By Evan Bevins
The Marietta Times
Comic book three-quels don't have a great track record.
Not only did "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "Spider-Man 3" try to cram way too much into the "last" installments of arbitrarily dictated trilogies, the final products resulted in such backlash from fans that the former had to go back in time to revive interest and the latter was completely rebooted, wiping out two very good films in addition to the troubled third.
But just as "Iron Man" in 2008 defied conventional wisdom by making a superstar out of a character that lacked the built-in fan base of Spider-Man, Superman or Batman, "Iron Man 3" avoids following in the footsteps of its part-three peers. Robert Downey Jr.'s latest turn as billionaire do-gooder Tony Stark easily trumps the second installment and at least approaches the heights reached in the first film.
'Iron Man 3'
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce.
Directed by: Shane Black.
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.
After nearly dying in last summer's "Avengers," Stark is in overdrive, trying to improve his armor to take on any and all potential threats. The latest and most obvious is the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, "Shutter Island"), a charismatic terrorist striking at the U.S. through mysterious means. And he's somehow connected to Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, "Prometheus"), a scientist humiliated by Stark years before who has resurfaced with a cutting-edge technology called Extremis.
The movie, co-written by director Shane Black (taking the reins from Jon Favreau), wisely focuses on Stark outside the armor and concentrates on telling a good story rather than throwing in a wish list of cameos and Easter eggs. Since the first film, Downey has simultaneously embodied the character first introduced 50 years ago and influenced more recent takes on him in the comics. His cocky, humorous yet heartfelt performance is as much the reason Iron Man has ascended into the upper echelon of superheroes as the cool armor and special effects.
The story moves along briskly, even if some details don't always seem to fit. The Mandarin's machinations rob Stark of many of his technological advantages, forcing him to rely on his brain - which isn't doing him any favors as he struggles to deal with his experience in "The Avengers." This is a decidedly humanized superhero here.
Love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend and fellow armor-wearer Rhodey (Don Cheadle, "House of Lies") each figure into key points of the story, but fade into the background at times. Tony's best sidekick is a young boy (Ty Simpkins, "Insidious") who helps him out when he's armorless and on the run.
Pearce's Killian is an amalgamation of the first film's Obadiah Stane and the second's Justin Hammer and Ivan Venko, although he's not as memorable as they were. And Kingsley's Mandarin steals a few scenes, even if the film's departure from the character's origins may drive some fans into a rage.
The biggest drawback for me was the violence. Although it's well within PG-13 limits, Iron Man is a character who's used to sell mountains of toys, and Subway is even running a promotion where you get the chance to win a movie ticket by buying a kids meal. But this is not a kid-friendly movie. And while some of the violence makes sense in context, I'm not comfortable with Tony's comfort with killing at times. That takes away from the spirit of the character that, otherwise, the movies have so effectively recreated.