Clothes make the man, but does the armour make the Iron Man? Rather than lift Tony Stark/Iron Man’s stakes on the mythic superhuman scale, writer/director Shane Black strips back the character in Iron Man 3 to get to the core of who he is in a world where the unbelievable is increasingly becoming a reality. Do not fear of excessive navel gazing though because Black delivers a fiery extravaganza that is a collision between the comic book world and his resume of rapid fire action thrillers.
Unable to find peace following the events of The Avengers, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) throws himself into his work while getting into a grudge match with a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Further complicating matters is the appearance of a scientist and former lover, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who is trying to lure Stark to work with fellow scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) on a project that treads the line between innovation and destruction.
Despite four appearances in Marvel films so far it’s surprising how much room for growth there still is for Stark. Iron Man 3 isn’t just another romp through the technological wonderland of Marvel’s premier genius playboy, billionaire and philanthropist. There are still moments with new versions of Stark's Iron Man armour where it feels like your inner child might break through your ribcage with joy, but the film has a surprising amount of depth. The plot starts with Stark experiencing a form of shellshock from his near death experience in New York. He’s looking to be healed by his own innovations but Iron Man is only a hiding place. From this wounded platform Black and co-writer Drew Pearce further plunge Stark into darkness until he has nowhere to hide and has to face his demons. In the shadows, Stark goes on a path of self discovery while clocking in a little detective work all with the wit and charm that Downey Jr. brings to the role and he is sensational. It’s engaging because of the genuine peril you feel for the character. The odds are stacked up against Stark so high that you can’t help but prepare your goodbyes amidst the bedlam. It's a refreshing shakeup to the Iron Man series that shows off the benefit of passing the series from director John Favreau (Iron Man 1 and 2) to Black. It's similar to the way the Harry Potter franchise benefited from Alfonso Cuaron taking over from Christopher Columbus with The Prisoner of Azkaban.
The dialogue is enough to make dictionary drool. Black and Pearce know when to get serious but there is always a one-liner or a comedic moment the make sure the film never takes itself too seriously thus reminding you that you're still in tethered to a film inspired by a comic book. The plot has plenty of great surprises despite resting on the flimsy motivations of the film's main antagonists who seem to share the angst of a teenager stood up at a high school dance.
Kingsley is marvelous and gets to indulge in the best secrets and revelations of Iron Man 3. Guy Pearce is perfect as the shark in the suit and Don Cheadle slots in nicely once again as Stark's sidekick James Rhodes. James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak are memorable goons and the presence of an eclectic mix of suited henchmen with pony tails and 'aviator' sunglasses all hark back to the 80s era of action film bad guys. Of all the familiar faces in the franchise it's only Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who suffers from being jammed into the story as a damsel in distress who gets a moment to shine in battle but it's so cringe worthy you'll be wishing she just stayed in distress.
The action scenes provide an adrenaline rush that would inspire Bodie from Point Break to retire in awe. A helicopter attack on a beachfront property (a Black trademark from the Lethal Weapon days), an Air Force One rescue mission that brings new meaning to "free falling" and a finale that's so spectacular a health warning should be issued for dislocated shoulders from excessive fist-pumping.
Iron Man 3 is the jolt to keep Marvel's film track record intact. It's a slight step away from the superhero formula, but one needed to prevent our hero turning into a clichéd rust bucket.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies