The loudest thing about Iron Man 3 isn’t the constant boom of explosions, the heavy barrage of bullets or even the impressive destruction of our hero’s magnificent mansion, which ends up crumbling into the sea. It’s the ka-ching of cash as this third installment in the popular Marvel Comics franchise, even moreso than its predecessors, seems meticulously crafted to be a box-office juggernaut.
It deals with the big issue of the day — terrorism — and even has a cute kid.
But Iron Man 3 manages to rise above its naked ambitions thanks to two things: Robert Downey Jr.’s sly charm in the role of the multibillionaire entrepreneur turned superhero and Ben Kingsley’s too-short and ultimately hilarious turn as the villainous Mandarin, a clever update on the comic-book character created in the ’60s. If Iron Man 3 doesn’t pack the surprise of the first Iron Man, the presence of Kingsley alone puts it leagues ahead of Iron Man 2.
This time around, Tony Stark aka Ironman (Downey) finds his world torn apart by a man he once spurned, a brilliant but mad scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who’s bent on revenge. Thanks to work pioneered by Iron Man’s friend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), he has found a way to instantly regrow tissue so limbs instantly reappear. Trouble is the side effects are rather explosive.
Combine that with the threat posed by the Osama bin Laden-like Mandarin, who’s threatening to take America down, and you’ve got a job fit for Iron Man and his plucky girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who gets to display some superhero moves of her own. It doesn’t help, though, that Stark is plagued by anxiety attacks from his previous missions, and this is where the cute kid — Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) — comes in; his exchanges with Stark are some of the film’s funniest.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has come up with their own version of Iron Man called Iron Patriot, helmed by Iron Man friend Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).
As directed by Shane Black, taking over from Jon Favreau, who did the first two, Iron Man 3 is filled with a lot of things that go boom — just what you might expect from the guy who wrote the screenplays for Last Action Hero and the “Lethal Weapon” movies. Yet Black, who co-wrote with Drew Pearce, also tries to keep things light and lively. There are many one-liners, including a shout-out to the long-forgotten 1973 sci-fi film Westworld, that help lessen the film’s predictability.
And Black shows he still has a sense for displays of bravura kineticism, staging one stellar action sequence involving a plane breaking up, sending its passengers hurtling toward Earth.
Black’s hand is probably most noticeable, though, in what he did with the Mandarin character, whom Black and others have suggested was a racist caricature in his original incarnation. Black’s solution should satisfy both longtime fans of the comic books as well as neophytes who wouldn’t know the Mandarin from Flash Gordon’s Emperor Ming.
All of the plot strands come together for an extended if ultimately wearying display of weaponry and the setup for more shenanigans in the inevitable Iron Man 4. As usual with Marvel movies, there’s a short coda after the end credits. Unless you’re a huge fan, it may not be worth sitting through the phonebook’s worth of names rolling up the screen.
Though you might need that time to try and get your hearing back.