To say that Iron Man 3 is the best movie in the Iron Man series could be considered slight praise: the first movie was entertainment anchored by a career-resurrecting performance from Robert Downey Jr. with able support from Gwyneth Paltrow, and the less said about the second film the better (save for Sam Rockwell’s stage dancing). However, to say that Iron Man 3 is the best movie made under the Marvel Studios moviemaking umbrella is getting closer to the truth; while it may lack the sublime crowd-pleasing faculties of last year’s The Avengers, it does showcase something that neither of the previous Iron Man entries could claim as their own: a fully developed script.
And that’s where Iron Man 3 really soars, with Shane Black bringing his unique authorial voice to the table as both a co-writer and as a director. Previous Marvel movies haven’t really been a platform for distinct and unique content from its creators, instead relying on the considerable charm of its main cast to iron over any narrative inconsistencies that cropped up. Black bucks that trend here, making a film that is his through and through. From the Christmastime setting, to a downright bonkers mid-film reveal, to the action set pieces that develop and spiral out of control, you can feel his fingerprints on the film from first frame to last. And he also brings some legitimate thematic weight to bare as well – after spending the previous two films establishing Tony Stark as Iron Man, this film goes great lengths towards establishing Iron Man as Tony Stark, stripping the man of his gadgets and getting back to character development instead of wheel spinning. And lest you think this is a long dark journey into night that follows the dour and gritty template of the Batman pictures of summer’s past, know that this is by far the funniest of the Marvel films so far, bringing Black’s delightfully acerbic dialogue to the forefront.
Having such a game cast always helps and Downey Jr. settles back into his role as the “millionaire playboy philanthropist” with ease, managing to land scenes of humor and gravitas in equal measure. After proving Pepper Potts to be every bit Tony Stark’s equal as a comic foil in the two previous films, Gwyneth Paltrow is given quite a bit more to do in this picture and seeing that character develop into who she becomes by film’s end is a delight. Ben Kingsley’s performance as the sadistic terrorist The Mandarin will definitely be one of the more talked about aspects of the film (a performance that I personally loved), and Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall both make the most of their supporting performances.
With the six films that comprised Phase One of Marvel Studios’ movie initiative out of the way and wildly successful, it would’ve been easy for them to rest on their laurels and continue delivering more of the same to their fan base leading into 2015’s Avengers 2. Luckily for comic book and film fans alike, their work here would seem to suggest that now that Marvel has established these characters and their universe to a mainstream audience, they’re far from content to deliver the same rote thrills ad nauseam. Iron Man 3 is summer blockbuster filmmaking at its finest, spinning a thoroughly entertaining yarn that isn’t entirely without something to say underneath its gleaming chassis. Shane Black proves entirely capable of handling the director’s seat on a mega-budget production without compromising the voice that made him such a highly sought after screenwriter after his work on Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. The summer movie season has only just begun, but Iron Man 3 appears to have thrown down a gauntlet that few if any films will be able to answer.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black
Distributor: Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Budget: $200 million
Release Date: May 3, 2013