This is a spoiler-free review- I'll be posting a more in-depth look at Iron Man 3 after it's released in the UK next week, but if you still don't want to know anything, proceed with caution...
But the film has the unenviable task of following The Avengers, which ended with a near-death experience for Iron Man. One year after saving New York from both alien invaders and the shady SHIELD higher-uppers, Tony Stark is still rattled by the events. Obsessively creating new Iron Man suits, Tony is plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and even anxiety attacks. He foolishly has a go at a powerful terrorist known as the Mandarin, resulting in a cataclysmic attack on his personal life that leaves him alone, lacking his usual resources, and determined to find retribution.
Superhero movies seldom do well when they reach their third instalment in a series- few are going to say that Superman III, Spider-Man 3 or X-Men: The Last Stand are their favourite films from those respective series. The other hallmark of blockbusting part threes of late has been the "fall and rise" story, especially in The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. Iron Man 3 overturns both of these presumptions, not least because we arguably already had the duffer of the Iron Man series in the underwhelming second instalment. Now it's time for the awesome.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint my favourite part of the film, there's a clear highlight in terms of structure. You see, while Iron Man 3 has definite shades of the "fall and rise" stories that Batman and Bond have played out over the last year, it doesn't necessarily play it solemn all the way through. And so my favourite part of Iron Man 3 is the moment when, after a surprisingly serious first act, Shane Black turns on the headlights, revs up the engine and blazes through the rest of the movie in his own comedic and action-packed style, just like you were hoping for.
After that point, this is a really funny movie, and one which finds tonnes of new, inventive applications of Iron Man's technology, even four films in. Particular highlights include the attack on Stark's cliff-top home, a rescue from Air Force One, and basically any scene in which Tony is forced to improvise, with either selected parts of his armour, or no parts at all. Not only does it excuse the inevitable rollout of "characters" who are basically toys, but it's also constantly surprising. Although all of those described highlights are glimpsed in the over-saturated trailers, they don't even give away half of the really cool moments, and the same goes for the film's story.
The genius of the script, penned by Black and British writer Drew Pearce, is that it's chock-full of surprises. Its only shortcoming is that its arch-villain's ultimate plan is never quite clear, and so we ride on Tony's personal stakes rather than the apparently more important national crisis that arises. Comics fans will recognise aspects from Warren Ellis' Extremis arc, but it's not the most faithful adaptation. In borrowing from that story, it does, however, circumvent another problem with the first two Iron Man films; namely, that he usually ends up being pitted against enemies who are basically people in similar armour or other robots.
A super-tough squadron of self-healing soldiers make for suitable adversaries to challenge Iron Man, after the alien warriors from The Avengers, especially considering how vulnerable Tony is at this point. Guy Pearce makes a drippingly unctuous counterpoint to Downey too, although I still feel it's a shame that the film is far too busy to contemplate any kind of return appearance for Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer. On the side of good, Gwyneth Paltrow gets a lot more to do as Pepper Potts, and in the final act particularly, Don Cheadle provides the other half of the kind of buddy cop pairing that Black writes so well.
Iron Man 3 will be released in the UK on April 25th, screening in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide. Thank you to Cineworld Middlesbrough for giving me ten tickets to the regional premiere on April 18th.
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch