Iron Man 3 marks the start of the 2013 blockbuster season, the deluge of “critic-proof” movies that are going to rake in money by the truckload no matter what holes we writers might poke in its skein. And, as has already been reported, Iron Man 3 has already been marked for financial success. In the first five days of its release overseas, according to Wired magazine, the movie earned $195 million, more than the first Captain America movie made in its entire theatrical run outside the States. Gold status right out of the gate.
“Critic-proof” as it may be, some of you might still be reading this review to solidify either your decision to go check it out or your already firmly set belief that it’s a pile of overwrought garbage not worth your money or time. To the former group, I say, simply, this deliriously entertaining flick will not disappoint. To the latter, I implore you to give it a shot. I will grant you that Iron Man 2 was a muddle, but this new installment brushes that off and runs hot off the same thrilling energy that made The Avengers such a shot in the arm to the superhero genre.
To do that, producer Kevin Feige made the crafty — though admittedly risky — decision to put Shane Black in the director’s chair and to let him co-write the script with British TV comedy vet Drew Pearce. Because, as Feige was trying to do by hiring Robert Downey Jr. to play the rakish playboy Tony Stark, if you want to inject a little Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang energy into your proto-typical comic book movie, who better to give it to you than the man who wrote and directed it?
And boy does Black deliver. The dialogue pings off the actors like pinballs, with the heartiest back and forths reserved for series mainstays Stark, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Happy Hogan (former Iron Man director Jon Favreau), and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Throw in a sassy little boy who helps Stark along the way and you have the best elements of Black’s choicest screenplays threaded into this epic storyline. Pearce’s role, on the other hand, was to root the story in the grandeur that is the Marvel universe, which includes leaving Stark a shaken figure following the events of The Avengers. One of the few completely human members of the group, protected only by the technology of his own creation, Stark is here more aware than ever of his mortality and the danger he’s putting his friends and loved ones in.
Indeed, Stark continues to be haunted by his past. In this case, it is a young scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who is snubbed by the millionaire playboy back in 1999 and returns 13 years later to try to bring his DNA-altering technology to Stark Industries. Hogan, sniffing something fishy, follows him and ends up in a coma due to a explosion caused by Killian’s bodyguard. Stark, of course, vows revenge and, along the way, starts to connect the dots to Killian’s more sinister aims that may or may not involve The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an Osama bin Laden-like figure wreaking havoc across the globe with bombings seemingly out of nowhere.
Everything else about Iron Man 3 slots in with what you and the rest of the world have come to anticipate from movies of this kind: big and bigger explosions, death-defying sequences that take place in mid-air, glossy CGI in all its computer-rendered glory (the number of names listed in the credits under Visual Effects could double the population of some small countries). But what Black and Pearce return to this series, in keeping with its underlying themes, is its human element. Whether that’s Stark having to use his scientific smarts to cobble together rudimentary weapons to fight off bad guys or his interactions with an industrious and father-less youngster, the stronger moments of this movie end up being the ones most removed from the sometimes relentless sensory overload of big budget action/adventures like this. The filmmakers don’t achieve a perfect balance, but with cinematic snack fare like this, there’s no need.