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IRON MAN 3
(***½)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Shane Black
Written by:
Screenplay by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the Marvel Comic’s character.
Starring:
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle
Length:   130 minutes
Released:   050313
Rating:
PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content
“Given how saturated that niche market has become over the past 5-years, it’s quite an achievement on Black’s part that “Iron Man 3” feels so fresh and natural." 

After last year’s “The Avengers” conquered the global box-office and geeky hearts everywhere, the next phase in Marvel Studios pursuit of world domination was always going to be prompt. “Iron Man 3” kicks off this new movement with confidence and style, helping to alleviate most of the problems that plagued 2010’s patchy but not-awful “Iron Man 2”. That sequel was a fairly hollow and semi-rote entry in the studio’s catalog Jon Favreau is wisely replaced in the director’s chair by Shane Black for this latest slice of Stark madness, the former darling of the action genre bringing a surging and deeply enjoyable identity back to proceedings. “Iron Man 3” benefits from Black’s wonderful way with dialog, understanding of actors and some surprisingly cracking action, ensuring that audiences are left hankering for further comic-book sourced shenanigans. Given how saturated that niche market has become over the past 5-years, it’s quite an achievement on Black’s part that “Iron Man 3” feels so fresh and natural.

Following his daring act of heroism in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has begun experiencing panic attacks and crippling fits of nervousness, turning to mechanical tinkering and professional obsession as means of escape. This places strain on his relationship with partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and buddy Rhodes (Don Cheadle). When criminal mastermind The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, absolutely stealing the show) begins bombing American territory, Stark challenges the villain, only to be quickly bested, isolated and left without his arsenal of toys and equipment. Going back to basics, Tony begins to suspect that slick scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) might be involved with The Mandarin’s violent scheming, using a volatile experimental military treatment to deadly effect.

“Iron Man 3” feels tonally separate from the Jon Favreau pictures, Black favoring a retro aesthetic for his spin on Stark. It’s no secret that Black shot to prominence with his witty, playful scripts for actioners like “Lethal Weapon” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, old-school vehicles which underlined intelligent wordplay, distinctive atmospheres and ferocious set-pieces as cornerstones of their DNA. “Iron Man 3” replicates these fascinations, everything from its weird Christmas setting, small-town narrative detour and truly varied arsenal of villains suggesting that with a new film-maker comes a new era. In this case the change of pace favors over the top bombast and laughter to extreme levels; more so than its predecessors “Iron Man 3” unfolds like an outright action-comedy, and with Black’s skill in this arena so undiminished, fans should be more than fine with the development.

The cast are absolutely electric, virtually everybody doing their best work of the series so far. Whilst Jeff Bridges’ nefarious work in 2008’s “Iron Man” is certainly worth remembering, the cocktail of Kingsley and Pearce outstrips him, the pair finding a wonderful balance of menace and comedic exuberance. Kingsley in particular is phenomenal, blending alongside Black’s twisty character developments with utter assurance and unfaltering comprehension of the material, allowing for some truly marvelous exchanges between him and Downey. The leading man struts with his usual swagger, but also brings commendable vulnerability to the table this time around, largely through believable bouts of neuroses and an undying affection for Paltrow’s steely Pepper Potts. The actress certainly seems to be having a blast, finally allowed to partake in the chaos, upgraded from bystander to full-blown first lady of Stark Industries. It’s a very human and engaging turn from a performer often guilty of skipping such pulsing thespian sensibilities.

The set-pieces simultaneously manage to avoid repetition whilst embracing spectacle, Black proving a dab hand at the big budget action stuff. There’s an energy and coherency to his edits that is always appreciated, but his ability to provide viable stakes keeps the excitement levels palpable. He doesn't go for excessive CGI or digital bravura, instead the wonder of the blockbusting moments arise from skilled camera-work and the fate of characters we genuinely come to care about. There’s as much fun to be derived from a low-tech siege on The Mandarin’s hideout as there is in the explosive decimation of Stark’s abode, Black mixing the money-shots with humor and a tangible human touch. The standout is a sequence in which the title character rescues an assortment of folks from the airborne wreckage of Air Force One, a hugely entertaining sequence that fully illustrates the creative potential of Black’s vibrant vision.

Iron Man 3 is filled knowing touches. The script, which Black co-wrote with Drew Pearce, features references to Scott Baio and Downton Abbey and Westworld, along with barbs evidently aimed at U.S. defense policy: Stark's buddy, James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) stumbles around Pakistan in red-white-and-blue armor, and the government is all too eager to fall for fictive threats. On a more self-referential level, there are a few light jokes at the expense of The Avengers ("Ever since the guy with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety kind of went out of the window") and at least one line that I took as a not terribly veiled shot at the frustrations, reportedly internal as well as external, of Iron Man 2, when Stark explains,"You start with something pure, something exciting. Then come the mistakes, the compromises."

As they say, third time’s the charm. Not only is “Iron Man 3” the best of the trilogy, it’s one of the best Marvel film yet. Yes, even better than last summer’s uber-blockbuster “The Avengers.”
 


IRON MAN 3
© 2013 Universal Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2013 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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