Film review: Iron Man 3

Troubled do-gooder Robert Downey Jr surrounded by his troupe of Iron Man alter egos
Troubled do-gooder Robert Downey Jr surrounded by his troupe of Iron Man alter egos
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NOW, more than ever, we need a superhero: not someone with abs of steel and glutes of granite, but a sharp mind and a lateral wit. Oh do sit down Robert Downey Jr, we’re not talking about you. I mean the man doing the actual heavy lifting in Iron Man 3; writer-director, Shane Black.

Iron Man 3 (12A)

Director: Shane Black

Running time: 130 minutes

* * * *

After the surprisingly smart, ironic Iron Man turned bombastic and sour in Iron Man 2, I must admit to slightly dreading further de-evolution in Iron Man 3, possibly wallowing in the favourite superhero question of how damaged you have to be to stay in the Homo Superior game. Within the first hour, Black has moved the story left-field, by having new villain, the bearded Bin-Ladeneque­ Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) strip away Stark’s toys and gewgaw gadgetry with a rocket attack on his home.

Black wrote a lot of the best and worst action films of the 1980s (including Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout), then took a lengthy leave of absence until about 2005, and it is hard not to regard him as Tony Stark without the physics degree – sardonic, keen on blowing stuff up, intelligent and not entirely to be relied upon. Apparently he used to spitball lines uncredited for Downey’s earlier Iron Man adventures, before being brought in officially here to take over the whole shebang.

The result is as bracing as you might hope, as witty as you might expect, but also goes deeper than you might think. Iron Man 3 is about icons who cannot live up to their billing, and there are nice little instances all over the place. Stark now has a troupe of Iron Men suits capable of acting like Iron Man, although they are empty inside. The US president uselessly puts his faith in Don Cheadle’s robo-suited red, white and blue War Machine. You’ll also notice that one of Stark’s alter-ego suits keeps getting between Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts at intimate moments.

Polished, tart and smart, Iron Man 3 buffs up to an entertaining, subversive two hours that enjoys supplying rugs simply to pull them from under the audience’s expectations.

As well as the MandarinBlack also sends in Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, who initially appears to be an idealistic scientist. Killian has a product called Extremis, which fills in the empty slot in the human brain, and not in a great way, since it seems to turn people into lava lamps. Mostly, however, Extremis fills in the gap where a McGuffin should be. It also introduces us to Rebecca Hall, who works for Killian but also slept with Stark back in the 1990s, as an Extremis scientist with potentially divided loyalty.

Above all, Black knows that Stark’s real enemy is boredom, and from the point that Stark is stranded in Tennessee with nothing except a malfunctioning suit, which is more of a burden than a bonus, the hyperbole of superheroism becomes fodder for an inclusive revisionism. It’s been a while since a small child formed an attachment to a big strong superhero, but when Black produces a young friendless, fatherless tyke here (Ty Simpkins), Stark swiftly attends to his emotional baggage, Black-style. “Dads leave,” he tells the kid with asperity. “Don’t be a pussy about it.” «

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

On general release