Tony Stark tries to settle into a quiet life with Pepper Potts but is haunted by dreams about his near-death experience in New York. He tries to cope by perfecting a new Iron Man suit he can summon onto his body at any moment but when a megalomaniacal terrorist calling himself the Mandarin unleashes a spate of inexplicable bombings against America, one such injuring an old buddy, Tony pledges revenge. Marvel’s Phase Two is go.
After the world-conquering success of The Avengers, Marvel’s on-going mission to completely dominate the movie industry begins much as Phase One did, with a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist played by one of the world’s biggest stars. It also serves as an important opportunity to get Iron Man’s own franchise back on track after his messy second outing.
Step up Shane Black, a respected Hollywood writer whose only other directing credit is the excellent RDJ-starring Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black knows how to get the best out of Downey and his sharp, quick-witted scripted fits both the actor and character like a metallic glove. His usual tropes are all here including the all-important Christmas setting and his skills inject some much needed freshness into Stark’s story. He handles the action brilliantly and the comedy is right on the money but the film is not without fault.
The opening takes us back to 1999 via Eiffel 65 to a fateful meeting with Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, a dorky scientist with a proposition Tony duly ignores. Fast-forward to the present and a reformed Killian again moves into Tony’s space, this time through Pepper. His plan is derived from the Extremis story arc from the comics which involves a substance that can regrow lost limbs with some fiery side-effects. It’s a muddy and often confusing story at best with unclear motivations and underdeveloped characters and plotlines. At least Ben Kingsley’s turn as the Mandarin is memorable if not in the way you might expect.
The film is at its best when it focuses on Tony. It’s not long before he’s thrust into a situation where his super-suits become unavailable, forcing him to rely on his super-brain and the assistance of a smart kid instead. The middle act of the film plays out similarly to Sherlock Holmes with Stark showing his resourcefulness and improvisation skills in a succession of engaging scenes. Meanwhile his relationship with the aforementioned youngster shines, any tiresome sentimentality it might bring in smartly nipped in the bud by an apparently ad-libbed line from RDJ.
There are flaws but this is still a highly entertaining film full of exciting action and well-observed character comedy that sets up Phase Two very nicely.