The critics have been lavish in their praise for this third instalment in the Tony Stark saga, but the fanboys have been having a bit of a moan. Never having been a teenaged comic buff myself, I approached this outing with a fairly open mind and can side with the critics: this film provides fine slam-bang action along with a cheeky and charismatic turn from the ever-likeable Robert Downey Jr.
I have always reckoned Downey and admired his acting chops, even when his personal life was a drug-fuelled mess. That he has cleaned up his act to become one of Hollywood's biggest money-spinners and the star of this Marvel franchise is pretty great in my book. While the first two Iron Man films were directed by Jon Favreau, who has only a quirky cameo in this film before spending the remainder of the movie in a coma, the first sequel was a real let-down. The new director, Shane Black, has lent his fine comic hand to this third outing. Black starred Downey (at about the time he was turning his life around) in his debut feature "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005), but before that he was one of Hollywood's best 'go-to' writers for comedy-action flicks, penning all of the Lethal Action movies and two of the Bruce Willis actioners. In other words he has a finely-honed sense of the ridiculous and Downey is more than adept at handling his throw-away one-liners, which is to my mind a large part of the film's appeal.
The nay-sayers seem to think that superhero films don't need lots of drama, only non-stop action. Black's outing has action in spades -- possibly a little too much and too exhausting to watch for my grown-up taste -- but he also has time to deal with meatier personal issues. The main gripe against this film is that writer-director Black has taken Iron Man's greatest nemesis from the comics, The Mandarin, and turned him into a big joke. That's sacrilege in their book! As this deadly enemy who Stark challenges and who all but destroys his home and his hubris, (Sir) Ben Kingsley provides a sparkling menacing and then cravenly hilarious embodiment of would-be evil. The real villain it emerges is Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian who has used scientist Rebecca Hall's findings to create an army of self-regenerating ex-cripples (or something like that). His actual motives are far from clear as he gleefully embraces his nutty world-conqueror ambitions, although he obviously nurses a snub from Stark in his nerdy days thirteen years earlier.
Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is back as Stark's very definite love interest and takes a big part in the strange storyline, obviously enjoying being able to showcase her rock-like 40ish abs. Also returning to the series is Don Cheadle as Iron Man's military pal. With William Sandler as the kidnapped President, Miguel Ferrer as an untrustworthy Vice-President, and Paul Betthany lending his superior, dulcet tones to Jarvis (the butler of the suits), the film is smartly cast. However most appealing of all is young actor Ty Simpkins as a techy sidekick who helps Stark when he is at his lowest.
There was perhaps too much jokiness about the supposedly indestructible metal suits falling apart willy-nilly (another no-no from the fans), but this was probably as much to do with creating 3-D effects in the film. Quite honestly, after a while I stopped noticing that the movie was in fact shot in three dimensions and it would lose very little in its 2-D version. This in fact speaks well for Black's opting to combine a bit of serious soul-searching with the all-out action. Otherwise 130 minutes would have been more than I for one could handle.
The film's ending (which I won't reveal) was a strange one, insofar as it does not really set up the action for further sequels, although no doubt Iron Man is contracted to appear in the next "Avengers Assemble". It will be interesting to discover whether Iron Man will remain a fairly satisfying trilogy or whether a new kink will be found to continue with Downey in the role. Of course this is well before some bright spark decides to 'reinvent' the character somewhere down the future pike.