Iron Man 3

Directed By: Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, and William Sadler

The summer movie season is upon us!  As usual, superhero flicks will dominate this summer’s blockbusters.  Interestingly enough, we're seeing a changing of the guard this year.  With the end of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy, the Man of Steel will be substituting for the Dark Knight.  For whatever strange reason, we're due for another Wolverine flick after 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was just decent at best.  With the success of last year's superhero ensemble flick The Avengers, it's no surprise that the well-oiled machine Marvel Studios is putting out Iron Man 3 to launch Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Though we don't have the likes of Hulk, Captain America, and Thor this time around, that's no big deal.  We don't even have Tony Stark half the time since he's learned to work remotely, and this is an Iron Man movie.

It's New Year's Eve 1999.  Y2K is coming.  Weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) find themselves partying at a science conference in Switzerland.  Tony's date on this fateful night is Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a botanist doing some innovative work in regenerative healing who needs help that only Tony can provide.  She's not the only one.  An entrepreneur and scientist by the name of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) has been doing some cutting edge work with the human brain and is looking to partner with Tony to take his work to the next level.  By the end of the night, Maya has been bedded by Tony but has gotten nothing more than a goodbye card from him.  Meanwhile, Aldrich goes to meet Tony on the rooftop of the hotel where he is expectedly stood up.  It's needless to say that neither of these two have love for Tony Stark anymore.  Our future hero has created some serious demons that will come back to haunt him someday.

In the present, it’s Christmas time.  Tony is a very different man.  He is Iron Man and he has settled down with his longtime girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  In a post-Avengers life where gods, aliens, and monsters are now very real, Tony sees himself as just a simple man, a mechanic.  He can't handle this though.  He rarely sleeps and is frequently distracted playing with JARVIS (Paul Bettany) and his toys.  All the while, rumors have surfaced about the once-beloved celebrity superhero, and America is being plagued by a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley).  The diabolical terrorist has launched a series of bombings that will culminate as the holidays draw to a close.  The people don't know where he is, and they'll never see him coming. What's worse is that they don't know what's become of their hero Tony Stark.  However, this could be a good thing.  Haunted by New York and frequently suffering from anxiety attacks, Tony Stark is now a shell of the man he once was and may be no match for the Mandarin and his manufactured terror.

With Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black at the helm, Iron Man 3 is nothing like its predecessors.  Rewriting the formula that Jon Favreau mastered in the first two films, Black freshens things up and gives us something a little different.  Sure, we have the characters we know and love.  Sure, Black gives us all the wit, charms, and humor that make any Iron Man film hilarious.  Sure, this is a film that is supposed to usher in the next era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as did the previous films.  However, Iron Man 3 is noticeably darker than the first two installments.  It also has a very retro feel that takes us back to the comic book films of old. 

A veteran of the 80s and 90s, Shane Black pulls a lot out of the older pages in the superhero movie playbook.  With Ben Kingsley delivering a very theatrical villain as the Mandarin and Guy Pearce's character harkening back to Jim Carrey's Riddler from Batman Forever, we have colorful villains with checkered pasts and personal connections to our hero.  From the very start of the movie when Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" hits, we have plenty of good tunes that scream the 90's thanks to Shane Black's music director Brian Tyler.  Stripped of its comic book elements and left with the story Black has ultimately crafted, we have a film that plays like a sharp old school action thriller.  Shane Black's Iron Man 3 is a nostalgic, edgy comic book movie that adds some new flavor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Robert Downey, Jr. may still be the funniest superhero in the movie business, but he kicks things up a notch in Iron Man 3.  In his fourth outing as Tony Stark, his exuberant personality is on full display.  He clearly just gets better and better in this role as time goes by.  This time around though, he adds some more depth to Stark, and I'm not talking about all of Stark's new toys and distractions that allow him to work remotely as Iron Man.  His character is now damaged goods after the battle with Loki's alien army in The Avengers, and Robert Downey, Jr. gets to give Stark a more emotional side.  He gets to turn his character into a sleep-deprived wreck that suffers from panic attacks at the mere mention of what happened in New York.  Impressively, Downey, Jr. does so in a way that doesn't take away from the larger story unfolding and even occasionally turns otherwise heavy scenes into ones that lead to plenty of laughs.

Our other heroes are at their best delivering loads of laughter and plenty of action too.  As Pepper Potts, Gwyneth Paltrow is saving her boyfriend Tony Stark's life as much as he is saving hers.  She brings many of the charms she's delivered in previous films all over again.  Now putting aside the name "War Machine" and taking on the better-received name "Iron Patriot", Don Cheadle is bringing his comedic chops to the table.  The House of Lies star once again makes Colonel Rhodes one hilarious dude who is talking trash nonstop as he's kicking ass and taking names all over the globe.  Finally, Jon Favreau gives us another comical dose of his lovable character Happy Hogan as he frequently checks for security badges at Stark Industries and casually enjoys episodes of everyone's favorite British television show, Downton Abbey.

Our villains are just as delightful.  As the Mandarin, Sir Ben Kingsley is equally menacing and comical.  He has his chilling moments when he's downright dastardly, but he has some moments where he will make you cry from laughter.  As Dr. Maya Hansen, Rebecca Hall has a meatier role than I expected.  The Vicky Cristina Barcelona star is not just a Leslie Bibb (Christine Everhart in Iron Man and Iron Man 2) with more screen time.  She's a darker character who has some personal demons of her own to sort out.  As Aldrich Killian, Guy Pearce is a delightful thorn in Tony's side and a blast from the past that accentuates the retro feel Shane Black gives the movie.  He gives us the best villain we've seen in the Iron Man films so far, outdoing Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, and even his co-star Ben Kingsley.  All in all, these newcomers bring their best to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As has become a tradition over the last eleven years, Marvel is kicking the summer season into gear with another widely popular superhero flick.  The difference this year is that Iron Man 3 has a little manufactured controversy.  Robert Downey, Jr.'s contract has expired with the completion of this third installment in the franchise, and he's currently renegotiating it.  The fact that this film plays like the closing chapter in a trilogy rather than a launching pad for the next wave of Marvel flicks doesn't help either.  Marvel says Iron Man will return after the notably hilarious post-credits scene, but getting sentimental during the credits with clips of the entire trilogy says something entirely different.  Let's get real though.  Robert Downey, Jr. isn't going to take a pay cut, and Marvel is not going to let him walk away as they start ramping up for The Avengers 2 in a couple of years.  Robert Downey, Jr, will be back.  Until then, you can have some wine coolers and enjoy another awesome flick starring the perfect Tony Stark.  Iron Man 3 gets a strong 0.03% rating.