Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”)
Written by: Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon”) and Drew Pearce (debut)
After the roaring success of “The Avengers,” the biggest question facing the Marvel cinematic universe was “What’s next?” Since 2008, with the release of the original “Iron Man” film, everything that came afterward—vehicles for Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk—was a build-up (for better or worse) to the epic team-up adventure of last summer. And boy, did it deliver, wowing critics and audiences on its way to becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. But after all of that (Marvel calls it Phase 1), what could they possible have in store for fans?
Marvel’s answer: go back to square one and kick off Phase 2 with “Iron Man 3.”
While the film does reference the events that took place in New York City that involved gods battling aliens, “Iron Man 3” plants its feet as a stand-alone adventure. A rattled, sleepless Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has spent every waking moment since “The Avengers” tinkering with different designs for his Iron Man suit, which are at number 42 at this point. As a result of his erratic tinkering, though, Tony’s domestic life with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has begun to suffer. Enter handsome Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a scientist with connections to both Tony and Pepper. He’s come peddling his highly unstable treatment for regrowing lost limbs—a treatment that may be tied to murderous terrorist the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).
For having the unenviable task of following one of the biggest films ever, “Iron Man 3” does pretty solid work. Director/co-screenwriter Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”), stepping in for Jon Favreau, gets to stretch his legs in an adventure that’s refreshingly free of table-setting for whatever next year’s Marvel movie will be. Somewhat surprising is how little time Downey spends in the Iron Man armor, though the film’s climax more than makes up for it.
Not everything works, however, and the legacy of what came before it weighs a little too heavily on the film. Don Cheadle, returning as James Rhodes, again doesn’t get much to do. He flies around in his War Machine armor (now re-christened and repainted as the red, white, and blue Iron Patriot) for a little while busting up potential terrorist safe houses until he gets kidnapped and has the armor stolen from him like a punk. And the movie never really answers the nagging fanboy question: “Why not just call in the rest of The Avengers?” when Stark’s days get darkest. I appreciate that Tony Stark is a badass genius with incredible technology at his fingertips, but couldn’t the Hulk or Captain America or even that chump Hawkeye have chipped in to take out a goon or two?