With Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley. Written by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Directed by Shane Black. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. 130 minutes.
There’s a certain pleasure in being able to say of a comic book action hero movie that one doesn’t want to give away too much of the plot to avoid revealing the numerous twists in the screenplay. After the disappointing “Iron Man 2” – which was the usual sequel that redid the first film only louder – IRON MAN 3 seems to have learned the lessons of last summer’s “The Avengers.” By making us care about its superhero as a person, we’re willing to go along for the ride about almost everything else.
It’s several months after “The Avengers” and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. If people start talking about “aliens” or “New York” he starts to hyperventilate and lose focus. Indeed, he goes days at a time unable to sleep, a seemingly minor plot point that eventually pays off in a big way.
Stark has scaled back his involvement in his business, leaving it to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to run, and seems to have retired from the superhero business as well. He has been replaced by his friend Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who wore a similar Iron Man suit as “War Machine” but is now renamed “Iron Patriot.” However Tony finds himself drawn back into the fight when his security chief and former bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, director of the first two “Iron Man” movies) is put into a coma following a mysterious explosion. Claiming credit for a series of violent attacks is a mysterious international terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who may or may not have some connection with the equally mysterious industrialist/scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).
Downey’s performance is impeccable. He gets that he’s not simply playing a comic book character for the fourth time but a character who is evolving. He’s as snarky as ever, but now he’s realizing that his actions affect other people, often people about whom he cares about deeply. His interactions with a young boy (Ty Simpkins) who becomes crucial to the plot are priceless. The cast as a whole works quite well but to say anything further would give away too much. Likewise the script by director Shane Black and Drew Pearce constantly surprises. There will be one or more moments where your reaction will be, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” Of course you will be expecting a gag scene at the end of the closing credits, and you won’t be disappointed.
The action scenes are also top notch, including a rescue of a group of people in free fall from a plane that has to be seen to be believed. As with the climactic action set piece, we assume that at least some of what we are seeing is special effects, but Black avoids the mistake too often made in such movies. We see that the actors were clearly there and strenuously playing their roles at least some of the time. The only flaw is the unnecessary post-production 3D conversion which adds nothing to the film. Don’t waste your money on it.
“Iron Man 3” kicks off the summer movie blockbuster season, even though summer is weeks away. Like the first robin of spring, we can only hope this is a sign of more good things to come.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.