Movie Review: ‘Iron Man 3’ Both Entertaining and Exhausting [Video]

Director and co-writer Shane Black takes over the franchise — still with Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle — and makes it darker.

“Iron Man 3” finds new and refreshing ways to present Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the billionaire industrialist, incorrigible quipper and wearer of all-flying, all-knowing Iron Man suits.

Director and co-writer Shane Black takes over from “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” director Jon Favreau and gives our hero more dimension.

According to the NY Times the major ant difference between “Iron Man 3” and others of its type is that it is opening a few weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings.

It’s an unhappy coincidence that might not be worth mentioning if “Iron Man 3” didn’t underscore just how thoroughly Sept. 11 and its aftermath have been colonized by the movies.

The pace is quick and the dialogue even faster, thanks to a change of staff behind the scenes, starting with Black taking over from Favreau.

In general Iron Man 3 has one rollicking set piece after another, punctuated by unusually good performances from Downey, Pearce, Don Cheadle as Stark’s gung-ho buddy Col. Rhodes, and especially Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin.

The movie  takes place in a post-Avengers universe where New York isn’t just the name of a city, it’s an event. It’s a place holder for the inexplicable, namely the hole in the sky that opened up over Manhattan and spewed out aliens in an epic battle.

After a brief flashback to set up Stark’s past sins, we find him back in the lab and churning out more new models than IKEA.

This time Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), with the help of his  famous armor, has to battle the terrorist mastermind the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), this time under the direction of Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”).

The excellent idea of director Shane Black, who co-wrote the script with Drew Pearce, is to kick Stark out of his comfort zone. Instead of throwing money at every problem, Stark has to function as a lone gumshoe, think like a garage mechanic and, when necessary, jury-rig something crude.

Black directed Downey in 2005, in one of the actor’s first post-prison vehicles — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a good, tense Hollywood private-eye spoof. He knows Downey’s best characters have a morbid edge, a mixture of arrogance and self-disgust.

The LA Times says that the most interesting thing about this new “Iron Man” is that, far from being slicker than the first two versions, it is unexpectedly — and successfully — darker and more serious than its predecessors, with a cast including top actors like Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall.

The movie begins with a flashback: when Stark explains  how his bad behavior created the demons that would change his life. It brings us back to the year 1999, where Stark seduces a young and perspective botanist played by Rebecca Hall, and meets a strange-looking scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).

Then the action takes place in the present, where a terrorist Mandarin poses a threat for the whole world, and America in particular. Of course Tony can’t stand aside and urges Mandarin to show himself, as a result Tony’s house is attacked and destroyed.

Pepper, now in charge of Stark Industries, is in residence at Stark’s Malibu compound and sharing his life, though the man himself is far from his former carefree self.

Skittish, uneasy, unable to sleep and given to compulsively building one high-maintenance Iron Man suit after another, Stark is still dealing with the anxiety attack aftereffects of fighting off all those aliens in last summer’s “The Avengers,” a movie which “Iron Man” blithely assumes everyone on the planet has seen (which may in fact be true).

Stark also meets a little but very witty boy (the wonderfully natural Ty Simpkins), with whom he must join forces in the Southern town,  what shows Stark’s growth. He takes the perfect approach to the boy, teasing him but also treating him as an adult, because that is how the smart kid wants to be treated.

Simpkins and Kingsley make the strongest impressions among the supporting cast. The classic foe from the Iron Man comics has become a more politically inspired bogey man: like an ultimate Osama bin Laden, he interrupts prime-time TV to taunt the president.

Pearce, by contrast, plays it straight as a think-tank owner with unique ideas about the human body’s capabilities. Pearce seems vaguely villainous even when he plays decent guys, and he offers nothing new here, writes The Sacramento Bee.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, however, finds the film less than original, writing, “despite the needless addition of 3-D and negligible differences in quips, gadgets, villains and the type of stuff blown up, [‘Iron Man 3’] plays out much like the first two movies.”

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal says the film is technically proficient — “the computer animation is often astonishing, even if the 3-D is indifferent and explosions are explosions, no matter what’s being exploded” — but lacking in terms of narrative.

“The third iteration of a franchise that began so well becomes a hollow hymn to martial gadgetry,” he writes. “The suits and story clank in unison.”

The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr writes, “The weakest in the series of Marvel Comics-related movies (including last year’s all-star pig pile ‘The Avengers’), ‘Iron Man 3’ suffers from confused plotting, flat-footed exposition, and more pure, noisy nonsense than even a comic book movie should have to put up with.

Yet whenever Downey is being Downey, it’s still the most subversive Marvel franchise around.”

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