2013, Shane Black -- blu-ray
(countdown to the World's End, day 8)
The Marvel methodology of movie production is an interesting one, in that they build their characters around actors, rather than attempting to fit actors into their characters. Sure, they want the icons from their comics to be represented on screen, but they're wise enough to know that behind the image needs to be an actual personality. Robert Downey Jr. was definitely the template for this, very quickly making Tony Stark more a RDJ character and less one coming off the comic pages, and the success of the Iron Man series, which directly led to the success of Thor, Captain America and the Avengers afterwards, largely rests on that portrayal.
The importance of Robert Downey Jr. can't be understated, and it's shown off here, in his fourth movie as Tony Stark, where he spends the majority of the movie outside of any armor. Even in the first movie it felt like RDJ was sharing the screen, with Gwyneth Paltrow or Jeff Bridges or Terrence Howard, and the second movie, with its duelling villains and world building and Scarlett Johansson and Sam Jackson clogging up the screen, leading directly into the Avengers, where he shines, but he's among six others (at least) in equal billing. Iron Man 3 clearly puts him in the center of everything, the supporting cast is clearly supporting him.
With the big Avengers convergence out of the way and the idea of a broad Marvel cinematic universe firmly set, the Marvel films are free to deal with things on a smaller scale. In this case, Tony's dealing with PTSD, or rather, not dealing with it. It's putting strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts as are the effects of having a public superhero identity. When terrorists make him a target his ego and his own sense that he should already be dead find him pushing buttons instead of targeting the threat. Goading an enemy, especially when they know were to find you (and you're not even sure who they are, nevermind unable to see them coming) is unwise, but then that's totally Tony's character: a technical genius and otherwise kind of a rash idiot.
Iron Man 2 was financially successful, but deemed a creative disappointment by fans and critics alike, so Marvel was anxious about their inaugural franchise heading into post-Avengers terrain. With Shane Black, they wisely brought aboard a writer-director who knows how to write for RDJ (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), knows action (Lethal Weapon series) and is able to negotiate action, drama and comedy with nimble agility. Of course, Black's view of the Marvel universe would be a lot different than any others, and it winds up with elements we've seen from Black before, like the final act shaping out to be very much a buddy cop adventure as Tony and Don Cheadle's Rhodey come together to face down the big bad, or Tony's narrative.
Even still, it's a film that feels far from familiar, particular in relation to other superhero pictures. It's got a few monstrous set-pieces, including a rescue sequence that is thoroughly inventive and exhilarating (rescuing people in superhero pictures has become more an afterthought and rarely a centerpiece to the film), but it has a number of scenery changes as Tony investigates his enemy, feeling like a lower-key, snarkeir James Bond hopping across America. It's a more patient film than I was expecting, one that feels long, but not labored, and ultimately a rewarding character story more than blockbuster action film. It doesn't feel like the third part of a trilogy, or even the start of another arc, but a resting point for the character on the way to at last one further appearance (in the Avengers sequel and, if it comes together, a welcomed fourth installment.)