Stark raving neurotic
When Marvel studios made the bold and potentially risky decision to have Shane Black write and direct “Iron Man 3” it was obvious they didn’t want a cookie-cutter superhero movie. Black is most famous for having written “Lethal Weapon,” that helped make Mel Gibson a star back in the 80s. His only significant directorial experience was 2005’s very edgy neo-noir comedy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” that starred Robert Downey Jr. It turns out that Black was a good choice, and his chemistry with Downey Jr. is evident in this third installment of the Iron Man franchise.
Not as taut or efficient as the first “Iron Man,” yet much funnier than the overblown “Iron Man 2,” the latest installment has plenty of bang of its own but features an interesting, angst-ridden psychological subtext rarely found in blockbuster films.
Thankfully, Downey Jr’s embodiment of Tony Stark elevates the portrayal of the effects of insomnia and panic-attacks to a new art form, and Black (along with co-writer Drew Pearce) gives him plenty of opportunity to have fun with his neurosis.
A flashback to 1999 explains how a rebuffed scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and a botanist and one-time (literally) Stark girlfriend (Rebecca Hall) will come back to haunt Tony years later. Now, after the Avengers have saved the world, Stark is obsessed with building many variations of his beloved Iron Man suit while current girlfriend and Stark Industries president Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) aches for more cuddle time.
Enter the Jihadist-inspired bombings of a terrorist named “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley), backed by Killian, who’s using experimental research to help soldiers overcome crippling injuries that turn them into fire-breathing bad guys. When Stark challenges his new enemies, his Malibu Mansion comes under heavy attack, and he winds up forced into crude repair work in a garage in rural Tennessee where he’s aided by a smarty-pants pre-teen Harley (Ty Simpkins). Amiable bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and loyal military Colonel turned suit-tester James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) return with important roles in this installment.
The whole cast is outstanding, especially Pearce, once again a convincing villain, Hall (more, please!), the huggable and hilarious Simpkins, and Kingsley, who simply never disappoints.
Some will lament the extended stretches without action while Stark does battle with his internal demons, or even the major plot “a-ha!” reveal that only fanboys will know contradicts the source material. And indeed, the film runs too long, with an extended action sequence that gets tiresome in its own Michael Bay way.
But Marvel (and parent company Walt Disney Studios) should be congratulated for going out on a bit of a limb to choose a writer-director who could have gone wrong but turned out to be pretty right on.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence and brief suggestive content.