Memorable 'Iron Man' sequel entertains with laughs, twists

Walt Disney Pictures

By Jamie Bircoll, Daily Arts Writer
Published May 6, 2013

Oh, how far Tony Stark has come.

Iron Man 3

Walt Disney Pictures
Rave 20 and Quality 16

“Iron Man 3” is the fourth outing for Robert Downey Jr. (“Sherlock Holmes”) as the genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark. But this time, there’s something different about Tony: He seems damaged.

The film follows the events of last year’s blockbuster, Marvel’s “The Avengers,” meaning the world remembers the alien attack on New York City. Tony, more than anyone, has questions about that day, but none more pressing than, “Are we safe now?” Having established a solid relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, “Contagion”), Tony has everything to lose and spends sleepless nights preoccupying his tireless brain.

Then enters the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsly (“The Dictator”) and bearing resemblance to Osama bin Laden. By the time the film starts, the Mandarin has already attacked three American cities and promises more to come. Between the terrorism and Tony’s obvious PTSD symptoms, a very serious tone pervades the film.

But director Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) makes an interesting move: He keeps it comical. The film is interspersed with jokes, ironies and deadpan sarcasm that keeps it engaging even when the plot simmers down. And it does simmer down, albeit in a good way.

About an hour in, the focus shifts to Tony’s encounters with a fatherless boy who possesses the same genius and sense of humor as his own. Here the audience views a vulnerable Tony — vulnerable because his suit is damaged and unusable, and vulnerable because the boy forces him to confront his own past demons. But just when sappiness threatens to overwhelm, the film switches back to comedy, then back to action. It’s not perfect — in fact, it’s rather abrupt — but it works.

And it works because Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. This is a character we have seen through four films and, at this point, one that carries a set of expectations. We expect the cynicism, the sarcasm, the over-the-top action, but also the heart and heroics of a man with a dark past that still wants to do right.

Downey Jr. and Rhodey (Don Cheadle, “Flight”) — formerly War Machine and now the Iron Patriot — dominate the action sequences, though even Paltrow has more than one shining moment. The obligatory final battle scene may not hold up to that of “The Avengers,” and the road there is somewhat bumpy, but it holds its own and truly thrills.

Kingsley and Guy Pearce (“Prometheus”) clearly enjoy playing the villains, with Kingsley particularly standing out. There’s no real way to go into it without spoiling the best twist of a multi-twist film, but, to put it as the Mandarin so eloquently does: You’ll never see it coming.

Black makes this entry memorable because, while there are quite a few action sequences, the bulk of the film is spent with its heroes outside of their armor. He reminds us that, in the end, Tony is just a man. He has a life beyond the suit and must face consequences of actions he took long before he became Iron Man.

Beneath its action-packed exterior, “Iron Man 3” has heart. It has a story to tell, and a good story at that. It certainly has its noticeable faults, but a chance to see Downey Jr. in that hot-rod red and gold chrome is always a chance worth taking.

Stay after the credits for some comic interplay between Tony and an old friend.