‘Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.’ F Scott Fitzgerald said that. And now I’m saying it. I hope he doesn’t ask for royalties. Iron Man 3 opens in a similar manner, a pretentious quote, nicely undermined by Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s witty script.
When Stan Lee and his team at Marvel created Iron Man they created a hero who literally had a broken heart in the form of Tony Stark a billionaire egotist who transforms into a superhero when he puts on a suit of iron. It’s a nice twist on the flawed hero. In the latest incarnation of the Iron Man saga this weaponised techno knight finds himself having to rescue the damsel of his life, Pepper Potts, while battling personal demons and tracking down the villainous Mandarin.
What lifts this seen-it-before plot above the average is Robert Downey Jnr’s endearing portrayal of Tony Stark. He’s a child with the world’s biggest toybox and a ready supply of witty one-liners. For a billionaire weapons manufacturer, he’s a hard man not to like.
Comic books are written for kids. The challenge of the writer and director is to make them also appeal to adults. Inevitably these movies descend into a mess of CG fighting. The last ten minutes of any superhero movie are almost unredeemable in any artistic sense. But writers Shane Black and Drew Pearce counter the iron clad heroics with a real sense of wit and humour. There is much to enjoy before the inevitable bigger-than-ever finale. Iron Man is the comedian of the Marvel group and it’s this thread that holds the movie together for anyone over the age of twelve.
Kudos also to Ben Kingsley who plays the Mandarin, a bin Laden figure determined to terrorise America. At least that’s what you believe for much of the movie. When the truth becomes known Ben Kingsley gives a show stopping and absolutely hilarious performance that is the stand out moment of the movie. If you think Robert Downey Jnr can be funny, wait until you see Ben Kingsley. There is even an unexpected mention of Croydon in this movie. I wonder if it was co-writer Drew Pearce, a former writer on the BBC 3 series High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman that was responsible for putting it there.
The story is a bit of a mess. I was never quite sure what the villain’s plan was all about. What did he actually want? But you can ask the same question of virtually any superhero movie. What do they want? And is this really the best way to get it? Super villains can be an idiot bunch. But I try to remember to leave my brain at the door when watching this type of movie. Questions are pointless. Do stay until the end of the credits. You will be rewarded. It’s down to the cleverness of the writers that this little epilogue is more than just a bit of humour, it actually brings the story to a perfect close.
Watching Iron Man 3 made me think of the way superheroes are depicted in movies. I loved Kick Ass because the heroes were human both in and out of costume. But take away his iron suit and while Tony Stark is an entertaining character he’s never able to tug at the heartstrings of the audience. You never feel for his metal alter ego no matter how much punishment is dished out to him. Once behind the mask he leaves all humanity behind and becomes an anonymous figure no different from Batman or Spiderman. These masked superheroes do little more than fight like robots. They even do it in much the same way. Lots of swinging or flying or ‘taking a knee’ as they crunch to earth and adopt the all too familiar heroic pose. They are identikit figures more CG than human. I wonder if that’s the real tragedy of the hero.