It barely feels like we’ve even got our breaths back after the sprawling, thrilling brilliance of The Avengers; and yet here we are, about to start the ride all over again, as the hero who launched the whole crazy enterprise in the first place – Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man – gears up for his third solo film next spring. Even by the usual standards of comic book blockbusters, details of the plot of the Shane Black-directed sequel have been hard to get at – so has the first trailer, unveiled yesterday, given us any more ideas?
Tony Stark has appeared in two films in the last three years. One of them was rather more successfully received than the other. As such, it’s no surprise that Iron Man 3 looks to be pitching itself far more clearly as a sequel to The Avengers than to Iron Man 2. The trailer specifically refers to “New York” as an event – i.e. the Chitauri invasion foiled at the end of Joss Whedon’s funsplosion. The implication seems to be that we’re catching up with a Tony who, after the exhilaration of saving the Earth, has now found himself crashing down to a more hollow everyday life.
Despite these obvious ties to The Avengers, however, it’s highly unlikely any of Stark’s chums will show up. Contrary to what you might think at first glance, those aren’t Hulk feet making an appearance around 57 seconds in…
The Stark knight
If there was one thing that marked out the first Iron Man film from most of its comic book movie contemporaries – and undoubtedly contributed to its stellar success – it’s that it was just so much bloody fun. As well as being a rip-roaring action adventure, it was sharp and witty, to boot. These same characteristics were of course present and correct in the even-more-successful Avengers. This surely looked set to continue with the hiring of Shane Black (a man with a number of sharp and witty blockbusters on his CV) and Drew Pearce (writer of the sorely underrated superhero comedy No Heroics) to script Iron Man 3.
So it’s quite a jarring contrast to see that in fact, the threequel is apparently a much darker and more harrowing enterprise for our Shellheaded hero. Even before the destruction of all he holds dear, it appears that for some reason – does the image of an apparent shrine suggest some kind of accident for which he might have been responsible? – Stark has already lost the faith of a general public and government that would surely have exalted his heroic near-sacrifice at the end of The Avengers. He even makes reference to having “a lot of apologies to make”. Something’s gone badly wrong… and that’s even before the Mandarin shows up.
And yes, it’s hard to avoid comparisons to a certain film about a certain pointy-eared vigilante, from images of shattered masks and battered heroes, to the ominous, Zimmer-esque score on the trailer…
This Time it’s personal
The problem with The Avengers is that it does make plotting subsequent solo adventures rather difficult. A general rule of thumb with superhero sequels is to escalate, rather than scale down, the levels of threat film by film – but Avengers was clear in establishing that the titular gang will regroup again to deal with any threats of similar or greater magnitude.
Iron Man 3, therefore, looks to have tackled this by increasing the level of personal threat to Tony, without necessarily having him fight an Earth-shattering menace. Whoever’s behind his problems – the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) or a combination of the three – they’ve chosen to hit him where it hurts, attacking him and his loved ones (not to mention, from the looks of it, his reputation), directly at his home. Ouch.
It’s not all bad news for Tony, however. It wouldn’t be an Iron Man film without giving him some new toys to play with – and after The Avengers’ excellent set-piece demonstrated the usefulness of a suit that can be summoned at will, IM3 is set to take that concept further, by finally granting him access to the “Extremis” technology first created by Warren Ellis in his landmark 2005 storyline. In the comics, Extremis is a nanotechnology that essentially allows Tony to telepathically construct his suit around him and interface with it. We don’t yet know exactly how the movie version will work, but certainly, from this brief clip it appears that to at least some extent it enables him to remotely manipulate the suit.
It’s also worth remarking on the fact that the film looks set to include a huge, sky-bound rescue sequence involving Air Force One. This is the sort of scene that is the province of only a handful of superhero power sets – Superman comes to mind – and Iron Man certainly fits that bill. It bodes well that Black and Pearce seem to have a handle on the sort of scenarios in which his unique abilities should work best.
