REVIEW: Iron Man 3 (2013) Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow. Dir. Shane Black

The third film in the Iron Man franchise may not be the best in the series, but nonetheless, I think it's actually my favorite. Directed and co-written by Shane Black, who works well with Robert Downey Jr., having previously directed him in 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it's the wittiest, fastest paced film in the series, and the one that understands that Tony Stark out of the armor is the kind we like best. Indeed, in this film there are entire action sequences where RDJ is taking on the villains himself, wisecracking his way though the whole thing of course. He's become so closely associated with his onscreen character now that it's almost impossible to distinguish him from it- and in fact, I don't think there's any point in doing so. You go to see the Downey persona, similar to past screen stars like Sean Connery or Steve McQueen. Without him there's no other spark to these movies, and it's what distinguishes them now from the generic superhero films that flood the market every single summer.

The plot this time around involves the Mandarin, one of the famous Iron Man villains from the comics, who's played by Ben Kingsley in theatrical fashion, and who's enacting a string of terrorist bombings in the U.S. When one of these bombings injures Tony's loyal security chief Happy (Jon Favreau), Tony reacts by vowing vengeance against the Mandarin. This endangers his home base and his love Pepper Potts (again Gwyneth Paltrow), and sends him on a wide ranging journey first to rural Tennessee and then back to New York, encountering genetically enhanced agents of the Mandarin along the way. James Badge Dale plays one of these agents in a flashy, charismatic turn- be on the lookout for this guy in future roles, he's been popping up in scene-stealing supporting parts for a few years now (Shame, Flight, The Grey). There's a final plot twist involving the villain and true identities that everyone probably knows by now, and that had more than a few fanboys up in arms about the deviation from comic book continuity. But since I've never picked up a single issue, this third act reveal worked well for me, as I found it a surprising and decently unfolded twist.

As I mentioned before, Shane Black (who wrote the original Lethal Weapon) scripts the movie with his trademark wit and there are barbs launched left and right, not just from Tony, but from others as well. Even though it's the funniest Iron Man film, Tony is also dealing with recurring panic attacks resulting from the events of The Avengers, and Downey again excels at flaunting casual wit mixed with weighty existential crises. Regardless of plot twists and a final action climax that turns fairly routine, the whole movie is essentially a showcase for one of our most famous movie stars, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing- unless of course you find his schtick annoying or obnoxious, which he could be unless restrained. Luckily, he is here by the talented Black, who balances comedy and action with considerable skill. I was thoroughly entertained by Iron Man 3, and what more could you ask for from a summer tentpole?

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