Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Shane Black.
Don't envy Shane Black. Sure, the director's got a massive budget and a great cast to work with here, but he also has the thankless task of replacing Jon Favreau at the helm of the Iron Man franchise, and the brutal task of following up Joss Whedon's ‘Avengers’.
And, at least at first, he makes a hash of it. Frankly, ‘Iron Man 3’ gets off to a rough start — for the first hour or so, it plays out like a disjointed mess, weighed down by tonal issues, awkward dialogue, broad humour, an intrusive score and a hokey, by-the-numbers, logic-optional plot that relies on smart characters doing stupid things to propel itself forward.
There seems to be nothing here we haven't seen before — anxiety attacks have replaced the Palladium poisoning of ‘Iron Man 2’ (the producers have clearly figured out Tony Stark is most interesting when he's plagued by something, but refuse to delve into the alcoholism of the comics). The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) appears to be a stock standard Bin Laden analogue, and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is the least impressive villain in a series that hasn't exactly been known for its impressive villains, his character arc seemingly lifted wholesale from Jim Carrey's in ‘Batman Forever’.
But the film comes alive in its second half, with the reveal of a certain character's true nature. Trust me, you'll never see them coming. It's not just that the twist is clever or funny, it's that it's only at that moment that ‘Iron Man 3’ starts to feel like a Shane Black movie in the vein of ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’, as opposed to something that was made by a committee.
From there on in, the run to the finish line is filled with clever winks to the audience and plays on action movie tropes, and packed with spectacular action sequences (which were largely spoiled by the trailers, but whatever; that'll only ruin your first viewing). It's not like all the problems with the film are magically fixed; it just gets a lot easier to ignore them.
Most impressively, Black — the king of bromance — is finally able to make the relationship between Tony Stark and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) work on screen. Which just makes it more of a shame, in hindsight, that Cheadle is largely absent for the first half of the movie.
It all builds to a stirring finale, not just for this film, but for the series as a whole. We all know Stark will be in the ‘Avengers’ sequel, but where they go from there — and whether Downey Jr is still interested in going with them — is anyone's guess. (And yes, there's a post-credits scene, and yes, it's worth waiting for.)
It's not how you start, it's how you finish. That's what they say, anyway, and ‘Iron Man 3’ certainly finishes strongly enough to make you forget the way it stumbles out of the gate. Still, I can't help but hope they give this particular character a rest for a while.
‘Iron Man 3’ is now showing.