing his voice. Iron Man could also be spotted in Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends (1981) with the vocal talents of William Marshall and, in The Marvel Action Hour (1994), he was voiced by Robert Hayes. He was a regular in the Fox animated series The Avengers: United They Stand (1999) voiced by Francis Diakowsky, and appeared in The Ultimate Avengers (2006) series of direct-to-DVD animated movies portrayed by several different voice actors.
Iron Man had been considered as the subject of a big-screen film version many times but each time the news was premature. Just prior to the death of Bill Bixby in 1993, Iron Man was going to be featured in The Rebirth Of The Incredible Hulk but the project was shelved indefinitely when the lead actor passed away. New Line Cinema announced that it was producing an Iron Man movie with Nick Cassavetes as director and a November 2005 release date but then it was pushed back to 2006, then 2007. Eventually the studio’s rights expired and they bounced back to Marvel. At San Diego Comic-Con, Jon Favreau discussed the version that he was making for Paramount Pictures. Based on a script by Arthur Marcum and Matt Holloway, Favreau also stated that the armour would be more like a weapons platform than just a flying suit.
It would star Terrence Howard as Rhodes, Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts, Jeff Bridges as rival Obidiah Stane, and the inspired casting of Robert Downey Jr. in the lead. Back in 2001, Downey was starting to look like one of those former child actors who just can’t seem to cut it as an adult. Drug-addled episodes that included being found unconscious literally in the gutter in a Los Angeles back alley got him fired from his comeback role on the television series Ally McBeal. After more than five years in and out of the slammer and rehabilitation, it seemed pretty certain that his career was finished. Then he appeared in the sharp, funny, cool action film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and things started to turn around. With all of the critical success Downey had experienced throughout his career, he had never appeared in a real blockbuster, but that changed mid-2008 when he starred in two critically and commercially successful films: Tropic Thunder (2008) and Iron Man (2008).
Favreau insisted on Downey and (correctly) claimed that he would be to Iron Man what Johnny Depp is to the Pirates Of The Caribbean (2003) franchise, a lead actor that could both elevate the quality of the film and increase the public’s interest in it: “Downey wasn’t the most obvious choice, but he understood what makes the character tick. He found a lot of his own life experience in Tony Stark.” Downey had to gain more than ten kilograms (about twenty pounds) of muscle within five months to look right for the part, and it was worth the effort. Iron Man made almost US$600 million worldwide and received rave reviews which cited Downey’s performance as a highlight of the film. As a result Downey signed up for for the next two films in the trilogy, and now he’s considered box-office gold after Iron Man 3 (2013) became the second highest-grossing superhero film of all-time after The Avengers (2012) which, of course, also features Iron Man.
The third film happens to be directed by the guy who gave Downey his action movie break, Shane Black, and it was Downey who recommended him for the job. Like Downey, Black peaked early – writing the script for Lethal Weapon (1987) at just 24 years old, he has been credited with inventing the modern action genre but, after The Last Action Hero (1993) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) bombed, he lost credibility within the film industry. His directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) proved that Black had plenty more to offer and, with Iron Man 3, he gets to do it. The storyline begins with billionaire philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) recalling a New Year’s Eve party in 1999 where he meets scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), the inventor of Extremis, an experimental regenerative treatment intended to allow recovery from crippling injuries. Disabled scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) offers them a place in his company, but Stark rejects his offer and humiliates him.
Fast-forward about a dozen years later, six months after the events of The Avengers (2012) and the battle for New York, Stark’s experiences during the alien invasion are beginning to give him panic attacks. Restless, he has built several dozen Iron Man suits, creating friction with his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Meanwhile, a string of bombings by a global anarchist/celebrity terrorist known only as the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) has left intelligence agencies bewildered by a lack of forensic evidence. Stark’s security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is badly injured in a Mandarin attack, causing Stark to issue a televised threat to the Mandarin, who responds by destroying Stark’s home with helicopter gunships. Hansen, who came to warn Stark, survives the attack along with Potts. Stark escapes in an Iron Man suit, which his artificial intelligence JARVIS (Paul Bettany) pilots to rural Tennessee, following a flight plan from Stark’s investigation into the Mandarin.
Stark’s experimental armour lacks sufficient power to return to California, and the world believes him to be dead (“I’m like someone who has been cosmically humiliated. When you’re looking at the back nine and you’re not a kid any more, you start to realise how you share things with a character like Tony. As Iron Man has become more real and more kind of out there in his own way, I have become just moderately more humble and more humanised.”). Teaming up with precocious ten-year-old Harley (Ty Simpkins), Stark investigates the remains of a local explosion bearing the hallmarks of a Mandarin attack. He discovers the bombings were triggered by soldiers subjected to Extremis which, at this stage of development, caused certain subjects to explosively reject the treatment. After veterans started exploding, these explosions were falsely attributed to a terrorist plot in order to cover up the flaws in the treatment.
“With the help of its charismatic lead, some impressive action sequences and even a few surprises, Iron Man 3 is a witty, entertaining adventure and a strong addition to the Marvel canon.” (Rotten Tomatoes)
“The anti-Batman, all zip and zingers. He’s also suddenly rather family-friendly. Some of the movie’s best moments are shared by Stark and latchkey kid Harley, who mock their budding father-son relationship while acting it out.” (Newsday)
“After nearly crashing and burning on his last solo flight in 2010, Iron Man returns refreshed and ready for action in this spirited third instalment that benefits immeasurably from the irreverent quicksilver humour of co-writer and director Shane Black.” (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Darker and more serious than its predecessors, changing this billion-dollar-plus franchise’s tone for the better while keeping the same actor as Tony Stark. There is quite a bit of Black’s trademark attitude and humour here as well, things like a throwaway reference to the sci-fi classic Westworld (1973) and a goofy character who has Tony Stark’s likeness tattooed on his forearm. Black and company throw all kinds of stuff at the audience and, though it doesn’t all work, a lot of it does and the attempt to be different and create unguessable twists is always appreciated.” (Los Angeles Times)
This is certainly a more caustic Tony Stark and a more earthy Pepper Potts with a couple of thoroughly misleading villains and crisp, visceral battle sequences and special effects. It’s more adult yet it also has more humour than the first two films, but there’s something a little empty about it – like one of Stark’s suits, it’s bright and shiny but it has no soul. Number three lacks the emotionalism of the first film, and lacks the flashy villains of the second. We are told that Stark’s relationship with Pepper is in danger of falling apart then, inexplicably, the problem simply fixes itself, and a cute kid sidekick (which smacks of desperation) is introduced and quickly dropped. Despite my nitpicking, number three is nevertheless an above-average superhero movie, an ominously exciting fast-talking shoot-the-works comic-book spectacular. Downey has very much embraced the character and it looks like he’ll be playing Iron Man for the rest of his career, making appearances in The Incredible Hulk (2008), The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I have no doubt Marvel have elaborate plans for their Cinematic Universe that stretch to infinity and beyond, but that’s another story for another time. Right now I’ll politely ask you to please join me next week when I will take you even closer to the event horizon of the insatiable black hole formerly known as Hollywoodland for…Horror News! Toodles!
Iron Man 3 (2013)