The third film in a series can be sublimethink The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Ultimatum or even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusadeor ridiculousanyone for Ocean's Thirteen, Batman Forever, or, heaven help us, Jaws 3-D?
While the first Iron Man was pretty fantastic and the sequel was somewhat disappointing, I'm pleased to say that the third outing with Tony Stark definitely hews more toward the former than the latter. Not only is it a truly worthy start to the summer movie season despite the fact it's only the first week in May, but it has taken the series into an exciting yet introspective anddare I saymore mature direction, in the hands of director Shane Black, who is new to the series.
Iron Man 3 takes place sometime after the hullabaloo following the cataclysmic events in The Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is still a bit shaken by what he was a part of, and regardless of the bravado he wears, he's suffering real people problems, namely an inability to sleep and periodic anxiety attacks. His inventor-on-speed mentality isn't helping him execute his new idea, namely a system that allows pieces of the Iron Man suit to come hurling toward him with just one simple gesture. (The suit almost seems to attack him as much as it attaches itself to him.) And this mania isn't helping his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow, looking quite deserving of her recently bestowed upon title of Sexiest Woman Alive) one bit; in fact, she's tired of playing second fiddle to a metal suit.
And then trouble comes calling, in the form of The Mandarin (a marvelous Ben Kingsley), a mysterious dictator of epic proportion, who is systematically raining terror down on the world, and letting them know what's coming next in dramatic broadcasts that take control of the airwaves. The Mandarin is allied with dweeb-turned-dashingly evil scientist Aldrich Killian (a suavely unhinged Guy Pearce), who was once snubbed by Tony Stark and now has harnessed the scientific power to turn damaged and maimed people into mercenary human weapons with molten flesh. Tony challenges The Mandarin mano a mano, and he obliges, with rocket launchers aimed at Stark's cliffside house, in one of the film's tense and dazzling action sequences.
The Mandarin and Killian constantly up the ante to deadlier levels that threaten the safety of the world (not to mention Tony and Pepper), and even involve Tony's sidekick-yet-rival, Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle, sporting one seriously impressive pair of biceps). You think you know where the movie will lead but you aren't sure, given the movie's almost plaintive tone, not to mention Tony's emotional upheaval. Yet as the action and the spectacle build and build, so too does the plot, so you're not just left with fighting to the death and explosions and gunfights (although there's plenty of those)you're being stimulated emotionally and (again, dare I say) intellectually as well.
Robert Downey Jr. is a tremendously talented actor who has had a number of memorable roles in his career to date, yet I think Tony Stark may be his best. I don't know where Downey's true personality ends and Stark's begins, and I don't care. He truly wears this character as easily as he does the suit. Much like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series, I felt as if every character in this movie was well-acted; there are none of the overacted roles we're so used to seeing in summer blockbusters.
Iron Man 3 may not be as good as the original, but it's pretty darned close. And if the rest of the summer movie season is even half as satisfying and enjoyable as this film, we're in for one hell of a ride this year.