The trend for superhero movies over the past few years has been to go dark. Brooding character studies replaced comic book frivolity. Batman Begins started the trend and it’s continued down through the major superhero franchises. Even the first two “Iron Man” movies felt like they had a darker twinge to them. The third Iron Man movie seems to head in the opposite direction. The gloomy melancholy that’s been so prevalent in the superhero genre as of late has been replaced by jokes and lightheartedness.
This is perhaps Robert Downey Jr.’s snarkiest Iron Man yet. Much of the movie is dedicated to listening to his impossibly clever self-absorbed quips. He doesn’t care who he’s talking to, whether it be the love of his life Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) or a small bespectacled kid at a restaurant, Tony Stark is determined to get in as many verbal jabs as he can before someone calls him on it.
“Iron Man 3” is set during Christmas. Why? I don’t really know. It feels strange that it’s set during Christmas especially because there’s no discernible reason for it being Christmas. It doesn’t have a significant impact on the story, and only serves to distract.
Anyway, Stark is reciting the story. His voiceover explains the situation. We flashback to 1999, as Stark recounts a meeting he blew off with a man he didn’t care about. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is an awkward young scientist that wants a few minutes of Stark’s time. Cocky as always, Stark has no time for the man, but doesn’t waste a chance to have fun at his expense. Like poor old Buddy from The Incredibles, this doesn’t sit well with Mr. Killian.
Killian is the consummate superhero villain. Lavish bad guy hideaways, obviously rehearsed monologues about changing the world, and a heavy helping of good old fashioned greed. In other words if this part wasn’t played by Guy Pearce, I’m not sure I would’ve cared nearly as much. He has fun with the cliché and makes it his.
Flash-forward to the present. America is under siege. A terrorist calling himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is taking credit for terror attacks being carried out amongst the American population. No one knows where the Mandarin is, or when he’ll attack next, but they’re scared. Kingsley plays this part perfectly.
Iron Man 3 succeeds when it focuses on two things: Tony Stark’s unrelenting need to be snarky and its elaborate action set pieces. I dare say this is the most action-packed Iron Man movie of the trilogy. It’s full of huge explosions, crumbling buildings, armies of metal warriors, and a heart-pounding scene which involves Iron Man trying to save a dozen people freefalling to earth after being sucked out of a hole on Air Force One 30,000 feet up.
There’s no situation that the movie finds too outlandish. At times it borders on ridiculous. Paltrow has always been a weak link in the series, and here she’s asked to do far too much considering her character. The corniness factor with Potts is off the charts.
Toward the middle of the film Stark teams up with a young inventor (Ty Simpkins) who matches his witty banter line for line. It’s one of the more satisfying aspects of the movie.
However, the last 20 minutes is all action, explosions, and Stark one-liners. I hesitate to reveal anything that happens during that time, but it makes all the corny aspects of the movie well worth sitting through.