This year saw the completion of Hollywood’s biggest superhero trilogy with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Not unlike the previous two entries, it was a resounding success both in terms of critical response and the box office. It also has about as many people championing it as the best in the series as both of its predecessors.
For an idea of how rare that is, look at how Batman’s Marvel counterpart, Iron Man, has fared. His first film, 2008’s Iron Man, took everyone partly by surprise and it appeared as if a challenger had entered the arena. It was received so well by critics and filmgoers alike that it’s not uncommon to see it hailed as a better film than The Dark Knight, generally considered the best to come out of the genre.
Then came Iron Man 2, regarded by most as a step down. The reviews remained largely positive, and it was another box-office hit, but it was widely agreed that the series was on a down trend. I differ on the matter, thinking it improved ever so slightly on its predecessor despite the climactic battle running short, but that’s not important.
What is is that, as a result, Iron Man 3 began in the unfavorable position of having to make up for the (minor) disappointment that was Iron Man 2. Fans weren’t about to accept more of the same. It was time for a change.
Enter Shane Black, writer of the criminally underseen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as well Lethal Weapon. Because who better to pair with star Robert Downey Jr. than the man who directed him in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the comeback before the comeback (Iron Man) for the newly sober actor? By bringing him in, you get the fresh at the same time as you do the familiar and proven commodity.
Still, despite his on-record chemistry with Downey Jr., this is a new arena for Black. His experience with the Lethal Weapon series helps, as one could argue it’s similar in some respects to the direction taken with the Iron Man films thus far, but it alone couldn’t prepare him for this.
As a point of comparison, Lethal Weapon brought in just over $65 million, whereas Iron Man landed over $318 million. That doesn’t factor in inflation, yet it’s still a staggering difference. Black has never had to live up to the sort of box-office numbers he has to now with Iron Man 3, nor has he ever been asked to meet and hopefully surpass such high expectations.
Then again, he has a great cast, led by Downey Jr., to lead him along which is more than many writers can say. Plus, as I already said, his writing and directing abilities are not at all in question. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is arguably the best neo-noir to come out to date and it works almost solely on the strength of his writing and the performances of its stars, Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer.
All that’s necessary for Iron Man 3 to be what fans want it to be is for him to recapture that magic. As anyone familiar with Hollywood knows, that’s easier said than done. Many a writer and director have had similar success early on and never quite been able to match it again.
Few of them had actors the caliber of Downey Jr. to work with, however. Further, few actors come anywhere close to Downey Jr. in likability and charisma. Like with Tom Hanks, it’s almost impossible not to like the guy. If not for his acting talent, then for his looks and general charm.
He is Iron Man, the only absolutely necessary cog in the wheel that keeps this series rolling. If Iron Man 3 was just banter between him and his fellow actors for two hours straight, something the first two films weren’t actually far from, people would pay to see it anyway.
As admirable a job as Christian Bale did as Batman, he was/is replaceable. Downey Jr., conversely, is to Iron Man what Heath Ledger was to The Joker. Without him, there is no series.
Everyone, from the writer to the director to the supporting cast, is replaceable but him. Would the films suffer without, say, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts? Perhaps, but her absence wouldn’t leave behind the same gaping hole as Downey Jr.’s clearly would.
As big as the shoes Black has to fill are, he’s got Downey Jr., the largest piece of the puzzle, nailed down which should go a long way in helping Iron Man 3 meet the expectations of its rabid fans.
Does the film’s first trailer, released just moments ago, reaffirm my optimistic view, though? Suffice it to say it’s not looking as light as I expected it to considering what came before it as well as the man behind both the script and the camera. While Iron Man and Iron Man 2 both had a certain edge to them, to be fair, both were similar to The Avengers in the sense that they were, first and foremost, meant to be a fun realization of the comic-book superhero aesthetic.
Conversely, Iron Man 3 takes liberally from the Christopher Nolan approach to superhero filmmaking, its trailer almost eerily reminiscent in tone to the ones for The Dark Knight Rises.
In both we have a hero who must, in a sense, regain himself and his identity and a villain who inadvertently helps him along the way. Further, Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, heard more than seen in the trailer, has echoes of Bane in both his voice, thankfully minus the effects, and message. But will Iron Man 3 live up to these similarities and the expectations that have been set for it?
Well, there’s a long way to go between now and its scheduled release date of May 3rd of the next year. This is only our first glimpse of Black’s vision for the film and so a lot could change between then and now. Based on this trailer, however, fans have more than enough reason to be optimistic as Iron Man 3 looks the part of a dark and explosive finale along the lines of The Dark Knight Rises, huge praise for a superhero film.
What do you think? You’ll find the trailer below and the comments section below that. Please, tell us what you think of this first look at the series’ third installment.