Rather than find ways to go bigger and invest millions of dollars on a futile, tail-chasing exercise in upping the intensity of the stunts and action, “Iron Man 3” refreshingly realises that less can be more and paces itself accordingly, finding time to fill the screen with both retina-dazzling sturm und drang and funnier, more low-key character moments for the cast.
This is, be under no illusions, quite the funniest “IM” movie so far – the quips, bits of business and situational absurdity are gloriously integrated into the film, balancing the tension and central mystery of the main plotline with moments which let just about every major cast member crack wise at least once or twice (even Tony Stark’s personal A.I. construct Jarvis gets a fantastic, scene-capping one-liner).
It wouldn’t do to spoil the plot for you too much, so let’s just say that the events of the battle of New York have taken a toll on Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark and sent him into a spiral of stress, suit tinkering and general bubble-dwelling which sees him picking fights, seeing the trappings of his life stolen away from him and having to go back to his engineering roots to try to salvage something of value from the wreckage he finds himself wading through.
Going back to basics can be a risky strategy but it really pays here off for writer/director Shane Black and his cowriter, Drew Pearce. Stark’s gadgets and armour are the main attraction for some, but Black and Pearce choose crucially to focus on Downey Jnr’s quick wits and energy, making this the first “Iron Man” entry that I can recall where the hero spends more of his time out of the suit and employing his ingenuity to solve problems and save the day. Think the opening 30 minutes of the first movie – but this time, that’s the focus of what Stark has to do this time.
No bleeding-edge, gadget-strewn lab, adorable robot helpers or suit which can blast the bad guys into next week to make things easy – just a fast-talking, goatee-bearded Einstein with no filter between brain and mouth and an abiding desire to sort a particularly thorny terrorist issue who goes by the name The Mandarin. I particularly enjoyed a sequence during this stretch of the film where Stark has to use the supplies available at a Big Box DIY goods store to cobble together a suitable collection of toys for a smash-and-grab mission – it’s like “Mission: Impossible” if Adam and Jamie from “Mythbusters” were running IMF…
You’ve seen Ben Kingsley as the character if you’ve watched the trailers for the movie, but you probably don’t have any clue as to just how good the British actor is in this film – Kingsley gives a magnetic, compelling turn here and demands your attention whenever the plot compels him to appear on-screen. It’s best to approach the film on as much of a self-imposed media blackout as you can, so as to avoid some of the plot reveals and spoilers out there in the great digital aether – certainly, the Mandarin should be seen with as little foreknowledge as possible.
If there’s one member of the cast who didn’t register as well for me, it’s Guy Pearce – his mysterious Aldrich Killian is initially fascinating but soon becomes rather humdrum when his motivations are revealed. The script falters here a little, too, when dealing with Killian’s mysterious tech think tank, A.I.M. We veer away from a world where the technology is futuristic but somewhat believable to a world where characters are suddenly doing stuff which is more in the realm of sword-and-sorcery fantasy than the techno-thriller territory of the rest of the film. And as the film has established that there’s no Asgardian players on the field for this adventure, the disconnect is rather too abrupt.
It’s a minor misstep, though – the film barrels along with verve and that aforementioned embedded funny bone, even chucking in a world’s first, by buddying up Stark with a fatherless kid and making their relationship charming and enjoyable rather than Hollywood saccharine and unbearable. It all ends with a climax which draws a neat line under the trilogy and Tony Stark himself, allowing Marvel and Downey the freedom to whatever they want with the character – it might mean no more solo Stark movies, it could mean that we just see him in “The Avengers” sequel but it’s a great way to round things off and give both audience and actor a neat grace note for the character to (temporarily) ride off into the sunset…