Apart from an appearance in the upcoming sequel to "The Avengers," no one knows for certain what lies ahead for Iron Man/Tony Stark, even though the end credits say, "Tony Stark Will Return." But if star Robert Downey Jr. decides he's had enough with standalone movies with the release of "Iron Man 3," then he'll be happy to know that the franchise will have ended with bang.
With a new filmmaker at the helm, a darker tone, exciting new villains and even more of Downey's lovably quirky but intelligent style, "Iron Man 3" is much better than the letdown of "Iron Man 2" and comes close to measuring up to the brilliant original.
Downey is as engaging and hilarious as ever as Stark, the billionaire playboy who seemingly has it all after the events of "The Avengers," including the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and the time to build more Iron man suits (he's up to Mark 42). What he lacks, though, is the ability to deal with his inner demons and let go of his paralyzing memories of the final battle against Loki and his Army in New York City.
Already suffering from anxiety attacks, Stark is driven to the edge by the mysterious terrorist The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), who continually hijacks the airwaves across the U.S. with bizarre, bin Laden-like videos and makes threats to the U.S. president (William Sadler).
After a bomb goes off (the scene is especially eerie after Boston) and critically injures his head of security, Happy Hogan ("Iron Man" 1 and 2 director Jon Favreau), Stark issues a death threat against The Mandarin, who wastes no time in responding by destroying Stark's high tech mansion with a series of missile strikes -- leaving the mechanical genius to start from scratch to fight his nemesis.
Worse yet, Stark's past comes back to haunt him to, as a scientist he humiliated years before -- Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) -- has created a serum called Extremis, which taps into human DNA and allows its amputee subjects to grow new limbs and develop superhuman strength.
See my review of the film on "KARE 11 News at 11" below.
Despite knocks from critics and some of the Marvel comic book's fan base, "Iron Man 2" wasn't necessarily a bad film, it just suffered from battle fatigue. By the end of the film, it was clear that the franchise needed new blood.
The infusion definitely works here with director and co-writer Shane Black, who dusted off his camera eight years after his last film with the genius crime caper Kiss Kiss, Bang, Bang" (which not coincidentally, starred Downey).
Black -- who helped define the buddy movie genre as the screenwriter of 1987's "Lethal Weapon" -- brings some of that welcome familiarity to "Iron Man 3," but better yet, slick special effects and one of the best action scenes of the year, as Iron Man swoops through the air catching passengers sucked out after an explosion aboard Air Force One.
More importantly, though, he delivers a smart story and one of the best plot twists in recent memory.
While he's brilliant throughout, Downey is at his best when he gets into rhythm with his co-stars, particularly with some blunt comments aimed at a precocious young boy (Ty Simpkins) he befriends after crashing along with suit in Tennessee after The Mandarin attack; and in scenes with his best friend, Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Mixed Blood Theatre alum Don Cheadle), whose War Machine armor is given a new coat of paint and rebranded "The Iron Patriot."
Oddly, enough, Downey and Cheadle's best scene together is one where they are sans the armor, as they team up in one scene, "Lethal Weapon" style, to battle the bad guys.
Paltrow figures much more prominently into the plot of "Iron Man 3" as Starks' girlfriend and company CEO, and while she's solid, she's easily outdone by wiles of Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) -- a bio-technologist whom Stark had a fling with years before -- who shows up to warn him of an impending threat.
Rising above all his co-stars, Kingsley is brilliant as The Mandarin, giving a dizzying performance that shoots him to top tier of memorable superhero movie villains. Given Kingsley's acting history, it shouldn't come as a surprise to most that he's perfect for the role, but there's something special about this performance that will keep people buzzing long after they leave the theater.
As much as "Iron Man 3" has going for it, it's not a perfect film. All the suits Starks created in his lab while Pepper runs his company figure prominently into the film's conclusion, adding to an excessively long battle not unlike the drawn-out action of "The Avengers." But given all that's great in "Iron Man 3," it's an acceptable bit of turbulence on an otherwise soaring ride.
"Iron Man 3," rated PG-13, 3 1/2 stars out of four.
See the trailer for "Iron Man 3" below.
What other local critics are saying …
Chris Hewitt gives the film 3 stars in his Pioneer Press review, saying, 'even if '3' is not as fresh and surprising as '1,' it is a heck of a lot better than the chaotic '2.'" He also says this second sequel "puts the focus back on what has always separated this franchise from every other superhero movie: the wit and intelligence of Robert Downey Jr."
Colin Covert in his Star Tribune review gives the film 3 1/2 stars, calling it "smart" and "spectacular" and says Downey's "Stark is a fully formed Pop Art portrait that radiates weirdly in all directions."
Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.