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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Iron Man 3

(M) ★★★

Director: Shane Black.

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall.

It's better than drinking alone.
THE good news is Iron Man 3 is better than Iron Man 2. The bad news is it still can't live up to the excellence of the first film.

It's a shame really. This could be Robert Downey Jr's last film as Tony Stark (his contract is up) and if he should bow out, it would have been great to see him go out on a high.

Not that Iron Man 3 is a total misfire. It features some of the best moments of the trilogy, but it does feel a bit like a missed opportunity. There is so much good material in here - almost too much - that the story barrels along like a learner driver, hanging on for dear life and only just keeping things under control as it swerves wildly through traffic, jumping a few kerbs along the way.

The set-up involves Stark struggling to deal with the fallout from the alien attack on New York (as seen in The Avengers), which has left him with insomnia and a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder.

While he compulsively tinkers and builds in his Iron Man workshop, a terrorist dubbed The Mandarin (Kingsley) has been unleashing terrifying explosions across the US, including one that severely injures Stark's friend Happy (Jon Favreau). This leads Stark to issue a threat against The Mandarin, jeopardising himself and his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Paltrow).

There's so much to like here. Stark's issues following the events of The Avengers make for an intriguing character development, the use of the Extremis virus (much-loved in the comics) is interesting, and the rogue's gallery of villains such as The Mandarin, scientist Aldrich Killian (Pearce) and a team of Extremis soldiers is enjoyable.

Also thrown into the mix well is Captain Rhodes (Cheadle), whose Iron Man-like persona of War Machine has been rebranded as Iron Patriot, much to Stark's amusement.

The level of comedy that has been a consistent triumph of the series is certainly here, although the film does tend to the wacky end of the humour spectrum a few times.

And with such a talented cast, it almost goes without saying that the performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Downey Jr, Pearce and Kingsley.

As for those "best moments of the trilogy" previously mentioned, a "barrel of monkeys" skydiving sequence is awesome, the final battle has some cool pieces, and there's some Spielberg-like magic in Stark's interaction with a young boy named Harley, although it's wonderfully subverted by director Shane Black and Drew Pearce's script and zippy dialogue.

So where's the problem?

Well, there are plot issues that are difficult to discuss without giving away spoilers, but one example is the government's efforts to find The Mandarin appear to have been non-existent until the story called for them, yet Stark can find him when he needs to. The involvement of certain characters is also questionable, while the finale's wrap-up of everything is way, way too neat to the point of ridiculousness. There are other leaps made and it's hard to tell after one viewing whether the script is being subtle or asking the audience to fill in a few too many gaps.

Iron Man 3 almost suffers from Too Many Villains Syndrome, which is a common affliction with superhero sequels, and the film struggles to keep all its characters and subplots in focus throughout. As mentioned, it seems to be a case of having too much good material.

Having said all that, the more I think about Iron Man 3, the more I like it. The initial feeling walking out of the cinema was one of mild disappointment. There were questions, things that didn't stack up. It probably begs a repeat viewing, in which case I reserve the right to change my star-rating down the track.

But for now, my gut tells me this is a three-star film, and hopefully not the last time we see Downey Jr as ol' Shellhead.