Iron Man Three (12A/PG-13, 130mins)
Director: Shane Black
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Iron Man Three finds itself in a unique position in the annals of comic book movies. In following on directly from the most successful superhero movie of all time, Avengers Assemble, this first of the so-called Phase Two of Marvel adaptations has a lot to live up to.
But by also following up a lacklustre and poorly received second part in the Iron Man story, there’s certainly room for improvement. And improve on what has come Iron Man Three undoubtedly does. It’s a superhero movie as concerned with the man as the Iron Man, and that’s where it finds its angle, its freshness, its reason to exist.
That’s because Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is struggling in the aftermath of what the Avengers went through, unable to sleep and prone to panic attacks. He’s obsessed with working on new upgrades to his Iron Man technology, to the detriment of his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and to the extent that he can’t separate himself from his suits.
Boldly, there’s almost no action at all during this long opening period of setup. It’s the investible characters and their wisecracking that keep it going here, because it can occasionally be a slog, especially when Pepper and Stark are separated for a lengthy spell.
The arrival of new terrorist super-villain, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), triggers this. He’s on a crazed mission to target the US president, destroying Stark’s home in the process and leaving him for dead. There’s also Guy Pearce’s dodgy businessman to contend with and the matter of bombs made from a powerful heat source that are being used in the Mandarin’s attacks.
But this is also a movie capable of being sober, able to take a step back and smart enough to be more than men in suits hitting each other. Tapping into a seam of self-reference that never becomes smug, it touches on how people react to superheroes and celebrities, while the Avengers are referenced frequently but not beholden to.
And there should be no cause for concern that it fails to deliver on its promise as a fantasy blockbuster, because the second half is a triumph, providing surprises and sensational set pieces on top of the existing fun and games, and relying on the skills and ingenuity of Stark rather than just whatever powers the Iron Man suits have.
New-to-the-series director Shane Black, who must be due a good percentage of the credit for the resurrection of Downey’s career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, integrates himself smoothly, handling explosive action and characters stuff with equal ease.
Once it gets up to speed, Iron Man Three is as good as anything the series has yet offered and this is a fine finale to a trilogy. Make it through the protracted setup and it delivers just the payoff required.