Third time’s a charm is the case here. 2008’s Iron Man was a fantastic game changer for the big screen Marvel Universe that was not directly under the Marvel Studios and Paramount banner (i.e. Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Blade, and Daredevil). Robert Downey Jr.’s inspired casting and his heroic, charismatic and spot-on execution in his portrayal of billionaire Tony Stark became the rock solid backbone of the subsequent series of superhero films that would seamlessly lead us to Marvel’s The Avengers.
After the disappointing sophomore slump misstep with 2010’s Iron Man 2 (good for business, disappointing as a bloated sequel rushed out to meet a pre-determined release date), the third film hits a home run by injecting new life into the series with a back to basics character driven action film that successfully plays off why Tony Stark is at heart, a true hero.
Downey reunites with director / screenwriter Shane Black, who brought us 2005’s incredibly under appreciated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Though for all us ’80s action film aficionados, Black was the screenwriter of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Kiss Goodnight and The Last Boy Scout. Thankfully the Downey/Black magic is back and showcased with the duo’s re-teaming in the first Marvel movie set after the shattering events of The Avengers.
In a post-Avengers world, also now known as Marvel’s Phase Two (which along with the upcoming sequels Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, will lead up to Avengers 2), Tony Stark is a changed man. Having both fought along side and against gods, monsters and aliens, after the battle of New York Tony Stark now looks over his shoulder suffering from panic attacks. When reminded of the possibility of future threats to Earth and how minuscule he relatively fits into it all, “I’m just a man in a can,” he admits to girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Moving forward on very little sleep, Stark has built up an immense arsenal of Iron Man suits while testing radical new technology that allows his to physically bond with his armor.
Its not giving anything away in saying that Stark has his Iron army of suits to fight along side him, that much has been revealed over and over on the one-sheets and in all the trailers. Granted there are toys to sell and money shots to exploit that make for good advertising for movies of this magnitude, but I can’t help but feel somewhat robbed of the great moment in revealing Stark’s massive enforcements had it been kept under lock and key. It easily would have been the stand out shot where the audience would be in full right to start cheering. It’s a minor point, nothing to hold against the film itself, more of a circumstance regarding the sometimes too much that’s put out there before a film is released nowadays.
In her fourth portrayal of Potts, Paltrow is given a big promotion in screen time as a vital part of the plot, some parts work better than others depending how you feel about Pepper’s overall active role in Stark’s business being a superhero. You’ll know what I mean when you see the movie. Cheadle as well gets to amp it up both in and out of his Iron Patriot armor, which allows for some superb on screen team work from him and Downey.
It’s another strength of the solid screenplay, which allows most of the cast moments to shine on many levels. Kingsley brings an amazing life to the Mandarin, which is a brilliantly written multi-layered villain that benefits equally with the inspired casting that brings it all home on the big screen. Pearce and Dale have a good time twisting their evil mustaches as heavies who intertwine themselves with the Mandarin via a bio-tech subplot involving the Extremis technology (based on a celebrated storyline from the comics lore).
The 3D is on target. Black is a director who is not out to induce seizures with a barrage of quick edits and insane camera movement, which works great here. The 3D adds depth to the right places and is never obtrusive or does it suffer from the dreaded motion blur and ghosting that in lesser conversions tend to nag and remind you of the hit and miss over utilized technology. The 3D is most effective when the film is not beating its chest with FX driven spectacle, and concentrating on the human aspect of the story. Even as true tech stickler, the RPX presentation I saw gloriously lacked the muddied dark picture that is typically associated with guilty theaters projecting 3D films below the ideal light levels for optimal viewing.
As the first Phase Two Marvel film, Iron Man 3 is a huge step in the right direction for the series and also a huge creative leap forward overall. It wisely pulls back the stakes to humanize Tony Stark with an Avengers-less Iron Man level adventure. RDJ brings his A-game charm and wit to the role we have come to expect and is allowed a lot of time to explore the troubled character a lot further, which pays off big time. It also wisely doesn’t pander to the rest of the Marvel Universe beyond a few lines of dialogue. By focusing squarely on the Iron Man family, thankfully the film avoids the trap and temptation of throwing in gratuitous distracting cameos. The sharp highly entertaining film finds the perfect balance of action, humor and well written scenes that work well for the cast of characters. If the summer season is officially underway, it does not disappoint and starts off with a bang with Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 opens in 2D, 3D, RealD 3D, IMAX and IMAX 3D on May 3rd.
REVIEW RATING: ★★★½☆☆
Directed By: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ty Simpkins
Studio: Marvel Studios / Disney
Running Time: 130 minutes