Seemingly, Marvel Studios can do NEARLY no wrong. Iron Man 3 is yet another testament to the care and understanding that this new studio is putting into its admirably well-thought out series of Phase One Marvel movies (Iron Man 1-2, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers…with Iron Man 3 being the springboard for Phase Two). Now, for the sake of ‘background’, I love Iron Man (2008). It was a surprisingly well-crafted action/comedy that served as a perfect vehicle for the ever-awesome Robert Downey Jr. I mean, let’s be honest here…he friggin well IS Tony Stark! Then came Iron Man 2 (2010) and I thought that it was pretty OK. Loads of people out there have all kinds of negative reactions to it and I’ve never quite understood why. Sure, it does seem to drift at points and there perhaps could’ve been a wee bit more action but overall, I thought that it was a solid sequel. And now in 2013, we’re handed the 3rd installment. This time around, original director Jon Favreau has turned the reins over to veteran screen-writer Shane Black. Black is known in Hollywood primarily for having sold his ‘high-concept’ script for Lethal Weapon (1987) to WB for the then-unheard of cost of $250 000, while still in his early 20s (the jerk!). He would go on to write such action staples as Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), The Last Boy Scout (1991) and Last Action Hero (1993). So clearly the man knows ‘action’. And it shows here. In 2005, Black made his directorial debut with the awesome Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…which paired him with RDJr for the first time. Obviously they ‘clicked’ along the way cuz here they go again. This time around, after some necessary ‘flashback’ exposition, we catch up with Tony Stark as he attempts to fight off what can only be described as PTSD, resulting from the destructive events of The Avengers. This has put a strain on his relationship with his lady love Pepper Potts, played with sexy charm by a still-smokin Gwenyth Paltrow (who FINALLY gets in on the action). All the while, a dangerous Osama Bin Laden-type terrorist, known only as The Mandarin, has emerged from the woodwork to teach the US a lesson for their historical trespasses, which we all know are many. Along the way, Tonys trusted friend/former body guard Happy Hogan, played amusingly yet again by Jon Favreau, is seriously injured in one of The Mandarins explosive attacks. This sets Tony off on a personal mission of “good, old-fashioned revenge”. And here is an instance of a man fueled by emotion letting his mouth write a check that his body (or in this case, his house) can’t cash. The Mandarin unleashes a squad of disguised attack helicopters to lay absolute waste to Starks gorgeous high-tech Malibu home. Calm down…you saw it in the trailer! From there, Tony is forced to return to his mechanical roots and natural ingenuity to get himself into an advantageous position to strike a decisive blow on this new, highly capable enemy. As an action film in the Marvel universe, Iron Man 3 definitely steps up to plate, ‘righting’ many of the ‘wrongs’ that people had with Iron Man 2s pacing and lack of hard-hitting action. In this one, all the action hits hard. There is a handful of set-pieces that boast some impressive collateral damage and body count (PG-13 nearly pushed to its limits). If a vehicle appears on-screen, guaranteed it’s destroyed by ‘end-of-scene’. I mean, we’re talking cars, helicopters, jets, and numerous suits of Iron Man armor. Structures don’t fare much better, as the incredible attack on Tonys mansion demonstrates. When talking about the action in this flick, I HAVE to give mention to the terrific sound design. Explosions, crashes, punches and gunfire all sounded wicked, further accenting the quick-cutting action scenes. Mentioning the quick-cutting, I do have to admit that Black occasionally fell back on a Michael Bay-style of shooting/editing. At times, the fight scenes were high-speed flashes and cuts of…something fast, with a fittingly loud flurry of sound effects to help you fill in the visual blanks. But just when it hinted at getting tedious, a slick ‘long-shot’ or piece of extended choreography would ensue and all would be right with the universe. The styling on Iron Man 3 was a nice blend of the aesthetic established by Favreau in the first two films, but accented with color tones and compositions that ran parallel to Blacks work on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The cinematic continuity was kept squarely in place, but was augmented with another distinctive ‘fingerprint’. Which brings me to the cast. The core Iron Man players (RDJr., Paltrow, Favreau) stayed true to their respective characters, clearly feeling respect for the directions from behind the camera and the scripts pages. Returning for his second turn, Don Cheadle (who replaced the overly effeminate Terrence Howard for part 2) is given more to do as the US governments version of Iron Man, formerly known as War Machine but now rechristened as The Iron Patriot (cue gagging noises). Guy Pearce leaps headlong into the role of Tonys new professional nemesis Aldrich Killian, a former nerd-turned-scientific playboy not too unlike Tony himself. And then there’s Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin. I can’t say much about why I like his ‘take’ on this scary individual without ruining what was actually a surprise twist (bravo on THAT one, Marvel), but suffice it to say that Sir Ben looks like he had a blast with the character. We also have William Sadler (Die Hard 2) as the POTUS with George Clooneys cousin Miguel Ferrer (Robocop) as the Vice Prez. Aside from some of the action being borderline indecipherable and a NEARLY annoying subplot involving a typically precocious kid, my only other note-worthy complaint would be that some of the transitions, from scene-to scene or location-to-tocation, were a little murky or abrupt. It felt like something beneficial may have inadvertently hit the cutting room floor when it should’ve been left where it originally was. But perhaps if we’re blessed with an Extended Directors Cut on DVD/BluRay, these small pacing ‘hiccups’ can be properly addressed. All in all, Iron Man 3 is a very satisfying end to the trilogy, especially if the rumors of RDJr moving on from the Tony Stark/Iron Man character do indeed prove to be true…which would be unfortunate but completely understandable…at least to me. This flick has all the hallmarks of a true summer popcorn movie, with lots of cool action, well-timed laughs, sweet special effects (you ought to see the friggin length of the digital artists credits list!!) and a story that stands on it’s own while effectively harking back to the first two films AND The Avengers (without beating the audience to death with it). Iron Man 3 is a fun start to the Summer Movie Season.

*Don’t forget to wait out the mile-long listing of digital effects artists to catch the now-expected ‘hidden’ post credit scene. This one is a good chuckle and nicely pulls us back into The Avengers universe…as they all seem to do.
**I saw this in 3D. You don’t need to. Aside from a few cool 3D shots, 2D will easily give you your moneys worth.