As was the case with the previous two films in the series Iron Man 3 is really just two hours of Robert Downey Jnr playing Robert Downey Jnr. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as Downey Jnr is perfectly amiable company and, as a viewer, you know exactly what to expect from the latest instalment in this Marvel franchise. To the credit of all involved in this production, nobody seems to take themselves too seriously, with Downey Jnr and Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley in particularly fine fettle as hero and villain respectively.
Directed by Shane Black, a screenwriter of high regard who previously directed Downey Jnr in the superior Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, the film opens with a flashback sequence that offers a not-too-subtle introduction of the main characters, their relationships, motivations and the role they are going to play in the narrative. In fact, nothing that happens after this comes as a real surprise as the expected conflict between Stark and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) takes shape with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) caught in the middle as the obligatory damsel in distress.
The most interesting and entertaining part of the film is Kingsley’s turn as The Mandarin, a terrorist who commits a series of bombings in various locations around the world, executes an American soldier on national television and then taunts the US President before destroying Stark’s cliff-top mansion. When both Potts and the President (William Sadler) are abducted, Stark kicks into action and soon discovers that The Mandarin is not what, or who, he seems to be. On his mission to track down Killian, Stark encounters a few detours along the way, such as singlehandedly saving an entire plane load of passengers free falling to earth.
The special effects and action sequences are overblown at times, but it is what we have come to expect from movie sequels of this type where bigger is, apparently, better. The addition of a swarm of remotely controlled Iron Man clones is an unnecessary use of technology for technologies sake – from both Stark and the filmmakers. It is actually the more sedate moments in the film, those spiked with witty repartee between Stark and his array of minions, including Potts, Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) or young Harley (Ty Simpkins), the young boy he befriends while investigating the suspicious suicide of an American soldier. Rebecca Hall is also in the mix as Maya Hansen, a figure from Stark’s past whose allegiances seemingly change on a whim.
The problem with a film of this type is the level of predictability. No matter how grim things get in the multitude of extended fights and action sequences – all of which are staged incredibly well – we know that the main players are all going to emerge unscathed and that the good guys will triumph. Therefore, to get the most out of your Iron Man 3 experience, you need to simply enjoy it for what it is: a bombastic over-the-top exhibition of effects wizardry with story and characterisation sacrificed for spectacle. The film is enjoyable on many levels and the performances are all fine, although the talented Cheadle is under-utilised. If you like your action sprinkled with humour and you are particularly fond of Downey Jnr’s sardonic shtick, you should find this quite satisfactory.