The real hero of Iron Man 3 isn’t Tony Stark but the film’s director and co-screenwriter, Shane Black. Movie buffs know him as the author of the slam bang action classics Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That last film gave Robert Downey Jr. one of his best roles and paved the way for his big comeback as a Marvel super hero. Now, Downey Jr. returns the favor by reuniting with Black, whose input makes this a fuller, wilder and funnier sequel than the disappointing Iron Man 2.
Stark is suffering from sleep deprivation and is rattled by the threats of a terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley). While Stark’s girlfriend and business partner (Gwyneth Paltrow) is being wooed by a smooth scientist (Guy Pearce), Stark is revisited by a former lover (Rebecca Hall) whose reappearance occurs just as his life begins to unravel.
Downey Jr. is, again, wonderful, clearly relishing both the movie star treatment the role grants him and the unique challenges the character presents this time out. The Mandarin seems like a misstep initially (he’s neither scary nor the most intriguing figure on screen), until we see the unique way Kingsley and the story utilize the character in the third act. Pearce looks like he’s having as much a blast as Downey Jr. in a flamboyant role and Hall is excellent in a crucial turn. I would have liked more of Don Cheadle, and Paltrow seems obligated to playing the damsel in distress in these movies.
Clocking in at 130 minutes, it’s quite long, with multiple subplots that are carefully tied together but still fight for equal screen time. Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce keep this from being formulaic and conventional, though the product placements and a scene set at the Mann’s Chinese Theater smack of commercialism. While made for kids, it may be too intense and adult for many of them, a problem and asset with Black’s cult classic debut film, The Monster Squad.
While not the TKO that the original was, it shares a keen focus on character and still thrills your socks off with the action and special effects. A sequence involving Air Force One features a show stopper of a set piece, on the level with James Cameron’s greatest spectacles.
The story combines the best aspects of Black’s former glories, including an grand finale that would be at home in Lethal Weapon and, another Black trademark, it absurdly takes place during Christmas. Even the iffy inclusion of a child sidekick mostly works, due to the way Black (and Stark) take a cynical, amusingly unsentimental approach.
This is a strange movie, and the strangeness is to the film’s benefit. There are some off-the-wall touches here that would be unique in any movie, let alone one based on a comic book. You haven’t seen anything quite like this, a refreshing quality for a lavish, comic book sequel. While The Avengers is mentioned a few times, this is a stand-alone story, with even the expected (and delightful) post credits scene nicely wrapping up the story. Unlike the overly busy Iron Man 2, this movie isn’t cluttered with set ups for future films.
I wasn’t crazy about Thor or Captain America, which were too silly and cornball to take at all seriously. With Iron Man, Stark is one of the unusual comic book heroes who is even more interesting when he isn’t in his superhero attire. There’s plenty of action but there’s also more of Downey Jr. as Stark and that distinction makes a world of difference.
IRON MAN 3
★ ★ ★ ★
Rated PG-13 / 130 Min.