Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 9.03.21 AM How do you follow a universal critical and fan lauded superhero ‘smack down’ (and third highest grossing film of all time) like The Avengers? You hand the reigns to a filmmaker whose career defining text was precisely anti-superhero; Shane 'Lethal Weapon' Black. As Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) says in the trailer, "nothing's been the same since New York;" Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D have bigger intergalactic fish to fry and consequently looking out to the stars has paved the way for a ruthless international terrorist the ‘Mandarin’ (Ben Kingsley); to rain terror across the U.S. When the carnage touches Iron Man’s inner circle, he calls the Mandarin out and sets up an explosive confrontation.

Writer/director Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr (RDJr) are a real life ‘Riggs & Murtaugh.’ Just when Black was ‘getting too old for this shit,’ he met someone desperate enough to join forces with to reignite their careers. If you have seen the reflexive noir/comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you’re aware of Black’s potent dialogue, love of genre and Meta sensibility.

Iron Man 3 is a domestic espionage thriller. It's a cocktail of everything great about the previous Iron Man films through the sensibility of the seasoned 80s wunderkind. At the end of Iron Man 2 Nick Fury says he needs Iron Man for The Avengers - not Tony Stark. Well Iron Man 3 is precisely an exploration of what Iron Man ‘is’. Writers Drew Pearce & Shane Black move away from the pageantry of the Marvel ‘Phase One’ villains. Let’s rattle off the diva’s we’ve encountered so far; Loki, Red Skull, Abomination, Vanko aka Whiplash and Jeff Bridges' shaved head. Instead it's the terrorist organization of the Mandarin and a complex network designed to conceal and protect its leader. When Killian (Guy Pearce), a nano-technology guru and Stark admirer emerges with potential connections to the Mandarin, Iron Man must trace the web back to its weaver. It’s a necessary crash back to a tangible human threat that can believably challenge one of Earth’s mightiest heroes. Drew Pearce and Black put Iron Man back in the field with the necessary obstacles of faulty prototype armour and a fragile mind to get to the core of Tony.

While Iron Man 3 is a thriller, it is not short of spectacle. The evolution of digital effects is demonstrated in the wonderful technological advances of Iron Man's suit, which, in its latest form, can be remotely called, to his body. The action centerpiece of the film that involves a mid air rescue of passengers sucked out of a plane’s air lock in the wake of an explosion, may make you squeal with glee.

RDJr gets to dismantle Tony Stark before our eyes. In the previous appearances of Iron Man there’s been an increasing fusion between the man and the machine. And yet that fleeting peek into the galactic abyss has changed him. RDJr's manic energy perfectly skates the knife’s edge between control in the conscious sphere and the anxiety of the chasm of his subconscious.

Despite the delectable exchanges between Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper and Tony in the past films, Paltrow hasn’t really been tossed into the action. Iron Man 3 is time for Pepper to get in the line of fire and show off Paltrow’s action chops. It feels like a gritty reward for the actor and the audience when she throws off the shackles of the ‘pants-suit.’

Guy Pearce delivers a chameleon like performance, showing off his ability to physically transform to demonstrate the evolution of the character. It’s refreshing to see him act without the suffocation of Prometheus’ ‘old man’ rubber.  However, Ben Kingsley’s performance as the Mandarin is going to go down in annals of Marvel (and comic book film) history as one of the most iconic and prescient villains. He’s a surprise packet and a joy to watch.

Mandarin says: "heroes, there is no such thing." And yet Shane Black and RDJr prove him wrong by finding the figurative 'Iron Man' beneath the armour. Iron Man 3 is the Marvel film-verse breaking new ground, and it’s easily the best of the trilogy.

[rating=4] and a half

Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here.

Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce, Ben Paul Bettany (voicing Jarvis) and Jon Favreau

Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.