If Iron Man 3 is the last time we get to see Robert Downey Jr. don the armour in his own title, it was a loud, visually impressive and decent good bye.

Following last year’s blockbuster Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3 (directed by Shane Black) picks up on Tony Stark and company’s current adventures.  Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Tony’s former assistant and current love interest, remains CEO of Stark Industries.  Happy Hogan (John Favreau) has gone from having the most pointless job in the world as Tony’s bodyguard to the head of Stark’s corporate security and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) continues to collect a paycheque signed by Uncle Sam, only now as the United States very own hero, the Iron Patriot, instead of the government’s liaison to Tony Stark (apparently, focus groups informed the administration that the name War Machine didn’t exactly sell the idea of fresh apple pie, the Constitution and the Fourth of July all that well).  Tony, meanwhile, chills at home in his super workshop tucked nicely beneath his mansion on a cliff, whiling away the hours building new and improved suits of Iron Man armour.  And Tony has lots of hours to fill since he hasn’t been sleeping all that much since he and his fellow Avengers fought off an alien invasion over New York City.  When he does sleep, he’s troubled by nightmares that fill his days with doubt and uncertainty and the occasional freak out.  And just to toss an extra monkey wrench into the works, a new terrorist called the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) emerges, hijacking America’s airwaves, lecturing the United States and threatening its leaders by name.  Fancying himself a teacher, the Mandarin likes to add an extra exclamation mark to each lesson, setting off bombs that incinerate everything within their reach, reducing people to little more than shadows of ash.  The Mandarin moves like a ghost, silent, invisible and impossible to track, moving closer and closer with every attack.  And speaking of ghosts, one from both Tony and Pepper’s past reappears, the charismatic and brilliant Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the mind behind Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M. for short).  Pretty soon, Tony looks like he’s wishing he was back up to his eyeballs in alien invaders and rogue gods.

As far as action flicks go, Iron Man 3 delivers plenty of deafening, eyeball busting explosions and the climactic battle scene will leave plenty of action fans and comic book ones alike giggling in their seats.  The visuals are bold and seamlessly sewn into the action (the end credits dedicated to computer animators was almost as log as the film itself) but Iron Man could take some flak from comic purists over the Mandarin.  Originally a powerful, ancient sorcerer with ruthless ambition (a villainous genre counterbalance to Iron Man’s super technology archetype), Kingsley’s Mandarin is a political storm front, relying on modern weapons, internet propaganda and devoted followers to carry out his plans.  But what’s refreshing about Iron Man 3 is that it spends a good chunk testing Stark’s resourcefulness and courage, measuring the qualities that truly make a hero, finding out how much man is beneath the iron.  Tony’s reckless, playboy past haunts him plenty and things between him and the Mandarin become personal fast.  Before he knows it, everything Tony holds dear is threatened and he finds himself among those running for their lives while he tries to unwrap the mystery behind the Mandarin and deal with his personal drama all at the same time.  His occasional reference to his past misdeeds is a nice reminder of what he used to be and how far he’s come.

Kingsley does a great job of chewing up more than a few scenes as the Mandarin (in all his incarnations) and Pearce plays Killian to almost perfection (Aldrich reminds us of the popular, good looking kids in high school-we always liked to talk to them and felt special when they looked our way but we never entirely trusted them).  Paltrow plays Potts with her signature blend of smarts and sex appeal with plenty of Pepper’s occasional naivety thrown in for good measure.  Paltrow has pushed Potts beyond the mere damsel in distress and when she takes a turn or two as hero this time out, the audience is pretty comfortable with it.  But the real star of this movie (outside of the special effects), is undoubtedly Downey.

Downey’s mastery of quips and sarcastic one-liners made Tony Stark a character that people wanted to like even before he donned the armour.  He brings the appropriate amount of charm, empathy and overconfidence necessary for audiences to buy the character.  Downey’s Stark is far more relatable than a Bruce Wayne or a Clark Kent or a Steve Rogers. Downey was arguably the best performance in The Avengers last summer, snapping off one liners just before taking a shot from a thunder god to the head.  And that poses a problem for Marvel and parent company Disney.

Iron Man 3 seems to wrap up Tony Stark’s career as Iron Man, at least for solo movies.  Given how much box office gravy the movie raked in internationally prior to it’s north American release, it seems difficult to believe that all studios involved wouldn’t want to do a fourth instalment.  But Downey’s contract to play Tony Stark ends with Iron Man 3’s credits, and as of this writing Marvel/Disney hasn’t gotten his name on a contract to appear in Avengers 2 (currently slated for a May release in 2015). It’s pretty tough to imagine anyone other than Tony Stark wearing the armour and impossible to imagine anyone other than Downey bringing Stark to life.  Still, the probable financial success of Iron Man 3 combined with the box office expectations of The Avengers 2 means Disney should have no problem offering Downey a small fortune to keep us loving Stark for a few more years as long as they can find stories to keep him entertained.

Shayne Kempton

 Three Times the Iron

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