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Overruled With an Iron Fist

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

At some point in any hero's journey, the past will come back to haunt him or her, and so it is with Tony Stark a k a Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). His past mistake is Aldrich Killian, a slithering Guy Pearce as an ambitious genetic engineer who wants to form a partnership with Stark. Of course Tony Stark snubs him, and the seeds are planted for revenge years later.

Into the picture steps a global uber-terrorist known only as the Mandarin, played with delicious delight by Sir Ben Kingsley, who is clearly enjoying himself in the role. Stark's world is quite literally torn apart, and he begins his road to redemption and his own revenge.

"Iron Man 3" gets many things right after the disappointing video game that was part two of this series. Firstly it doesn't disregard "The Avengers," but slots itself into the canon without the need to keep referencing all the other characters. Although it is worth waiting for the end credits to roll for a little Easter egg bonus. No explanation is given for the absence of the other members of S.H.I.E.L.D., but truthfully none is really required.

Shane Black and Drew Pearce's script is sharp and funny, and Mr. Downey hits all the right notes once again as the arrogant but ultimately on-the-right-side antihero. Stark is now suffering from panic attacks after his experience in New York and really doesn't want to talk about it, but his new Achilles' heel is conveniently forgotten about by the finale.

There is much humor to be found here, and this time the best moments happen between Stark and his new found friend Harley, a small-town boy neatly played by Ty Simpkins. This relationship is the most interesting in the whole film, the on/off love match with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) having become a little stale by this third installment, and the macho posturing of Don Cheadle as James Rhodes (a k a War Machine) bordering on the ridiculous.

The action is big and spectacular and the humor smartly delivered by a first-rate cast, but somehow this film lacks a heart. There's no emotional punch to it, no real feeling of jeopardy. The audience can feel secure in the knowledge that nothing too terrible is going to happen, and that everything will turn out alright in the end. It is possible to sit back and enjoy the ride therefore — and it is an exciting ride — but it lacks those emotional kick moments of say Gandalf falling from the bridge, Henry Jones Sr. getting shot in the stomach, or even the death of Agent Coulson. Even the story arc of Happy Hogan (a role reprised by Jon Favreau) fails to elicit anything other than a knowing smile.

Also, it is worth mentioning that 3-D is fast becoming the standard format for big franchise movies. Yes it looks nice, and there are small moments in "Iron Man 3" when you get a little visual flourish, but directors and studios need to start realizing that 3-D isn't just a format, it's an experience. As the use of 3-D has grown in stature over recent years, directors have avoided using it for its intended purpose for fear of being labelled gimmicky. What seems to have been lost or forgotten is that things flying out of the screen is 100 percent of the joy of 3-D. Big, super-hero action movies like "Iron Man 3" are perfectly suited for this format, but treating it in such a reserved way denies the audience a real thrill. Either make a 3-D movie, or don't.

"Iron Man 3" is an enjoyable action romp with some good performances, Mr. Kingsley comes close to stealing the show, and apart from an outrageous plot device near the end of the movie involving Tony Stark calling for reinforcements, nothing seems too out of place.

The final credit punch says that "Tony Stark will return." Whether that will be Mr. Downey. is yet to be seen, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing him now. But once "The Avengers" sequel has played its hand, it's going to require a radical reimagining of this suited hero to squeeze any more juice out the iron.


Opens on April 25 in Britain and on May 3 in the United States.

Directed by Shane Black; written by Mr. Black and Drew Pearce, based on the Marvel comic book Super Hero Iron Man; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Peter S. Elliot; music by Brian Tyler; production design by Bill Brzeski; costumes by Louise Frogley; special effects supervisor, Dan Sudick; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes. This film is rated 12A by B.B.F.C. and PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Col. James Rhodes), Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian), Rebecca Hall (Dr. Maya Hansen), Stephanie Szostak (Ellen Brandt), James Badge Dale (Eric Savin), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Ben Kingsley (the Mandarin) and Ty Simpkins (Harley).


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