Pepper in jepper(dy)
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts has generally tended to come out of the films quite well so far, managing to avoid being turned into the usual “love interest in distress” fodder that often populate superhero movies. Not so here, as it appears that at some point she’s kidnapped – or at the very least attacked – by a nasty-looking chap in Stark armour (of whom more shortly). She’s also there with Tony when his home is destroyed – and unlike him, she doesn’t have armour with which to save herself.
Or does she? At one point in the trailer, we see Pepper being held in some form of apparatus; now, this could just be a restraining device, but the – ahem – apparent lack of clothes suggests that maybe, just maybe, she’s undergoing some kind of transformative procedure. Is there a chance we might get to see her turned into the iron-suited Rescue, in a similar fashion to Matt Fraction’s recent Invincible Iron Man comics?
Either way, while some are speculating that the third film might represent curtains for Pepper, we’d hazard that that would be a step too far into darkness for a franchise that has generally kept itself refreshingly upbeat. One character who might not make it to a fourth film, however, is trusty chauffeur “Happy” Hogan – shown in the briefest of surely-that’s-too-spoilery frames as being in something of a bad way. Or maybe this is just footage from the meeting in which Jon Favreau told Marvel he didn’t want to direct the film.
He’s just a War Machine
The trailer confirms, for those who didn’t already know, that Don Cheadle will reappear as James “War Machine” Rhodes. His beefed-up, government-owned armour is back, too – this time bedecked in a rather more patriotic paint job, apparently inspired by the “Iron Patriot” costume worn by Norman Osborn in Marvel’s really-too-bizarre-to-go-into-now Dark Reign story of a few years ago.
What’s surprising, therefore, is that this same flag-tastic armour seems to be responsible for all manner of wrongness throughout the trailer – from snatching Pepper at bedtime, to smashing an indeterminate gentleman into a table. So what’s going on? Has Rhodey gone roguey? Or has somebody else found their way into the armour? And, perhaps more pressingly, who – if anyone – is wearing the standard-coloured suit of armour pinning Tony to the ground around the 1:06 mark?
We’ll be honest – the Mandarin doesn’t make a great impression in this first trailer, with Ben Kingsley’s fairly odd choice of accent and some slightly wonky grammar (“Heroes – there’s no such thing”? Really?) Fortunately, those of us who know the character to be Iron Man’s comics arch-nemesis will realise that the genius-scientist-martial-artist-superpowered-terrorist has the potential to be a greater threat than any he’s ever faced. The fanboy-pleasing glimpse at his fabled “ten rings” – the alien artefacts that give him his power, and while we’d ordinarily expect the “alien” aspect to be left out of a film like this, Avengers has neatly laid off all bets on that score – is particularly ominous, as is the jaw-dropping footage of a fleet of (presumably Mandarin-directed) helicopters destroying Stark’s home.
Although, um, did anyone else spot that at least one of the helicopters appears to be from a news channel? Cunning ruse, or did Stark really piss off Rupert Murdoch?
The Mandarin’s not even the only villain around, either. Aldrich Killian, inventor of the Extremis “virus”, had a relatively minor role in the comics – in fact, he committed suicide shortly after letting the technology out of his hands – but Guy Pearce seems to have a rather more significant part to play here, even at one point smarming up to Pepper. Hopefully this won’t just be a retread of Iron Man 2’s plot thread of a character who desperately wants to be Stark. It’s not actually confirmed that he is a villain in the film, mind – but the way he’s presented in the trailer certainly suggests it.
It certainly looks from the trailer like there’s an awful lot going on in Iron Man 3 – and there’s certainly the obvious worry of it falling foul of “cramming too much in to the third film” syndrome. Then again, Iron Man 2 already struggled with that particular problem, and so you’d reasonably expect that lessons will have been learned by all involved – and while the shift towards a darker tone is maybe cause for concern, this looks like it’ll be yet another, explosive rollercoaster ride. The original Iron Man was the best possible starting point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – let’s just hope its threequel kicks off the “second wave” just as well.
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