Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

IRON MAN 3: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, directed by Shane Black (135 min.)

After a lackluster first sequel to his boffo superhero debut, director Jon Favreau stepped aside this time for Iron Man 3 and allowed another talented writer/director, Shane Black, take the reins.  Black, the writer of the first two Lethal Weapon films as well as the clever noir comedy Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, breathes new life into the Iron Man franchise while keeping the coveted Marvel Universe in tact.  Favreau is back in his role as Tony Stark's bodyguard, and everyone else returns in their supporting roles alongside Robert Downey, Jr., but Black's energy is all over the screen.  Despite some clunky plot developments and vagueness along the way, Iron Man 3 revives the hero from the doldrums of Iron Man 2.

Downey is back and in top form as Tony Stark, the egomaniac behind the iron mask.  We pick up where The Avengers left off, with Stark still haunted by what he saw and experienced in New York in the Avengers finale.  Troubled by the fact he may only be master of the world and not, in fact, the universe, Tony toils away in his swanky garage in Malibu, building one prototype suit after another and rarely stopping to sleep.  Now in a full-fledged relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, back and given even more to do this time around), Stark works feverishly to tinker with his product but whenever there is a threat to go into action he finds himself in an ego-crushing panic attack.  Meanwhile his partner and friend, James Rhodes, has turned War Machine into a device for the American government and changed his name to the Iron Patriot.  Stark scoffs at the corny name with his usual wit, which is fired up to a gleeful eleven this time around.

A threat arises in the form of The Mandarin, an Osama Bin Laden ripoff played with great menace and a gruff voice by Sir Ben Kingsley, decorated in lavishly Middle-Eastern attire.  The Mandarin has been setting off some bombs at United States landmarks (attacks which hit a little close to home these days) only his bombs are not, of course, your typical explosive devices.  Meanwhile, a dual threat reappears from Tony's past.  He is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), one of those scientific geniuses who has created a weaponized chemical regrowth - thing - that is infused into human bodies and makes them basically orange embers of death.  The whole technology is glossed over and a little vague but never mind all that, this technology makes Killian's henchmen some seriously threatening baddies.  This new threat hits close to Stark's family and friends and calls him into action in order to get revenge.

The revenge angle is important when you consider the Marvel Universe; this makes the story personal to Tony's plight, so you never sit and wonder where all of his super friends are to help him.  There are a great number of plot developments, including an awkward diversion to Tennessee that is still good for some solid action and hearty laughs, but once the story gets re-focused the larger action set pieces beat anything from either of the previous two entries.  There is an aerial rescue of civilians that is the most thrilling moment in the franchise, and the final showdown on an oil rig where those prototype Iron Men come into play that is a solid climactic battle.  There is also a clever twist along the way that adds some comedy and changes the complexion of the story, evidence of Shane Black's writing influence.  The Christmas setting is also a Shane Black staple.

As I said before, Pepper gets more screen time and even gets to kick a little ass along the way, and the holdover supporting players all fill their jobs well.  Kingsley is a delight as The Mandarin, and Pearce is having fun as Killian, oozing a snake-like villainy with blonde hair and tailored suits.  But of course this is Downey's picture, and after taking a back seat in Iron Man 2 here he is owning the screen.  He and Black have a nice working relationship that shows off in the dialogue and the wit Downey delivers.  For whatever small missteps Iron Man 3 might find along the way, the story isn't overloaded with unnecessary characters and scenes in order to hit some grand notes.  It is lean and mean and a lot of fun.