Forget the armor-plated body suit and CGI. The secret weapon in the Iron Man franchise has always been Robert Downey Jr., whose ironic, deadpan aplomb in the face of utter chaos has fueled more memorable series moments than an entire army of jet-propelled suits.
What makes Iron Man 3 such an entertaining load of hooey is that incoming director Shane Black gives Downey plenty of room to deliver his special brand of crisp, pungent commentary. Sure, it's too long, and too full of random stuff blowing up, but Black keeps the focus on the character of Tony Stark, creating ample opportunity for Downey to rise to the occasion—and keep the franchise afloat.
Black is an inspired choice to take over from original series director Jon Favreau, having given Downey one of his best ever screen roles in the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Co-writing the script here with Drew Pearce, Black imagines an intriguing trajectory for pampered, zillionaire "tinkerer" Stark when he loses his invincibility and has to literally pick himself up and rebuild his equipment and his psyche from scratch.
|Tony Stark says: "I'm just a man in a can."|
In IM3, the western world is on alert against a bearded terrorist of unknown origin calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, who is excellent). He commandeers international media to deliver anti-US broadcasts, and sets off bombs in public places. The ever-watchable Guy Pearce is also on board as the slick head of a sort of reverse-X-Men program that turns ordinary disabled people into self-regenerating mutants.
Meanwhile, Tony Stark (Downey) lurks in the high-tech lab of his lavish, beachfront Malibu estate tinkering with an army of iron-clad suits (each with a robotic life of its own), trading bon mots with the computer entity he calls Jarvis (voice of Paul Bettany), who keeps the equipment running smoothly, and fighting off the occasional panic attack that he won't be strong enough to save the world next time.
The villains' various agendas get a bit murky by the finale, which devolves into a Clone Wars situation with robotic armor and mutant cyborgs whaling away at each other. But Downey's cheeky asides save the day. (Read more in this week's Good Times)