To successfully follow up the biggest non-James Cameron movie ever sounds exhausting; to try and do it with a three-quel sounds impossible.

I guess one should never doubt the power of Robert Downey Jr. and the role that brought him back into the spotlight because Marvel and company have delivered a movie that is arguably as fun as The Avengers and succeeds as such with a much different focus.

Tony Stark isn’t having the best of times. Despite saving all of New York from obliteration, Stark is suffering from panic attacks brought on by his heroic deed, which puts a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts. After Happy Hogan is injured in an apparent bomb blast, Stark foolishly declares revenge (and his home address) against the culprit, the mysterious uber-terrorist The Mandarin. With his home and things destroyed, Stark must rely on his wits to find The Mandarin, save Pepper from danger and find out how the think-tank A.I.M. and its sketchy scientist leader, Aldrich Killian, are involved.

Contrary to its title, Iron Man 3 is really a Tony Stark movie. Much like another recent superhero three-quel, The Dark Knight Rises, this movie spends most of its time with the man behind the mask and that’s just fine. Many may lament the lack of Iron Man here and many people would be wrong in forgetting that Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is infinitely more interesting outside the suit than he is inside it.

It’s not hard rooting for the effortlessly charismatic Downey as is but director/writer Shane Black and writer Drew Pearce craft a character piece with wit and one-liners to spare. Seeing our hero in such a vulnerable place with his panic attacks actually sparks some genuine character interest and investment, something Marvel movies usually aren’t strong on.

Likewise, Pepper, Rhodey, and Happy are given something to do that never seems forced. The chemistry between Downey and Paltrow continues to be one of the cutest, most whip-smart pairings the genre has to offer.

Black and Pearce find a perfect balance between the sometimes heavy thematic material (surpassing the original’s use of terrorists as a plot device and certainly anything seen in Iron Man 2) and the naturally witty world Stark inhabits.

Black’s trademark Christmas setting for his movies, as well as much of the movie being a mystery starring Downey with hints of a buddy-cop film, draws heavy comparisons to his previous film Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. Seeing how that movie is pretty terrific, that seems like a good thing. Instead of a straight adaption of the material, Iron Man 3 feels much more like an interpretation of the world – one that takes liberties here and there but ultimately pays off well. If this movie is to be believed, this could be a sign of Marvel heading in a much more artistically daring direction.

But before it begins to sound like the movie completely devoted to examining what makes each character tick, it wouldn’t be an Iron Man movie without some serious action set pieces, which Iron Man 3 delivers on. The attack on Stark’s mansion, a skydiving stunt, and the explosive finale on an oil rig all push the Iron Man action to new boundaries and occasionally gives the action seen in The Avengers a run for its money.

And still, it wouldn’t quite be an Iron Man movie without the odd flaw, here and there.

DC comic adaptions, the Batman movies in particular, have had the distinct trend of their villains overshadowing their heroes. To counteract this, Marvel has moved in the opposite direction and, time and time again, has practically taken measures to make sure their villains are as flat and unmemorable as possible. Iron Man 3 is unfortunately a poster boy for this continuing flaw.

Without spoiling too much, there is a substantial twist when it comes to The Mandarin and Killian – one that, while no doubt well-concealed and original, comes off as cheap in terms of buildup and comic book accuracy and only succeeds half way. No marks against Ben Kingsley or Guy Pearce here since both are terrific fun to watch play their roles. It’s just that, ultimately, the villain we are left with at the end of the movie is a letdown because of a late introduction, fuzzy motives and lack of differentiation between him and the other Extremis soldiers in terms of abilities.

Speaking of which, the possibilities of this new and exciting class of adversary seem promising in the beginning (no more guy in suit vs. guy in suit action!) but are never taken advantage of, essentially turning everyone exposed to Extremis into super-strong molten men/women with unclear thresholds of how they can be defeated.

Two plot holes cropping during the movie that simply can’t be put out of mind:

1. When the airwaves get taken over and the president is kidnapped, shouldn’t there be some sort of mega-spy agency we’ve seen before that should step in?


2. The Ten Rings was the terrorist group that originally kidnapped Tony Stark, whose logo can be seen at the beginning and end of every one of The Mandarin’s videos. This is intended to be a clear tie-in to the first movie and no explanation is given for this. Ugh, my brain hurts.

But I hate when people harp on plot holes too much and these are a minor detriment at worst. All in all they really don’t do much to take away from what is so far the most fun movie experience of the year.

There are no less than eight quotable lines and a similar amount of moments dukeing it out for my favorite moment of the movie (Stark’s McGuyver/unibomber phase is currently winning). The 3D doesn’t do much to add to the experience but it doesn’t really take anything away from it, so there’s my not-discouraging plug. Conversely, if you haven’t considered seeing the movie in IMAX, do so and fast.

Iron Man 3 may not be perfect but what film is, especially what third installment? What it is is a hell of a lot of fun, a high-ranker in terms of Marvel movies, a great way to start the summer and a movie I’m looking forward to seeing again (and again).


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