Iron Man is dead. Long live Iron Man.
Sequels are often strange and difficult things to handle. Take, for instance, the “Iron Man” series. The first film was witty, fast-paced and certainly one of the high points of the Marvel film canon, but the sequel was a dull, humorless two-hour trailer for “The Avengers” that didn’t dare take on a life of its own. So what could they do for “Iron Man 3″? Where could they go after a film that contributed practically nothing to its own canon?
Easy: ignore that piece of crap, use the much better “Avengers” as the jumping off point and hire the generally awesome Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Lethal Weapon”) to write, direct and guide the franchise in a better direction (i.e., a fun, deconstructive one).
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) hasn’t been the same since the battle in New York that nearly killed him (and the rest of New York). He can’t sleep, he can’t stop experimenting with new Iron Man suits and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) are very concerned about his well-being. But amidst his personal issues, Tony must also contend with a terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who’s responsible for a number of recent bombings, as well as Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a mysterious scientist from Tony’s past. This leads to Tony beginning a journey of self-discovery, what the Iron Man suit really means in relation to himself and lots of freakin’ sweet action sequences—okay, focus.
One of Black’s greatest strengths in his previous work as a writer and director is his ability to make the ridiculous and the serious coexist in harmony. This is particularly important when creating a modern comic book movie, since the inherent ridiculousness of the superhero genre must be tempered with at least a touch of reality and even cynicism to connect with the audience, and Black does better than ever with that here.
The numerous bombing scenes and public messages issued by The Mandarin remind one of recent events (uncomfortably so, even), but it’s handled with deftness and even a sense of humor that will surprise you when you least expect it. Yet at the same time, Black knows when to back off and let the snark subside, allowing some stinging political commentary holy hell, wasn’t that scene where Tony’s house blew up awesome, with all the bang and boom and drama—ahem.
The most interesting relationship in the series thus far has been Tony’s connection to his own Iron Man suit (that’s not a bad thing), and Black takes full advantage of that in this installment. Tony spends most of the run time out of the suit, and it gives both him and the viewer a chance to see the man behind the technology and snark. Turns out that man is quite interesting, as evidenced by his funny and touching relationship with a small-town boy he meets that reveals quite a bit about his own insecurities and childlike hang-ups man, that climax on the oil rig with the ooh we can’t spoil that but it was so f—king cool, you guys—yeah.
This is one of those kinds of movies. You know the kind: the kind that it’s impossible to discuss without collapsing into senseless gushing, because there’s just no weak points at all. Not a second is wasted on a pointless character or subplot. Every single actor brings their A-game, particularly Downey (who’s as snarkalicious and neurotic as ever) and Kingsley (who is amazing for reasons that can’t be spoiled). The fight scenes are gorgeously shot, the editing is seamless and the effects are top-notch. There are numerous sly nods to action films of the past that tie in perfectly with everything and never feel self-conscious. It’s all killer and no filler. It’s intense and funny and poignant in all the ways that The Movies should be.
Look, “Iron Man 3” is just fun, okay? And fun is good. We all need fun. So go see “Iron Man 3” if you haven’t already. Right now.
And if you hate fun, we hear Slant Magazine is hiring.
Speakeasy Grade: A–
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content