In the universe of superhero spectacles, “Iron Man” qualified as an instant classic. Sadly, “Iron Man 2″ was pretty scrappy. Happily, “Iron Man 3″ (***1/2 OUT OF ****) surpasses its lackluster predecessor. Although it doesn’t top the original, “Iron Man 3″ still ranks as remarkable. As usual, the narrative is preposterous nonsense, but it is easy to follow, and the villains are a lethal, with a secret that enables them to initially gain the upper hand against our hero. Not only does “Iron Man 3″ serve as a sequel to “Iron Man 2,” but it is also a follow-up to “The Avengers.” Several characters from “Iron Man 2″ return for this exhilarating entry. Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Lieutenant Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow of “Country Strong”) are back. Colonel Rhodes flies around in his own Iron Man outfit, and he is referred to as ‘the Iron Patriot.’ According to Rhodes, the previous name ‘War Horse” was considered too aggressive. Nevertheless, only one Avenger makes a cameo, but you’ll have to bide your time until the end credits conclude to catch a glimpse of him. Similarly, neither Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) nor Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) turns up for this “three-quel.” Jon Favreau, who helmed the first two “Iron Man” epics, has entrusted the franchise to “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” director Shane Black. Known largely for his violent, contemporary crime thrillers, such as “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout,” and “Last Action Hero,” Black imparts a palpable sense of momentum as well as a sense of purpose to this installment. He scored a hit with the Mel Gibson movie “Lethal Weapon,” while the other two feature-films languished at the box office. Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the smart aleck but heroic inventor Tony Stark who constantly worries about his romantic interest Pepper Potts. As it turns out, Downey starred in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” for Black when the actor was struggling to rekindle his career. Prepare yourself for a lot of self-effacing humor this time out, especially where Tony Stark is concerned.
Basically, “Iron Man 3″ feels like an invigorating gust of fresh air. Downey cavorts about in many scenes without his Iron Man armor, and he delivers one of his best performances as the wise-acre, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist. “Iron Man 3″ occurs after the celebrated New York adventure in “The Avengers.” Although allusions are made to “The Avengers,” Black and freshman scribe Drew Pearce reveal nothing new about that rumpus. As if to silence anybody who poses questions about the Big Apple experience, Tony Stark cringes in agony. Presumably, in an effort to make him more sympathetic, Tony suffers from acute anxiety attacks. Although he wrestles with these anxiety attacks, Tony doesn’t shirk his duty to save lives and thwart evil. Fortunately, nobody plays an idiot like Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer in “Iron Man 2.” More importantly, “Iron Man 3″ doesn’t stick us with a finale where men in cans square off against each other for a do-or-die showdown. Interestingly enough, the premise of “Iron Man 3″ reminded me of “The Amazing Spiderman” (2012) and Dr. Curt Connors’ obsession with growing back amputated limbs. The villains in “Iron Man 3″ engage in a modest variation on this DNA-code skullduggery. One turns out to be one of Tony’s one-night stands from the past, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall of “The Town”), a botanist who has grown plants that can grow back severed stems. The other is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce of “Lawless”), who founded a think-tank company called Advanced Idea Mechanics with the acronym AIM. Later, Killian hires Maya after Tony dumps her to see her research become a reality. These two are no match for the chief villain, an Osama bin Laden stereotype known strictly as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley of “Gandhi”) who jams the airwaves with his threatening ultimatum broadcasts and commands an army of suicide bombers. Since Iron Man’s identity has never been an issue, the real issue in “Iron Man 3″ is how quickly Stark can suit himself up in his armor. This lively, exciting, third installment makes it even easier for our hero to don his outfit. Remember that idiotic suitcase outfit in “Iron Man 2?” “Iron Man 3″ accelerates the wardrobe change time for our egotistical hero and does it in a way that amuses us but appears cinematic. If you’ve seen the trailers for “Iron Man 3,” you’ve seen the incredible scene where three attack helicopters blast Tony Stark’s palatial residence atop a mountain into the California coastal waters. Actually, Tony brings this disaster down on his head when he challenges the Mandarin to visit him. The other scene that stands out finds out hero trying to rescue more people than he can possibly carry while airborne after Air Force One blows up.
“Iron Man 3″ will keep you glued to your seat with some surprises to keep things interesting. At fadeout, Black and company look like they have managed to bring the Marvel Comic book character full circle from the original film. This raises the question if Robert Downey Jr. will keep on playing the role. If box office numbers figure into the equation, the Marvel people shouldn’t be anxious to let Robert go down the tubes.
(The Columbus Packet staff would like to extend its deepest condolences to Van Roberts and his family for the recent loss of his mother. We share your grief in this time of bereavement with deepest sympathy. -Ed.)0