Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow. Written by Drew Pearce, Shane Black. Directed by Shane Black. PG. 129 min. Opens May 3.
After the mighty Marvel superhero convention that was last summer’s The Avengers, it’s a bit disconcerting to see one of the gang have to save the world all by his lonesome again. Worse yet, poor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. in fine, flippant form) is suffering from a case of post-traumatic stress disorder after his dalliance with that alien-spewing wormhole over Manhattan. Yet Stark’s new predisposition for anxiety attacks is one of several welcome new wrinkles for a franchise that was already showing signs of fatigue and bloat by the time of 2010’s second instalment.
And while Iron Man may be a little short on friends this time around—aside, of course, from his increasingly formidable foil Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his comrade-in-arms Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle)—the series finds a valuable new cohort in co-writer and director Shane Black. The somewhat reformed bad-boy scribe who first found fame with his scripts for Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, Black clearly enjoys the same rhythm with Downey that the pair established in the director’s underrated 2005 hipster-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. As a result, Iron Man 3 displays no shortage of cocky swagger in-between—and often during—the requisite sequences of high-tech 3-D carnage, as our heavily plated hero contends with a shadowy terrorist mastermind known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and some virtually unkillable lackeys.
Punchy, exciting, and witty without seeming too pleased with itself (unlike the 2008 original), Iron Man 3 sets a high standard for the summer blockbusters to come, as well as the next wave of city-smashing ventures by Stark’s sometime teammates.