|By Steve Segal|
The moment Shane Black was announced as the director and co-writer, I knew IRON MAN 3 would be a far cry better than “Iron Man 2.”
Black made his bones writing such testosterone-fueled actioners as “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” and he singlehandedly resuscitated Robert Downey, Jr.’s flagging career when he cast him as the lead in the nimble comedy-noir/Hollywood satire “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Even if “Iron Man 3” turned out to be a carbon-copy of the first two movies, Black’s involvement was sure to lend the proceedings an air of snappy sarcasm and self-referential humor.
What a refreshing joy, then, to discover in “Iron Man 3” a superhero-sized dose of what typically lacks in a giant threequel: surprise.
More often than not, the formula for any given blockbuster Part 3 invariably echoes elements of its Part 1—“Return of the Jedi” features a new Death Star; “Die Hard with a Vengeance” introduces the original villain’s brother; “The Dark Knight Rises” circles back to the Ra’s Al Ghul plotline from “Batman Begins”—but while “Iron Man 3” is faithful to the events of the previous films (including geek-joy references to “The Avengers”), it feels like a fresh episode unencumbered by the baggage of what’s preceded it.
The plot pits Tony Stark/Iron Man against two nemeses—one far more insidious than we initially suspect; the other one, not nearly so much—and further saddles our hero with insomnia and a debilitating anxiety over the cosmic supernatural events of “The Avengers.”
This time, the threat comes in the guise of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a nefarious terrorist responsible for a series of attacks. Alongside the Mandarin is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who is introduced as a goofy techno nerd but who undergoes a pivotal physiological transformation thanks to some scary and unperfected science. He’s got an axe to grind with Tony Stark, and the film wastes no time in upping the ante of their inevitable confrontation.
It’s not a spoiler to divulge that the Mandarin and Killian are in cahoots, but to describe HOW would indeed wreck one of the biggest and most subversive twists in a clever screenplay teeming with them.
Once again, Downey is superb—this is his fourth stint as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and he’s as comfortable and confident in the role as ever.
The supporting cast is equally strong, including Gwyneth Paltrow as loyal assistant and best gal Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau (director of the first two “Iron Man” movies) as Tony’s buddy Happy Hogan, and especially Ben Kingsley, who is perfectly suited for the part of The Mandarin in more ways than are immediately apparent. After such austere roles in Oscar-heavy pictures like “Schindler’s List” and “Gandhi,” it’s a lot of fun to watch Kingsley sink his teeth into this one.
The visual effects and action set pieces are top-notch through and through, and composer John Debney delivers a rousing orchestral score.
The biggest hero, however, is director/co-writer Black, who makes this material feel so fresh and funny it boggles the mind to consider this is merely his second directorial effort. He makes it all look so darned easy. On the basis of the witty and exciting “Iron Man 3,” I’d love to see Marvel Studios recruit him for Part 4 and beyond.