Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie review: Iron Man 3


Well, that really is more like it. After the dull, rusty Iron Man 2 - and the superhero franchise fusion that was last year's The Avengers - Iron Man 3 risked being a bad idea or a bit of an afterthought.

Sure, it offered another chance for Robert Downey jnr to do his Tony Stark schtick and shiny suit quick-change act. As a character, though, Iron Man comes with an in-built problem or two. With Stark and his robo-onesie, there was no alter-ego, just a super-ego care of Stark, the "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist".

So being a superhero without a secret identity - or mysteriously-acquired super-abilities to become disenchanted with - could mean fewer possible legs for any sequel stories to stand on.

But if part three risked being one Iron Man movie too many, then it sure doesn't take long to be convinced otherwise.

It might run a little long, but this is easily the best and biggest of the IM flicks and a world away in terms of sheer spectacle from 2008's humble but hilarious original.

Director-writer Shane Black - taking over from Jon Favreau who still appears as Stark's bodyguard Happy - brings a smart story to drive all the explosive action. It's one which connects nicely to The Avengers - dealing with those aliens has left Stark a bit stressed - but still stands on its own as a trilogy closer.

And it attempts to provide an answer to why Stark's super-friends aren't around to help. "This is America's problem," we're told about the hunt for terrorist. "The Mandarin" (er, paging Captain America ... ). The hooded Bin Laden-like figure (Kingsley) seems to be conducting a bombing campaign without bombs. He's soon targeting Stark, before moving on to Air Force One and it appears he's in cahoots with Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce with Bee Gee hair), a brilliant scientist with past connections to Stark and his partner Pepper Potts (Paltrow). Complicating matters is Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) an old flame of Stark's who turns up just as the cliff-top mansion he shares with Potts undergoes some major renovations which leaves it a smoking ruin - and Stark and his damaged Iron Man suit in a small town on the other side of the country with only a smart kid, Harley (Ty Simpkins), for help.

All of which which might seem a straightforward story. Bond with kid, catch the bad guy, fight to the death, save the day. But it's not. It's a funny juggling act of a plot which offers up two, possibly more, villains.

And among the funniest aspects of this - outside Downey's comic timing - is the casting of Brit Kingsley as that baddie, which becomes a sort of meta-joke about Brit thespians getting cast as supervillains.

Stark's scenes with the kid thankfully, aren't there just to appeal to the movie's pre-teen audience, with Downey delivering some wry tough-love one-liners to his young offsider.

And talking of mates, though they spend a good deal of the movie in separate time zones, Downey and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes - his air force buddy given the task of piloting his own suit with the focus-grouped name "Iron Patriot" - eventually join forces to do what has to be done.

Their wisecracking partnership might be in a superhero movie but it reminds of past crime-fighting duos Black created as a writer in the scripts of various Lethal Weapons, The Last Boy Scout or his last movie with Downey, the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Yes there is a little too much of everything and some of that 3D high-flying action lacks a bit of clarity.

But Downey's great, again, Paltrow's Potts remains the reigning champ of screen superhero girlfriends and Black's delivery of this rip-roaring story makes Iron Man 3 a seriously good upgrade on its predecessors.

Stars: 4/5
Cast: Robert Downey jnr, Gywneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley
Director: Shane Black
Rating: M (medium level violence)
Running time: 130 mins
Verdict: Unalloyed superhero fun

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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