This undated publicity photo released by Marvel shows Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man in a scene from Marvel's "Iron Man 3." (AP Photo/Marvel, Zade Rosenthal)
‘IRON MAN 3’ ★★★½
Tony/Iron Man | Robert Downey Jr.
Aldrich Killian | Guy Pearce
The Mandarin | Ben Kingsley
Pepper Potts | Gwyneth Paltrow
Harley | Ty Simpkins
Col. Rhodes | Don Cheadle
Happy | Jon Favreau
Maya | Rebecca Hall
Marvel Studios presents a film directed by Shane Black. Written by Black and Drew Pearce. Running time: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content). Opening Thursday in late-night screenings at select theaters.
Updated: June 3, 2013 2:41PM
When it comes to choosing the most interesting superhero, you can say Superman vs. Spider-Man vs. Batman vs. Iron Man is a fair fight. But when it’s Clark Kent vs. Peter Parker vs. Bruce Wayne vs. Tony Stark, I don’t see how anyone can go with the newspaper reporter or the photographer or even the brooding billionaire playboy vs. the brilliant, fast-talking, hard-living, deeply conflicted, wildly narcissistic and vulnerable Mr. Stark.
Come on. He’s got a glowing electromagnetic device in his chest to keep his heart from literally breaking. Game, set, match.
We get more Tony Stark than Iron Man in the cleverly titled “Iron Man 3,” and that means we get Robert Downey Jr. delivering a performance that should earn awards consideration, but we know that’ll never happen because the people who vote for awards tend to favor roles that require the actor to dig deep into his tool kit to portray a complex, flawed, larger than life character —
Downey is great in this film. Not great with the caveat he’s acting in a giant summer action movie destined to gross a billion dollars, but just plain great. Every second he’s onscreen, whether he’s wearing one of his magical metal suits or walking armed with only his wit into a tavern, he commands the moment.
Filled with breathtakingly brilliant special effects, bolstered by excellent supporting performances from a half-dozen other top-tier actors, crackling with sharp humor and working as a story that stands alone while often acknowledging the larger Marvel(ous) universe, “Iron Man 3” is one of the best entries in this modern golden age of superhero movies.
We start with a flashback to New Year’s Eve in Switzerland in 1999, with Stark in full-blown, egotistical, womanizing billionaire mode, seducing the gorgeous botanist Maya (Rebecca Hall) while ditching weirdo scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) as casually as he’d brush lint off his silk suit. (You’d think Tony would know not to blow off the creepy, pushy scientist with the blotchy skin and the crooked, oversized glasses. Studies show 67 percent of those guys use that moment of humiliation as inspiration to become arch-villains in superhero movies.)
Flash forward to present day, not long after Iron Man has teamed up with Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and the rest of the Avengers to save New York, and the world, from an alien invasion. There’s no word about where the Avengers are hanging out right now, but Tony’s experience with whole wormhole-Loki thing has left him with a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Just mention New York, and he breaks out in a cold sweat.
This time around, Tony/Iron Man is combatting a real-world threat that might make for uncomfortable viewing for some in the wake of the Boston bombings. A bin Laden-esque terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is orchestrating a series of bombings that render dozens of civilians dead or wounded without leaving even the trace of an explosive device. When Tony’s right-hand man, Happy (Jon Favreau), is seriously injured in one of the explosions, Tony tells the world he’s going to kill the Mandarin — not because of politics or patriotism, but for good old-fashioned revenge. He even gives out his address on national TV.
Director Shane Black, working from a smart if sometimes meandering script penned with Drew Pearce, takes us on a 3-D thrill ride in which a LOT of stuff is blown up, and the skies are filled with superheroes, supervillains and humans falling to their seemingly certain deaths, and look, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is also floating through the air in slow-motion after another attack. To paraphrase “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” if the bombs and bullets don’t get ya, the 200-foot fall’s probably gonna do the trick.
There’s more than a touch of “Terminator 2” to the villains who have been genetically enhanced to the point where they have superhuman strength, they can regenerate tissue and their eyes glow red with fury when they’re moving in for the kill. They’re not the most compelling bad guys — but Aldrich Killian and in particular, The Mandarin are fascinatingly corrupt creatures with some surprising back stories.
One of the most entertaining stretches of “Iron Man 3” comes when Tony finds himself in a town in Tennessee, in need of help from a precocious kid whose mom is never around and whose dad disappeared six years ago. Tony’s reaction to the kid’s sad story is one of the most priceless one-liners of the century.
As the kid Harley, young Ty Simpkins is perfectly cast in a role that could have gone sideways if some kid actor had tried to be cute by half. I could have watched a whole movie about the adventures of Tony and the kid. But of course we have to get back to the big climax scene(s) in giant-budget movies such as the “Iron Man” franchise, and Black and the hundreds of other technicians and effects artists named in nearly endless credit sequence deliver some of the best-looking (and also some of the funniest and most clever) action sequences ever put on film.
Some superhero movies drag a bit when the costume’s back home at the lair, and our guy is out there in the real world, trying to assimilate. Thanks to Downey’s genius, “Iron Man 3” is equally terrific, whether Tony’s fending off an army of villains or bantering with a kid in a shed on a cold, snowy night.