The important thing to know about IRON MAN 3 is that after an iffy start, it zooms into the stratosphere as easily and as dynamically as Tony Stark himself does in the latest incarnations of his Iron Man suit. The past, however, haunts the present, with the trauma of wormholes and aliens vying with demons from Stark’s past resurfacing with a vengeance. There are also the bumps on the road to a happy ending as Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and former assistant, current significant other, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) settle into a committed relationship.
The ci-mentioned traumas have rendered Stark bored and housebound, with Potts running Stark Industries with the same brisk aplomb she uses to keep old pal Happy (Jon Favreau) from keeping too much order as her newly appointed head of security. During this down time, Stark has tinkered with his marvelous Iron Man suit, giving it nifty new features, such as building itself around him with pieces that fly through the air to designated targets (the groin area remains problematical as the film begins). He’s also suffering from anxiety attacks that are causing him more grief than he lets on, though it’s nothing compared to the grief of an old girlfriend (Rebecca Hall) showing up on his doorstep, a wannabe rival and would-be business associate (Guy Pearce) showing up at Pott’s office to woo her personally and professionally, and a supervillain calling himself The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) wreaking havoc hijacking the media with dire threats, and using superbombs that leave no trace of how they work, only shadows of the victims whose lives they take. Shades of Hiroshima.
The iffy start is the setup for the rest of the story, and exposition of a pedestrian nature is what it is as the flashback to New Year’s Even 1999 reveals the roots of Stark’s current distress as being of his own making. But once Stark has challenged the madman of the piece with disastrous results, and Potts has fulfilled her duty as the damsel in distress, things get good. Stark’s search for answers and for revenge leaves him stranded in North Carolina with a plucky, quick-witted kid (Ty Simpson) as his sidekick and rudimentary equipment to get him back in the battle. Truth be told, there is more chemistry between Downy and Simpson in 30 seconds than in any or all of Downey’s screen time with Paltrow. There is also more chemistry with Don Cheadle, returning as the practical Col. Rhodes, the newly minted Iron Patriot in a red, white, and blue Iron Man-style suit.
Nefarious schemes bubble with elan, surprises and double-crosses whiz by, while dialogue rife with mordant wit and whiz-bang action sequences all conspire to keep the action churning briskly. The misfire of science at the heart of the story provides a diabolically evil monster that is not easily spotted at first glance, and those action sequences find inventive new ways to dazzle and delight. The sight of those Iron Man suits assembling themselves piecemeal around Stark as he flies through the air never gets tired, and that mid-air rescue of more people than he can carry is a flawless bit of suspense.
All of this is good, but it wouldn’t be >as< good without Downey. He’s cocky, but painfully aware that he’s not perfect,, and that’s where the real charm comes in. It’s precisely because things sometimes go wrong with Stark’s nifty inventions, and his personal life, that gives him that irresistible vulnerability, tempering his massive ego and allowing the audience to enjoy the vicarious pleasure of watching Stark be smarter and richer and better-looking than everyone else.
IRON MAN 3 abounds with buoyant irreverence and serious suspense. The scale is large, the payoffs larger, and the sense of fun is never too far from the angst and anguish Stark endures between quips and feats of derring-do.