[Screen It]


(2013) (Robert Downey Jr. Gwyneth Paltrow) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A billionaire inventor/superhero finds his world turned upside down by a terrorist whose bombings and other actions are leading up to something really bad.
By now, most everyone knows that billionaire inventor and industrialist Tony Stark (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.) is the man behind the superhero Iron Man. Having recently saved the world from an alien invasion with the help of other superheroes, he's now entrenched in his Malibu mansion, tinkering with a number of Iron Man suits while his live-in girlfriend, Pepper Potts (GWYNETH PALTROW), runs Stark Industries where his former driver, Happy Hogan (JON FAVREAU), is now the head of security.

Happy casts a doubtful eye on Aldrich Killian (GUY PEARCE) and his right-hand man, Savin (JAMES BADGE DALE), when they show up wanting a meeting with Pepper. Having met Tony and his fling of the day, researcher Maya Hansen (REBECCA HALL), back in 1999, Aldrich would now like to team with Stark Industries in regards to his Extremis project that he believes will advance humankind to the next level. Pepper turns him down, and Happy trails Savin, only to be badly wounded in a bombing caused by a man who started to glow from the inside before exploding.

Believing this to be the work of a terrorist known as The Mandarin (BEN KINGSLEY) who's recently surfaced and broadcast his threats across the world, Tony publically announces his forthcoming revenge. That results in an all-out military assault on Tony's mansion, an attack he barely escapes, with his onboard Iron Man suit computer, Jarvis (voice of PAUL BETTANY), sending him flying across the country to Tennessee where a similar bombing occurred in the past.

With his Iron Man suit disabled, he must reinvent himself and starts to do so with the help of Harley (TY SIMPKINS), a local boy and fellow inventor. As the terrorist actions of The Mandarin continue, Tony gears up and -- with the help of Air Force Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (DON CHEADLE) who suits up in his own set of armor known as War Machine/Iron Patriot -- tries to find the madman before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
While I enjoyed last year's "The Avengers" -- what with being an avid comic book collector in my youth many decades ago and having that series as one of my favorites -- I can't say I was blown away by the offering, unlike many of my nerdier fellow critics who found it akin to the advent of sliced bread. Part of the problem for me was that the large number of major characters meant none of them got the time they needed to shine individually.

Yes, I understand that wasn't the intention of the design, that such a collection was a draw for many, and that some of the superheroes had already had their spotlight in their own movies. But with only glimpses of what made them shine on their own, the result was akin to any sports all-star game. There was lots of talent and recognizable faces on display, but it was more fluff than compelling stuff.

Not that I need every such flick to be "The Dark Knight." For while that was a terrific offer, it's always a bit more enjoyable when all involved -- both in front of and behind the camera -- don't take them so seriously that the overall entertainment factor ends up compacted a bit. All of which brings us around to "Iron Man 3," an unnecessary but fun sequel not only to the second installment of the series back in 2010, but also "The Avengers."

While the second outing missed the novelty factor of the first and ended up taking itself a bit too seriously (and thus wasn't as well-received as its predecessor), this offering from writer/director Shane Black (writer/director of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and writer of "Lethal Weapon" and "Last Action Hero") and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce mostly hits all of the right notes in its combination of solemn and more light-hearted material.

Of all the modern day superhero characters and those who play them, returning lead Robert Downey Jr. has always been my favorite. While his earlier movie appearances didn't exactly exude "man of steel" (no, not that one) underpinnings, the talented actor not only convincingly delivers the physical demands of the role, but also the charming and even vulnerable bits as well. Thus, as I've said before, the women love him and the guys want to be him, resulting in an action character everyone enjoys watching.

That winning trend continues here where Black and company dig up another external foe for him to battle (actually two, with Ben Kingsley being the front man/leader of a terrorist organization and Guy Pearce playing the behind the scenes mastermind), all while he deals with his own demons (a point he brings up early in the film that eventually wraps back around to a post credits coda sequence). The latter are a number of anxiety attacks, a lack of sleep, and a general weariness from having saved or help save the world a few too many times.

The former arrive in an injected modification of the human genome that give the lucky the ability to heal lickety-split and re-grow limbs, while the unlucky end up glowing from the inside before going splat like a trapped gremlin in a microwave. That does present the film's most troubling element, at least in terms of timing, as one such poor soul ends up blowing up just outside Grauman's Chinese Theater (since renamed in reality), an act that some might find a little too close for comfort considering the recent Boston bombings.

Of course, that scene and the rest of the movie were filmed long before any of that tragedy, but it's nice to see Black -- while playing up and off the revenge factor -- remember to infuse the proceedings with lots of comic relief to keep things from ever approaching being a downer. It's also nice that he keeps his lead out of the familiar Iron Man suit for long periods of time, thus necessitating an ever greater reliance on smarts over physical prowess.

Fans need not worry, however, as there's plenty of action interspersed throughout to prevent this from becoming a straight drama. Sitting through the credits waiting for the aforementioned coda, it was amazing to be reminded again just how many people are needed to pull off the stunts and special effects in flick like this (as hundreds and perhaps more than a thousand names rolled by).

If anything and like the best films of this genre, much of the massive budget clearly ended up on the screen and thus diehard fans and even casual moviegoers will certainly get their money's worth checking out this pic (although the surcharged 3D doesn't really add anything to the offering and could be skipped with no ill-effect on the overall experience).

Unlike Downey Jr. the rest of the performers aren't afforded the opportunity to bring much depth to their characters, but they more than adequately deliver what's required of them. That said, it's too bad Gwyneth Paltrow isn't given more time to interact with his character, as that would likely create an even more sympathetic character on his part. But you can definitely see, hear and sense Black's "Lethal Weapon" grade work in terms of watching the lead work with and off of Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau (the director of the first two flicks). Pearce is solid as always, but Kingsley is the one to watch, especially once a bit more about his character is revealed.

Overall, I liked this better than both "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 2," but it's not quite as much fun as the original, not as deep as "The Dark Knight Rises," and still can't match the brilliance of the 1978 version of "Superman." But as that other man of steel, you could do far worse than spend a bit more than two hours with this Iron Man. This third installment of the series rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 30, 2013 / Posted May 3, 2013

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