After the largely disappointing Iron Man 2 in 2010, Marvel’s poster-boy returns in top form for his third solo outing with a new director in Shane Black and returning star in Robert Downey Jr.

Jokingly dubbed ‘The Stark Knight Rises’ after the darker tone of the trailers, we begin with the destruction of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suits and a solemn voiceover from the man himself as he recounts the tale. This shouldn’t be taken as an indication of darkness however, as Iron Man 3 is funny. Very funny, in fact, as Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s screenplay manages to pack in plenty of the franchise’s renowned humour, with references to Downton Abbey and Croydon among the gags. But when Iron Man 3 does take a more serious tone, it improves upon its predecessor’s faults and feels far closer to the first film than to the second.

Black’s direction is well-paced, and with a runtime a little over two hours, Iron Man 3 never feels sluggish or boring. From the get-go, we’re launched immediately into the action as we discover Tony Stark now has trouble sleeping, suffering from anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers, hindering him at inconvenient moments. In plot too, Iron Man 3 feels similar to the first Iron Man, as Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, the middle-eastern terrorist seemingly without limits, launches violent attacks upon American soil. Some early reviews have dubbed Ben Kingsley’s terrorist the most intelligent construction since Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, and this isn’t far off the truth. As an anarchist shrouded in mystery, the Mandarin seems beyond reach, his televised threats to the nation a cross between physical violence and media influence.

The plot also incorporates the talents of Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall as Aldrich Killian and Maya Hansen, respectively, characters and distant memories from Stark’s past who return to challenge his authority. Thankfully, Iron Man 3 does not suffer from the Achilles Heel of comic book trilogies, and the script does well to bring together the strands of plot, character development, and action. The inspiration is taken from the relatively recent Extremis storyline from the Iron Man comics, following the development of a technology capable of targeting the area of cognitive repair, enabling the body to regrow damaged parts and limbs.

Fans of the comics will find little to be disgruntled about in its adaptation to the big screen, though if there is a need to fault anything, the villains, those infused with Extremis technology, seem little more than generic soldiers as opposed to fleshed-out characters. That’s not to say Iron Man 3 isn’t ambitious. It is, and heavily so – but there are a few flaws, namely in its characterisation. The normally fantastic Rebecca Hall, who has proved herself so aptly in recent years, is here given little more than a skeletal role to work with, though she makes the most out of her minor part. And Ty Simpkins, who plays Harley, a wayward boy helping Tony Stark, seems more of a plot device and point of humour rather than a necessity.

For the majority of Iron Man 3, we pursue the investigations of Tony Stark rather than Iron Man. This suit-off (though not action-off) approach comes across in line with the film’s more personal tone, and gives us more of a glimpse at the man inside the armour. Where Iron Man 3 really shines is in its action scenes, most notable of which are a daring skydiving scene after the explosion of a plane, and the final battle within the large docks. As it was in the first film, action scenes are more sparingly used, making them far more effective in the larger framework of the story.

Iron Man 3 is both a beginning and an end – as Marvel’s first film post-The Avengers, it gives us a hint of what to expect from the studio’s subsequent projects, but as a standalone film it rounds up and seemingly concludes the incredibly successful Iron Man trilogy which began in 2008.

In a recent interview, Downey Jr. indicated that he would be looking to leave the role of Tony Stark within the next few years to pursue personal projects. If this is his final solo outing in the suit of armour, then Iron Man 3 is one hell of a strong exit.

Aatish Thakerar

Star-Rating-4

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