Monday, May 6, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (2013)
Dir. Shane Black

4.5 out of 5

"Ever since that guy with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety's kind of had its day," crows one of the villains in Iron Man 3, referring to Thor and creating another fold in the expanding accordion of Marvel Films' cinematic universe.  He might as well be talking about the state of the superhero movie.  Last summer's mega-blockbuster The Avengers put a lot of pressure on subsequent films to continue its "more is more" ethos, so it's heartening to see Iron Man 3 continue the promised spectacle without sacrificing any of its idiosyncratic wit, delivering a film that's by far the best in its series -  and arguably the best film in the Marvel canon to date.

Directed and co-written by one-time high concept wunderkind Shane Black - the mind that gave us Lethal Weapon and inspired the half of 1990s action films that weren't Die Hard rip-offs - Iron Man 3 uses quippy characterizations to drive its live wire action to a degree not seen since Black's spec script heyday.  Billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a full-time tinkerer after handing control of his company to long-time assistant and paramour Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  His hobby comes in handy as a mysterious terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) carries out bombings that might be utilizing the genetics research of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist who has created a regenerative virus with potentially dangerous applications.

Iron Man 3 hits many of the same beats as its predecessors, including its emphasis on corporate manipulation and the sight of Stark laid low by a combination of formidable opponents and his own demons before he claws his way back from the brink.  But whereas the first two Iron Man movies were like lumbering jumbo jets - functionally large and dependable machines - this one screams by like an F-15, complete with its bitchin' flying ace in Black.  He's not afraid to let loose with sight gags and throwaway lines, a gamble that risks undermining the carefully-constructed flow of his and Drew Pearce's script but lends a memorable element to the de rigueur superhero action sequences.  It's a film that manages to be consistently funny without being an "action comedy," integrating humor into the plot instead of splitting its off into its own sealed tonal compartment.

Not everything in Iron Man 3 is a home run - Black introduces a subplot about Stark's anxiety attacks that goes nowhere and he struggles to completely flesh out a few folks in his ever-expanding cast of characters.  Still, Black's brash old-school sensibility mingles satisfyingly with Downey's motor-mouth tendencies and the hard-hitting battles between hunks of heavy metal.  In Black's hands, Stark finally feels like the maverick he's made out to be, an extension of the rugged free-market individualism of '90 pop culture.  (The baddies' references to "regulating" may or not be an awesome reminder of this.)  Tony Stark has always considered himself the alpha dog of the capes-and-tights hierarchy - Iron Man 3 finally puts his movie where his mouth is.

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