Film Review: “Iron Man 3”

 

“Iron Man 3” is under so much pressure to be successful that it’s astonishing it hasn’t collapsed under the weight of the public’s expectations. Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” proved something very special: Marvel Studios can create a multi-franchise universe and successfully bring those characters together in a meaningful and entertaining way. What Marvel is doing has never been done on this scale before — the creation of a shared filmic universe. The next challenge would be to go back down to the individual level and see if these characters can stand on their own again now that the public has seen them gloriously fight side by side. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry: “Iron Man 3” soars above most other Marvel films, even matching the original “Iron Man” (and coming quite close to “The Avengers”). 

Tony Stark is having a hard time recovering from the events of “The Avengers” film, and things aren’t made easier when someone close to him is badly injured. The terrorist responsible — the elusive Mandarin — pits himself against Stark in a game of cat and mouse that spans the country, with Stark being stretched to his limits. 

Perhaps one of the reasons that “Iron Man 3” succeeds is because it doesn’t try to “pile it on” like so many other “threequels” do. This is a paring down of the Iron Man formula. It’s not so much an Iron Man film as it is a Tony Stark film; the movie succeeds by zeroing in on exactly what makes the man in the iron suit special and why he’s captured the hearts of audiences everywhere. It’s not a spoiler to say that Tony takes a beating in this film — he gets down on his luck, and he goes places we haven’t seen him go before, both physically and mentally. It can safely be said that there has never been a superhero film that has examined and portrayed post-traumatic stress disorder in the way that “Iron Man 3” does, and to great effect. 

Even in the midst of all this soul-searching, don’t expect anything less than the funniest of the Iron Man films to date — this is a Shane Black film, and it shows: Shane Black was the director and writer who first brought Robert Downey Jr. back to cinema life in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005) and introduced the whip-smart dialogue that would become linked to the actor’s screen persona. Now the duo is back, and Robert Downey Jr. is on point in this movie, clearly sharpened by a director who knows him. Everybody else in the film is in top form as well: Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda,” “Crash”) channels the very best buddy cop movies as the Iron Patriot (and seems much more comfortable in the role than he did in “Iron Man 2”), and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Iron Man”) gets to do a lot more in this film than just be a damsel in distress. There are a host of other great characters introduced here, not the least of which is Ben Kingsley’s (“Hugo,” “Gandhi”) the Mandarin — his role in this film really needs to be seen to be believed. 

Technically, the film is as good as can be expected — but the fact is, we don’t really see the Iron Man armor nearly as much as one would think in this film, and nearly the entire climax of the film has Tony Stark’s face uncovered. The film feels better for it: It’s a collection of marvelous set pieces all strung together by offbeat, hilarious or endearing sequences between Tony and those closest to him. There’s a wonderful feeling of earnestness in this film that was completely lacking from the very robotic “Iron Man 2” — an informal, fun weightlessness that is only occasionally spoiled by the instances of heavy politics or heavy-handed, anti-establishment messages. 

The bottom line: Iron Man 3 is fun. It’s an enormous amount of fun. If you haven’t had enough of Robert Downey Jr.’s wry and wisecracking Tony Stark, then this will be like Christmas came early. And if you didn’t like the first couple films, give this one a shot — there’s a lot more earnest character searching, whip-smart comedy and more than a couple twists that make this perhaps the best Iron Man outing yet. (A-)

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