At one point in “Iron Man 3,” Tony Stark declares that no matter what you take away from him, he will always be Iron Man. This is true not only for Stark but also for Robert Downey Jr., who will forever be held in our minds as the cocky billionaire who trounces around in a metal suit of armor. The newest installment of the “Iron Man” franchise was directed by Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), who took the reins from Jon Favreau, after Favreau decided to pursue a film based on Disney’s Magic Kingdom instead. He still managed to serve as an executive producer and play a small role as Stark’s well-intentioned yet paranoid head of security, Happy Hogan. Being the seventh addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, “Iron Man 3” focuses on Tony Stark after the events of last year’s “The Avengers,” Joss Whedon’s fanboy masterpiece. Not featuring a ton of Iron Man action until the very end, “Iron Man 3”focuses more on Stark as a vulnerable mortal man, allowing Downey Jr.’s talents to shine. That being said, there are still plenty of badass action sequences, awesome gadgets and surprises to leave any Marvel or sci-fi nerd drooling in their seats.
The movie sets itself up with a flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999, when Tony manages to have a one-night stand with a beautiful botanist (Rebecca Hall) and annoy a brilliant and crippled scientist (Guy Pearce); both come back to hurt him. Fast-forward to the present day, where Stark is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after the battle he fought in New York with the Avengers. Stricken with insomnia and anxiety attacks, he shuts himself in his laboratory, inventing, which puts a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the token damsel in distress.
In terms of baddies, the film follows a formula similar to that of 2010’s “Iron Man 2”: a villain with facial hair and a funny accent in cahoots with a young genius whose goal it is to ruin Stark’s life. (In this case, both are played by British actors.) The former is The Mandarin, an Osama bin Laden-like terrorist leader who may or may not be what he seems. He is played by the Oscar-winning Ben Kingsley, who, without giving too much away, gives quite the unexpected performance.
Pearce plays the latter, stepping into the role of Aldrich Killian, the suave founder of Advanced Idea Mechanics, an enterprise with the promise of fixing handicapped individuals. Similar to his role as Peter Weyland in last year’s “Prometheus,” Pearce plays a charismatic businessman with nefarious plans. He makes for a very convincing villain, going from a hobbling nerd to a literal inferno of pure evil. He is somewhere between Spider-Man’s The Lizard and X-Men’s Magneto. Don Cheadle also returns as James Rhodes. Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard “Iron Man 2,” brings more lightheartedness and humor to the role of the Iron Man counterpart War Machine/Iron Patriot.
Nevertheless, it is Downey Jr.’s performance that keeps “Iron Man 3” above the usual superhero fare. Almost 50, Downey Jr. has the energy of a much younger man, contributing to most of the film’s humor with Stark’s signature brand of fast talking and cracking wise. “I loved you in ‘A Christmas Story,’” he says to a bespectacled boy asking for an autograph. However, he is also able to convey a great deal of emotion for the sappy parts that motivate our hero’s every move. Specifically, he becomes sort of a father figure to Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young boy living in Tennessee who is reminiscent of a young Tony. The dynamic between the two lends to some heartwarming and funny moments. How Stark ends up in Tennessee will be saved for your viewing pleasure.
As always, the science-fiction gadgetry doesn’t fail to disappoint the inner nerd in all of us. Some noteworthy technology is Stark’s prototype suit, with individual parts that can be summoned from a distant location and pieced together somewhere else in the spirit of the Iron Giant. (a lot of jokes are made at its expense.) Killian possesses the technology that allows one to view a live stream of the human brain. He is also the inventor of Extremis, a form of treatment that gives its victims abilities similar to that of the T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” The action sequences in this film are also noteworthy, as they are both gripping and impressive. Among them are scenes involving Stark’s Malibu home, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a daring midair rescue, and an army of Iron Men.
With a movie that spans several states and continents, the $200 million-budgeted “Iron Man 3” is a great way to kick off your summer. I’m not a big fan of 3-D, but a film like this is worth it if you’re a fan of adding another dimension to your cinematic experience. As with every recent Marvel movie, there is an extra scene at the end of the credits. Although it does not preview any upcoming movie, the humorous scene brings back a familiar face. By its inspiring end, it seems that the “Iron Man” storyline has been taken as far as it can go for the time being. Still, we shouldn’t let that get us down because there is so much to look forward to in the Marvel universe. With “Thor: The Dark World” out in November, “Captain America: The Winter Solider” slated for an April 2014 release, and even July’s “The Wolverine,” there will be no shortage of superhero action in the near future. All we need to do is make like the Avengers, assemble in the theater, and enjoy the ride.