Iron Man 3 Review: Tony Stark’s Demons Are Great Fun

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Darker, meaner, and stronger than its predecessor, Iron Man 3 proves that the third time can be the charm under the right director.

And that director is Shane Black, known for the 2005 action-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which also starred Robert Downey Jr. Black’s sense of humor is more akin to Joss Whedon’s than Jon Favreau’s, director of the first two solo Stark entries. That is, the humor is brought on through the characters, not necessarily the situations.

That helps considering the situations in Iron Man 3 are hardly a laughing matter. A terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, sporting a beard all too familiar to Osama bin Laden) is bombing various U.S. locations not unlike the ones we saw just weeks ago in Boston. He seems like a real world threat, much like Tony Stark’s captors in the first Iron Man.

Then there is another villain. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who met Tony in 1999 as a scrawny man limping with a cane. Enter 2013, his hair is slicked back, he’s walking straight, and he’s got some muscle. What changed? Better yet, what are his links to the Mandarin?

The villains do some shuffling and a twist sort of makes one irrelevant. But other than that, these guys are far more compelling than the foes Stark faced in his first two solo entires. That being said, they can’t compare to Tom Hiddleston’s character making turn as Loki in The Avengers. He is still the best villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and a preview for Thor: The Dark World in front of this film shows no signs of that changing).

Yet the heroes are still the best part of this branch of the universe. Robert Downey Jr. hasn’t been better than he is in Iron Man 3. Having nightmares of the events in New York and unable to sleep, Stark isn’t at his best when the villains come knocking. In a startling sequence, his Malibu home is destroyed after he threatens the terrorist on national TV. He finds himself in hickville Tennessee, without a working suit.

This is where the heart of the film comes in, as Tony interacts with a little boy for a good half an hour. No, Iron Man 3 never heads into full fledged cutesy superhero, and Tony never comes out of character for the sake of a kid. It’s both refreshing and great character work.

But without a suit, Tony finds himself in an odd position. He’s still a superhero, and he has to fight the bad guys somehow. To my surprise and my very great pleasure, this entry in the series feels more like a James Bond film than a superhero flick. It makes for a very different Iron Man movie, and with four other superhero movies scheduled to hit theaters this year alone, that is very welcome.

Meanwhile, the Rhodey character (Don Cheadle) is finally worth talking about! After Terrance Howard’s weak performance in the original, Cheadle replaced him in the lukewarm Iron Man 2. Now, under Black’s direction, this character is funny, heroic, and, well, worth watching.

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is in fine form here as well. Paltrow has such a rich chemistry with Downey Jr. that currently makes them the best onscreen superhero couple.

It all leads to a very fun experience and an excellent start to the summer movie season. No, the film is not as good as The Avengers, mostly due to the shuffling around of the villains and the pointlessness of the Rebecca Hall character. But it does hold a candle to the 2008 original. And that’s saying something. Grade: B+

Note: you should know this by now, but be sure to stay after the credits.

By Matt Dougherty

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