The Mandarin, in comic books, is Iron Man’s archenemy, a scientific genius and a martial arts expert whose main weapons are the 10 rings he wears. But cracking jokes about British football on screen?! Tsk tsk, director Shane Black expects fanboys to keep comic books at home and look forward to a flick that’s way better than the worst Hollywood outing of Iron Man, namely “part deux” of the franchise. Actually, memory would come up blank if one were asked to recall the proceedings of the 2010 film!
Iron Man 3 is a package deal from a Los Angeles studio eager to turn a quick buck. Bang in the middle of Tony Stark’s gizmo den is a Pott-ful of romance, American patriotism against a bin Laden-esque Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a kid-friendly story in which a small boy helps the playboy iron out his suit and simultaneously offers pop psychology to a superhero who just cannot forget that incident in New York, the wormhole, etc.
But make no mistake, this is a seriously entertaining film which, as expected, is Robert Downey Jr and his flying suits all the way. As playboy Tony Stark, he delivers his one-liners and gags even better than Alec Baldwin on his best day. Here’s an actor who believes in the innocent healing power of weekend entertainment. In fact, the first 20-odd minutes of the film may even appear like stand-up comedy that Black has designed especially for the Chaplin (1992) actor. He more than manages to revive the mischievous charisma of Iron Man (2008) punched with the mojo his character found in last year’s hugely-successful The Avengers.
The story begins with Tony playing hoochie-coochie with scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) in sleepy Switzerland, hours before Y2K. True to character, he leaves a red bra-sporting Maya a Tony-style morning-thank-you note and madman Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) on the roof. Cut to 2012 and life with Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), “the one thing I can’t live without”. Life is hunky-dory until a suave Aldrich returns to plant a kiss on Pott’s cheek and talk about a technology called extremis, which, according to him, involves hacking into human DNA to cure people. But that’s not true.
Shane Black has tapped beautifully (Holly style!) into the Extremis series (2005) of the comic book. It’s actually a “bio-electronics” serum that can work like a bullet. Once injected, the carrier can become a super soldier. This was also the series that moved the clunky hero from Vietnam to Afghanistan and updated his heavy metal punches to fight America’s “new” enemies.
So, where does the Mandarin come in? He appears like an old-fashion villain who is setting off explosions across America and gloating over it through shoddy TV telecasts (and not podcast or Twitter!). He is somewhat like Osama bin Laden with a Dr Fu Manchu (the character created by British author Sax Rohmer) moustache. He appears in cahoots with Aldrich and then Maya Hansen. But there’s a brilliant twist that we will not reveal.
Enough about Downey, the other actor who tries to steal the show is Ben Kingsley. His 10-12 minute appearance is sheer delight... a brilliant mix of stage and screen acting, especially the three minutes when the twist in the tale unfolds and he delivers a monologue (over a can of cold beverage!) in the presence of a suit-less Iron Man.
A superhero can be as super as the villain allows him to be. Guy Pearce is a fine actor but his director makes him appear like a James Bond-worthy psychopath with fiery eyes and monster moves.
And Potts? It’s not really Gwyneth Paltrow’s fault that Potts needed a dash more pepper. The director wanted her to cry when Tony Stark sinks with his Malibu den and later show her pow-wow chops in a sports bra.
It’s easy for a fanboy to say “it could’ve been better” but let’s give credit where credit is due. Shane Black, who returns to the director’s chair after 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, not only had to fill the franchise’s former director Jon Favreau’s (who, by the way, reprises the role of Happy Hogan and does an outstanding job here) large shoes but also help add substantially to the franchise’s coffers, which has so far reportedly generated more than $1.2 billion, and at the same time keep the magic of The Avengers alive. And he has done all that with a lot of help from Downey and his flying iron suits... at times just too many.