Don't worry, there are no spoilers to be found here - even though I'm pretty sure that the whole world has seen this already.
The good news then, is that Iron Man 3 still stands up to me as a very good film that effortlessly surpasses its predecessor and is at least as good as the film that started it all. This, despite the fact that there has been a fair amount of backlash against the film - backlash, which I mostly find all but impossible to understand.
After the game-changing Avengers movie, a lot of pressure was placed on Iran Man 3 to pick up Whedon's baton. Not only is it the first in Marvel's "Second Wave" which will lead into Avengers 2 in 2015, Iron Man 3 also needed to work as its own film, hopefully correcting the overly "this is all set up" feel of Tony Stark's second outing. With writer/ director Shane Black taking the reigns this time from Jon Favreau - who stays on with a very entertaining turn as Stark's long-suffering sidekick, Happy Hogan - Iron Man 3 feels fresh, energized and quite different from its predecessors.
Black, who is known best for his wise-cracking, sardonic work on Lethal Weapon and the Downey-starring Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, does a fine job in the director seat but it's his script, co-written with newcomer Drew Pearce, that really shines. The dialogue, as you might expect, crackles with all the wit and energy that these films thrive on and the plot, despite a wonderfully enjoyable twist or two along the way, maintains a strong focus on Stark's battle with a group of super-powered terrorists. Most impressive of all though, is Tony Stark's characterization.
Plenty of kudos have to go to Robert Downey Jr, who is simply beyond fantastic in the role, but Black and Pearce give him plenty to chew on. Iron Man 3 actually does very little in terms of furthering the overall Marvel Universe plot - not even in its otherwise killer post-credits scene - opting instead to concentrate on the emotional fall out of The Avengers. Specifically, while Tony Stark has always been portrayed as an incredibly gifted human being, his encounters with gods, aliens and super-soldiers, to say nothing of his life-threatening trip through a wormhole, has left him an emotional wreck as he is constantly immobilized by very inconvenient panic attacks.
Indeed, Stark's character arc is so well done that I kind of begrudge the film's climactic battle for taking up too much time and not allowing for a wholly satisfying conclusion to Starks' emotional recovery. I know, this is a rather odd complaint considering that the film is called Iron Man 3 but the quicker you understand that the film should really have been called Tony Stark 3: This Time Its Personal, the more you'll like the film.
Much has been made of the fact that Downey spends about three-quarters of the film out of the suit, but I vehemently disagree with the critics that this is a bad thing. When you get right down to it, it's actually probably the thing that makes the film work best. For a start, there's nothing in the film as boring as the Transformers-like climax of the first film or the Iron Men overload of the second film as Iron Man 3 actually features the best use of Stark's different Iron Man armours. I realize that seems unlikely considering just how much the trailers and the above poster make it look like this is some sort of tech-fetish movie but the way the different armours are actually implemented is pleasingly creative.
Most importantly, the reason why we see way more of Tony than of Iron Man is because the most interesting and compelling parts of these films has always been the character of Tony Stark. Besides, it's not exactly like Stark just sits around and talks to a therapist for a couple of hours (though am I the only one who thinks that might be interesting). Iron Man 3 plays out like an old fashioned spy adventure. Don't believe me? Just check out the campy 70s spy-show-type credits that close out the film.
And then, of course, there is the "Trevor Twist". I won't say any more about this moment of the film except to say that I kind of understand why die hard Iron Man fans might be annoyed by it, but as someone who has never warmed up to the comic book version of the character (thank you Civil War!) and his mythos, not only did I not mind it, I thought it was particularly inspired/ hilarious.
On a totally unrelated note, Ben Kingsley is phenomenal in the film.
My biggest problem with the film, actually, is that I thought its female characters were somewhat underused. I can't believe I was so iffy about Paltrow in the first film because she has turned out to be simply wonderful as Pepper Potts and though does get some wonderful moments to shine in Iron Man 3, I still wanted more of her. Oh and if you want first hand evidence that the world is totally messed up, you need only look at that ridiculous list that named a perfectly good, if occasionally slightly annoying actress like Paltrow as the world's "most hated celeb" over an abusive piece of shit like Chris Brown. But then that's People magazine for you.
But enough about bloody celebrities, we're here to talk movies aren't we? As I was saying, I wanted more Paltrow but it's Rebecca Hall who truly draws the short straw in Iron Man 3. She's a great actress whose talents were sadly wasted on a character that ends up being little more than a plot device and is one of the few really major missteps in the film.
These few glitches aside though, Iron Man 3 is a really good addition to Marvel's lineup of superhero films. How good, you ask? Lets just say that they give Tony Stark a precocious kid sidekick that not only doesn't completely sink the film, but is actually responsible for some of the movie's best moments. Now that's impressive.