(Editors’ note: For some of this summer’s major blockbusters, we’ll be running two reviews. Stay tuned later today for critic Shawn Kotzen’s take.)
“Iron Man 3,” the first big movie of the summer and the latest in the seemingly endless series of Marvel-universe blockbusters, doesn’t break any new ground or transcend its genre. But it’s still very entertaining and never boring.
This is in the upper tier of Marvel films, not quite on the level of the first “Iron Man” or “The Avengers,” but a huge improvement over the lackluster “Iron Man 2.”
(The usual disclaimers apply to this review: I have never read any of the comics, and with the exception of the Hulk and the Iron Man toys frequently brandished by my three-year-old, I know nothing of any of the Marvel characters aside from the events of the recent films.)
For the new film, Jon Favreau abdicates the director’s chair in favor of Shane Black, the hotshot screenwriter of the early ’90s who reinvented himself, along with Robert Downey, Jr., as director of the cheeky 2005 film “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang.” The tone isn’t appreciably different from that of the two earlier films, but Black directs competently and infuses the material with a palpable sense of fun.
Like “Avengers” director Joss Whedon, Black handles elaborate action sequences very well despite never having directed anything of this scale before. I was especially blown away by one setpiece involving skydiving, while the action finale is pretty impressive too, if a notch below the memorable urban blowout that closed “The Avengers.”
Downey is back as Tony Stark, the snarky billionaire superhero who’s out of the closet as Iron Man, and now firmly shacked up with longtime assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow.) Instead of just one Iron Man suit he now has several, and the big new feature here is that Stark can, with his mind, make the “Iron Man” suit fly onto his body piece by piece from across a room, in a process remarkably similar to the way pieces of Sacha Baron Cohen’s costume would assemble on his body in the opening credits of Da Ali G Show.
The plot takes awhile to kick into gear, but ultimately fits together quite well. There’s a sort-of-Chinese, sort-of-Bin Ladenist terrorist villain (Ben Kingsley), who communicates only through videotapes. He may or may not have anything to do with a scientist/entrepreneur (Guy Pearce), who’s come up with a way to regenerate limbs, or a Bourne-like supersoldier program, or a botanist (Rebecca Hall) from Tony Stark’s past.
The performances are pretty strong across the board, with Downey still a cocky delight, and remaining a believable action hero even as he approaches his 50th birthday. Paltrow gets to do a lot more than in the previous films- ass-kicking included- although there’s a lengthy passage of time in which we know she’s held hostage but the movie sort of forgets about her.
Pearce is always a treat as a sneering villain, while Kingsley just about steals the show. I won’t reveal the twist involving his character, but it’s pretty great.
“Iron Man 3″ can’t be called anything less than a huge improvement over the last sequel, from 2010. That was in that weird, brief period, post-”The Wrestler,” when Mickey Roarke was getting major movie roles, and played the Russian bad guy. I saw the film once and I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the plot, except that Garry Shandling played an evil Senator, and the movie stopped dead in its tracks for 20 minutes in order to lay the groundwork for the “Avengers” movie.
There’s nothing like that here, save for a few references to that climactic alien and “being off with the superfriends,” which are enough to suffice. And yes, there is a post-credits tag, but I won’t say any more about it.
What’s there to complain about? The plot takes a little too long to get going, and the 130-minute running time could’ve used a bit of a shave. Some of the product placement is a bit much; if Stark Industries makes all of Tony’s equipment, why must there be an Oracle/Sun Microsystems logo everywhere he goes? And the 3D, via post-conversion, is unimpressive to the point of being invisible. At least they didn’t call it “Iron Man 3D.”
But regardless, “Iron Man 3″ is a winning effort and welcome return to form for the franchise. If this summer is like most summers, the majority of action blockbusters will disappoint; “Iron Man 3″ certainly does not.