Iron Man 3

Shane Black can’t only script memorable action moments, he can bring them to the big screen with aplomb.

Released in cinemas 25th April 2013.

After Jon Favreau’s disappointing Iron Man 2, Tony Stark got to shine once more in Joss Whedon’s near perfect Avengers. The bar was set high for Marvel’s follow-up movie, and it’s pleasing to report Iron Man 3 is every bit as assured and enjoyable as the first, in the safe hands of Shane Black.

Big-shot ’80s/’90s Hollywood screenwriter Black (Lethal Weapon) made his debut behind the camera directing Robert Downey Jr during his triumphant comeback in the superb 2005 noir comedy thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black has a knack for fast, fluid dialogue of the buddy banter kind, and in his and Downey Jr’s hands, the whipsmart Tony Stark has a deliciously dark edge. But what makes Iron Man 3’s screenplay, co-written with rising British screenwriter Drew Pearce, work is the emphasis on the successful heart of the Iron Man films - Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Iron Man 3 opens in dazzling comic style with the Tony Stark of 1999, during the turn of the millennium. Before a little stint in a cave changed his perspective, Stark plants the seeds that will grow into the events of the third film, by having a one-night stand with brilliant bio-scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and encountering another genius in the form of one Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Cut to the present day, not long after the events of The Avengers, and Stark is battling post traumatic stress disorder with a crippling need to protect Pepper. The love of his life is now running Stark Industries, under the watchful eye of Happy Hogan (a scene-stealing Favreau, having enormous amounts of fun now he’s departed the director’s chair), leaving Stark plenty of time to tinker with various new models of his Iron Man suit. Meanwhile, a threat is growing from the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a sinister terrorist who hijacks international broadcast networks.

A rich and satisfying action flick that deftly moves between a number of stunning set pieces while interweaving many involving character arcs, it does throw a couple of curveballs that will have hardcore comic fans in fits of rage. Everyone else will be in hysterics, as Black uses his more distinguished cast members to immensely hilarious effect. Real show-stopping moments prove Black can’t only script memorable action moments, he can bring them to the big screen with aplomb. In an era where flashy CGI scenes are ten-a-penny, Iron Man 3 contains a real jaw-dropping moment using genuine Red Bull skydivers acting as cabin crew - that this is physically happening makes for visceral viewing. Black also comes up with spectacular ways of Stark interacting with his new suits, some more shocking than others. You know how The Avengers had all those gorgeous fist-pumping moments of joyously brilliant action? There’s more to be had here, particularly when the Mandarin launches an attack on Stark’s Malibu pad.

While the trailers hinted that Pepper would be a damsel in distress, Paltrow’s engaging and charming performance is the heart and soul of the movie, and viewers are in for plenty of surprises. Never have female characters been so strongly represented in a summer superhero blockbuster - even Joss Whedon couldn’t pass the Bechdel Test in The Avengers, but Black does it. After a surprising heroic rescue, Paltrow and Hall are given two whole scenes together, minus Stark or any other chap, to bond and ponder the perils of scientific genius. The beauty of the Iron Man films has always been Pepper being Stark’s equal in love, and their respect for one another is utilised so well here - this is Paltrow’s film as much as Downey Jr’s.

Performances are top-notch, and after three previous turns as Iron Man, Downey Jr shows no sign of phoning it in, delivering a conflicted Stark full of pathos. A story thread sees Stark working alongside a young boy (a wonderful Ty Simpkins, last seen in Insidious) who holds his own in a sweet and non-precocious way. It doesn’t soften Stark in any way, with Downey Jr chucking a number of zingers in the kid’s direction. Elsewhere, Don Cheadle’s Rhodes gets some juicy scenes, while James Badge Dale makes for a nicely unpredictable sub-villain. Pearce is conversely creepy and magnetic as the multi-layered Killian, but the performance everyone will be talking about is Kingsley’s - could it be award-worthy? It’s certainly extraordinary, although Black’s wicked sense of humour is going to put him in a lot of people’s bad books.

Though tonally different to the colourful, feel-good comic book grandeur of The Avengers, it’s every bit as accomplished. The Marvel universe, in the hands of Kevin Feige, is doing something very special in a world where a dire Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean sequel can break the $1 billion barrier, delivering witty, game-changing, character-defined spectacle with soul. If it weren’t for that pesky misfiring first sequel, the Iron Man collection would rival Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy for perfection. Finally, do stay put for Black’s fabulous credits, and a lovely scene at the very end, one more cute than revelatory.

Rating: 9/10