Come 2013 it was clear the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't a passing thing, but rather an all-consuming box office behemoth, rapidly expanding to encompass all kinds of fan-favourite characters.
The latest in our ongoing MCU round-up picks up where The Avengers left off. Today we're focusing on Tony Stark's third – and seemingly final – solo adventure, Iron Man 3. This is where the MCU reached new heights, although not without a few upsets...
The story so far...
Upon becoming Iron Man, Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) first defeated treacherous business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges)...
Then in Iron Man 2 he did battle with the vengeful Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), looking for payback after his father's seeming betrayal at the hands of Stark's own dad...
This time it gets even more personal as his own personal Malibu mansion is destroyed by feared terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Forced to flee and rely on his wits outside of the Iron Man suit, Tony joins forces with resourceful young kid Harley (Ty Simpkins) to fight back.
But there's another latent threat in the form of scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), whom Stark had rebuffed at a 1999 New Year's Eve party...
After helming two Iron Man movies and executive producing Avengers Assemble director Jon Favreau excused himself from duties on the third Iron Man.
The question of who would replace Favreau was one of the big questions in geekland in 2011. Who could step into the franchise that kickstarted the MCU? Thankfully, a star like Robert Downey has connections, and, similar to the way Daniel Craig roped his old friend Sam Mendes in for Skyfall, Downey Jr called up his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black.
Bringing in someone who’d never before even dipped a toe into sci-fi or superhero waters certainly freshened up the franchise. Wary of crafting another film where two men in iron suits fight each other, Black instead pushed for a Tom Clancy-style movie that he called "a techno-thriller set in a more real world than even The Avengers."
Most Marvel movies seem to withstand any personal imprint from their writers or directors. Even Avengers Assemble has more Marvel in its DNA than Joss Whedon. But Iron Man 3 is definitely a Shane Black film. Less noticeably flashy than its MCU stablemates and with a darker, more adult sensibility, it certainly feels like it comes from the same creative brain as was behind Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys.
It's got to be Kingsley as The Mandarin. The movie alternately infuriated and delighted people with the character's big reveal, in which it turns out Kingsley's character isn't actually the notorious terrorist but a bumbling British impostor named Trevor, paving the way for the real big bad in the form of Pearce.
It was a bold and controversial deviation from the comics, not least due to the Mandarin's popularity as a character. But it allows Kingsley to unleash his rare, hilarious comic chops.
Did you know?
Kingsley's casting was pushed by Marvel chief Kevin Feige off the back of his career-redefining role in Sexy Beast. The classic British gangster movie saw the actor pull an anti-Ghandi performance as the monstrous, spittle-inflected Don Logan, whose menace Feige was looking to bottle.
Best special effects moment
It's got to be the hugely dramatic and impressive free fall sequence, as Iron Man rescues those plummeting from the stricken Air Force One.
Trevor Slattery: "Ah, well, I had a little problem with... substances, and I, uh, ended up doing things, no two ways about it, in the street, that a man shouldn't do…"
Tony Stark: "Next?"
Trevor Slattery: "Then, they approached me about the role, and they knew about the drugs…"
Tony Stark: "What did they say, they'd get you off them?"
Trevor Slattery: "Said they'd give me more!"
Blockbuster veteran Brian Tyler joined the MCU for the first of his three soundtracks in the universe. Fusing the in-vogue Hans Zimmer processed sound with a pleasingly muscular theme for Iron Man himself (listen out for those horns and the pounding anvil), it's one of the most enjoyable and memorable scores for the series.
Stan Lee cameo
A surprise appearance from Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner here as we see Tony Stark on the psychiatrist's couch talking about the events of the movie. Annoyingly for Tony, Banner’s been asleep the whole time.
Did you know?
- The episode of Downton Abbey that "Happy" Hogan is watching in the hospital is the fourth episode of the second series.
- President Ellis is so named because of writer Warren Ellis, who penned the Iron Man comic book ‘Extremis’, which was a massive influence on the script.
- Both Robert Downey Jr and Ben Kingsley have headlined biopics for Richard Attenborough - Chaplin for RDJ and Gandhi for Sir Ben K.
- In the film Tony discovers that the the Mandarin is actually just an actor hired to play that part. Interestingly Ben Kingsley starred in 1988 comedy Without a Clue, where, as Dr. Watson, he hires an actor to play Sherlock Holmes (played in the movie by Michael Caine, though of course Robert Downey Jr would later play the real thing!)
What the critics said...
“Iron Man 3 is smart, funny and spectacular.” The Guardian
“Black proves the perfect blacksmith, forging smart new tech and scenarios for the swaggering super-genius. If this does turn out to be Downey Jr.’s final solo outing, it’s a very strong exit.” Empire
“Iron Man 3, starring Robert Downey Jr, has a charismatic hero, gut-shaking explosions, even jokes about rep theatre and ‘Downton Abbey’ – what more could anyone want?” The Daily Telegraph
“When Shane Black was first announced as writer-director, there were doubts from fans due to his perceived lack of experience in the genre. But once again Marvel has been proved right, their left-field choice resulting in a comic-book movie that expertly melds action, comedy and drama to become the finest Iron Man movie yet.” IGN
“The more tongue in cheek Iron Man 3 becomes, the less dramatic tension it possesses. Jokes about Croydon, British football and Downton Abbey are funny in their own right but they puncture the sense of menace that the film has in its early scenes.” The Independent
Thor: The Dark World
Don't forget that Marvel's latest smash Spider-Man: Homecoming is out now in Cineworld.