Movie Review: Iron Man 3

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After The Avengers obliterated previous box-office records last May, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ceremoniously kicked off with this summer's first official blockbuster, Iron Man 3.  Robert Downey Jr.'s fifth foray as the genius / billionaire / playboy / philanthropist Tony Stark (including his cameo after the credits of 2008's The Incredible Hulk) introduces new struggles for the swaggering superhero, both internal and external, as well as a slew of new gadgets and gizmos manufactured to bring his latest challengers to their knees.  Taking over directing duties for series veteran Jon Favreau is Shane Black, better known as the screenwriter who gave us Lethal Weapon, a move that clearly hasn't stopped this third installment from solidifying the second-biggest opening weekend in history.  But the question remains -- does Iron Man 3 continue the franchise's golden streak or serve solely as a time-waster until The Avengers 2 blasts into theaters in 2015?

The past comes back to haunt Mr. Stark in a big way in Iron Man 3 when disabled researcher Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce in easily the movie's best role outside of Downey Jr.) reappears 13 years after his business proposal is hastily shrugged off by the arrogant tech baroness at a New Years Eve 1999 shindig.  Tony's decision to ignore Killian is understandable for the moment as he readies for a one night stand with Maya Hansen (the delightful Rebecca Hall), a botanist and creator of the Extremis project.  The experimental treatment involves the regeneration of lost appendages, a scientific breakthrough that could potentially cure a plethora of human ailments.  Flash-forward to present day, where Killian returns, healthier and more powerful than ever imagined after injecting himself with the altered Extremis virus.  The scorned egghead teams with international terrorist The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley, chewing up the scenery) to flush out Stark and his allies at any cost.  Killian's alliance with the elusive radical proves to be Iron Man's biggest challenge thus far and takes center-stage in a story where many of the new characters involved are rarely what they seem.

While his enemies orchestrate bombings around the globe, apparently without the use of any known man-made explosives, the events of the alien invasion witnessed in The Avengers weigh heavy in Stark's brain.  It isn't until Tony's bodyguard Happy Hogan (Favreau, having more fun in his role now that he's no longer in the director's chair) is seriously injured in one of The Mandarin's attacks that he is able to snap out of his trance, step into the suit and start doing what he does best.  Iron Man regulars Gwyneth Paltrow (Tony's girlfriend and Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts) and Don Cheadle (Col. James Rhodes, donning his flashy Iron Patriot armor) get involved in the highly-combustable action compliments of a collaboration of effects teams such as Scanline VFX and Digital Domain.  Pushing through the smoke left in the wake of a monstrous $200 million budget, most viewers will accept Iron Man 3 as a solid entry in the franchise, while more devoted followers of the comics may feel a bit cheated by some questionable decisions made by the filmmakers stepping up to the insuperable task of following up Joss Whedon's masterpiece The Avengers.

A common complaint amongst critics and fans alike is that Iron Man 3 could just have easily been dubbed Tony Stark: The Movie.  Downey Jr. spends the majority of the film brawling outside his signature suit, and only about 15 minutes of the 130-minute running time features Stark busting ass within the armor.  Yes, the film was purposefully structured around Tony's ever-growing reliance on technology and what happens when circumstances separate him from his toys, a lesson that proves important and perhaps even necessary to further develop the character's beloved alter ego this far along in the series.  But director Shane Black's interest in crafting a "Tom Clancy thriller" rather than one primarily featuring "men in iron suits fighting each other" shouldn't trump the ticket-buyer's wishes for full-on metal mayhem.  Additionally, without spoiling too much, a revelation concerning one of the villains sucks the energy from the picture about halfway through.  Although this uncovering makes sense within the bounds of the story, one can't help but feel as though Black and company missed an opportunity with one of Iron Man's most storied and ruthless adversaries.

The Verdict: Despite its obvious shortcomings, Iron Man 3 perseveres as a capable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a definite improvement over Part 2.  Guy Pearce more than makes up for the movie's flaws as the ultra-powerful Aldrich Killian, and who can hate on an American President portrayed by William Sadler?  Downey Jr.'s contract with Marvel expires with the release of this installment, but with the tremendous $175 million domestic haul over opening weekend, one can expect to see the charismatic actor strap himself into the suit at least a few more times.  With the upcoming Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier blazing the trail to 2015's The Avengers 2, Iron Man's big-screen dominance doesn't look to short-circuit any day soon.

Rating:  out of

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