Dir. by Shane Black - 2 hrs. 10 min.
Official UK Trailer
by Clayton Hollifield
There is a beauty to seeing a sequel to an action movie or a super-hero movie: you don't have to waste time establishing characters. By a third installment in a franchise, either people are on-board, or they've seen enough from the trailers for the previous films to have a ballpark idea of what the characters are like (or you can figure it out in context, of course, if you're willing to miss a couple of continuity-related jokes here and there). So, instead of screwing around for the first third of a film trying desperately to blend character development with things going ka-boom without sacrificing either too badly. "Iron Man 3" does this beautifully, jumping straight into the action. It's also probably the difference between this film being a shade over two hours and it pushing two forty-five.
In Greek mythology, a nemesis is a vengeful spirit that exists to payback hubris. It's an enemy that one creates from their own actions, and in the months following what happened in New York (which you can see for yourself in a little art-house documentary film called "The Avengers"), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) begins to reap what he's sown roughly fifteen years in the past. Stark was badly shaken by New York, and has thrown himself deeply into his work refining the Iron Man costume in order to withdraw from the world. A series of unusual terrorist bombings, claimed by a "teacher" called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) riles Stark, who issues a personal challenge for The Mandarin to show up at his doorstep. That goes about as well as you think it would.
Even though this third installment is helmed by a new director (Shane Black, taking over for Jon Favreau), the tone and visual approach isn't radically changed. Like the first two films, there's a lot of spectacular action, things move along at a very brisk pace, and Downey Jr. motormouths his way through the entire thing. One of the main differences is that the Iron Man armor almost takes on a second persona separate from Stark; he's in-costume for what feels like a lot less time this time around. It's not a problem like in other super-hero movies (the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man series, where he's got a secret identity but keeps taking his mask off anyways), Stark is a public figure and has claimed Iron Man as his own. Instead, it adds a layer to Stark's withdrawal from everything and everyone around him. Since the armor doesn't provide anonymity (there's a scene where he leaves it parked outside of a restaurant like you'd park a car), there's much less appeal to Stark to being in it. He'd rather tinker in his lab than engage the world around him.
The mystery of the film (no spoilers, because the plot twists are at least half of the fun here) is one that breaks down over several stages, and culminates in a huge, destructive fight scene that can only take place on the wharf, where there's all kinds of cool, inanimate things that can be wrecked without having to worry about loss of human life (at least on the scale of what happened in "The Avengers"). The villains are people who have been able to regenerate limbs, but it leaves them with the ability to hurl fire and heat up their bodies to explosive levels. It's a side-effect of the Exogenesis process, which still has a few kinks that need to be worked out before it's ready and available at your local health food store. But the people who have undergone the process are equal to Iron Man when it comes to combat, which makes for some fun fights.
In terms of the large action pieces, they're completely up to snuff. The two largest are probably a sequence involving Iron Man saving people who are in free-fall, and the large end fight at the wharf. I found myself unexpectedly on the edge of my seat for the former, and while the latter has a sense of inevitability (c'mon, it's the end boss battle. You kinda know how that's got to end), it's a sustained piece of really good action. The initial attack on Stark's home is pretty good, as well. And all through it, there are little details to humanize Stark: it's clear his current armor is still in beta testing. So on the action front, "Iron Man 3" delivers the goods.
Probably the thing that makes "Iron Man 3" most interesting is Stark's character arc; it becomes clear over the course of the movie that Tony Stark is the super-hero, not Iron Man. Stark isn't amazing because he's got a cool suit of armor that allows him to do super-human things, the armor is an expression of Stark's brilliance. The events in previous films has shaken his belief in himself, but he's able to understand here that he's the main attraction, that Stark's got the goods even if he's completely unarmed and you let him lose in a Home Depot with a charge card. His resourcefulness comes back to the forefront like it did in the first "Iron Man" film, and it's a lot of fun to watch the character rediscover exactly what it is that makes him different from other people.
There's almost no way I could imagine someone who enjoyed any of the previous Iron Man appearances not really enjoying "Iron Man 3." It works even if you haven't seen those movies, the mystery to the story is a very windy road that unfolds in a fun manner, and the villains are formidable. So far, Marvel's done a great job with every single one of the Avengers string of films, and "Iron Man 3" continues that streak. Also worth noting, Gwyneth Paltrow totally puts in her time at the gym.
4 / 5 - Theatre 3D