Release date: May 3, 2013
Directed by: Shane Black
Screenplay by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak, Paul Bettany
Rating: PG-13; Running Time: 130 minutes
Iron Man 3 brings us a new twist on the buddy film. Here, Robert Downey Jr. teams up with his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang writer/director Shane Black … and the combo gives us quite the bang bang for the buck. With Black’s irreverent style and Downey’s breezy wit, this high-concept third chapter — with nods to The Terminator franchise, A.I. and X-Men Origins: Wolverine – shows no signs of rusting out.
Underscored with hefty acting chops (Downey, the amazing Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce and, big surprise, even Gwyneth Paltrow’s prim Pepper Potts gets to rage against the machine), Iron Man 3 boomerangs us right back to the thrill ride of 2008′s seminal film.
Opening with a flashback to 1999 that sets certain plot elements in motion, the movie delivers a present-day Tony Stark who ultimately wrestles with multiple demons: Those he recklessly created due to his overweening ego; those thrashing through his mind in the guise of frequent anxiety attacks due to his brush with alien invaders in last year’s The Avengers; and those go-to maniacal villains bent on the destruction of the U.S. In this last instance, it’s Ben Kingsley as the Osama Bin Laden-like Mandarin who threatens American soil, zeroing in on the President as well as Iron Man.
As in the first film, Tony again finds himself isolated in unfamiliar surroundings, removed from his supercharged toys, tools and robots, forced to rely solely on his brains as well as strangers who he must quickly mold into able assistants. Enter Ty Simpkins as the kid who Tony befriends out of necessity in a small backwoods town in Tennessee. Simpkins is a surprisingly good foil, sidestepping those deadly movie tropes of the precocious and the pink-cheeked cute. And playing off a scrappy child introduces a new dynamic for Iron Man, further enriching his character.
Filmmaker Black (who made his first splash as sole screenwriter for 1987′s Lethal Weapon) and co-writer Drew Pearce nod to the concept of well-intentioned innovators losing their way, with Tony stating, “We create our own demons.” This idea telescopes outward, expanding on the flawed hubris of the individual into a global construct, looking at how a self-righteous America — enflamed by its own sense of moral imperative – continues to trip itself up as it inadvertently engenders legions of enemies throughout the world. This isn’t exactly a new idea, but as it darts in and around the storyline of a struggling albeit brilliant superhero, surrounded in full by state-of-the-art CGI, the concept carries effective heft.
The kinetic quipfest is well constructed, even down to the opening voice over. [Note: Wait for the bookended cinematic button after the final credits.] But there are a few false notes, such as when a particular villain indulges in a theatrical monologue in which he claims full credit for the mayhem … a fact that we’d previously gleaned quite a few scenes earlier. Another surprising oops: although Tony discovers a scientific flaw in the madman’s invention, that flaw isn’t exploited as we’d been cued to expect.
But Downey’s Tony relentlessly carries the day. With his urbane humor and sparkling intelligence, calling to mind an American James Bond crossbred with a card-carrying member of Mensa, Downey continues to infuse his Tony Stark with charismatic ease. While the idea of making our hero face struggle with emotional fracture is a good one, the choice of New York and wormholes is a bit farfetched. Sure, devotees of The Avengers will recognize that plot point, but it might be too “inside baseball” for others. Couldn’t Tony experience an iron deficiency in a more effective manner? Such as, say, a sudden allergy to ferrous oxide? Or catching Pepper Potts in flagrante delicto with a younger, iron-jawed superhero?
Speaking of age, there’s something to be said for the crime fighting protagonist who is most decidedly middle-aged. Rather than playing on a tired Schwarzenegger-like schtick, Iron Man 3 quietly notes that while such characters as Tony and Don Cheadle’s sidekick Rhodey are far past their twentysomething prime, they can still kick ass with the best of them. For that alone, any viewer standing on the other side of twenty-five can appreciate the fact that brains and brawn are not solely the purview of the young. No wonder Tony Stark is so darn popular.
[A friendly warning: Since the movie has previously been released in other countries, this reviewer suggests that avid Iron Man filmgoers avoid perusing multiple articles about the film prior to viewing. Spoilers are piling higher than the Eiffel Tower! Look away if you can!]
As compared to the overwrought, too-many-irons-in-the-fire second installment of this franchise, Iron Man 3 proves its metal, oops, mettle, once again.
Rating on a scale of 5 tin gods: 4