Duration: 130 mins
So 'phase two' begins of Marvel's global domination in the superhero market after their monstrously successful The Avengers that scooped a whopping $1.5bn at the box office. Robert Downy Jr. picks up where that left off as he tries to shake off the dire attempt of Iron Man 2, with the aptly titled Iron Man Three.
Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black gets the gig of director and is able to integrate the classic 'buddy movie' elements here; a motion he practically invented by the way. The clarity of having someone with a nous for directing and writing pays dividends because without a shadow of a doubt, Iron Man Three is the best of the trilogy, and possibly the strongest Marvel film to grace the big screen to date.
Downey Jr. does a fine job of carrying the character of Tony Stark and indeed the entire film. He's got charisma by the bucket load and uses this as its main selling point, not to mention the script is tailored for some terrific back-and-forth exchanges between himself and various characters: notably a young boy named Harley he befriends along the way.
Action sequences are aplenty and incorporate CGI to a heavy degree, yet is an essential servant to the epic scale of some of the scenes: exploding buildings; cliff-side disasters and suburban street carnage wouldn't look half as impressive without the effects that feel appropriately suited to the Marvel world. Each one is impressive, don't get me wrong, but there's also a sense that each is merely trying to outdo the former, which ends up feeling like it becomes a show-off contest competing against itself as the even bigger climax gets underway.
As with all Marvel ventures, there's a helping of cheese and daft frivolity, yet to a much lesser extent than its 'phase one' siblings. Furthermore, when a film such as this attempts to go all The Dark Knight in terms of tone and subtext, the sillier, clunkier moments inevitably end up sticking out like a sore thumb. For the majority of its duration the balance between serious, flawed superhero and witty, comic relief is maintained well: it moves along at a good pace and offers amusing, entertaining as well as a few 'wow' moments to bolster the overall spectacle of the piece.
Supporting roles for Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall and Don Cheadle are fine, if unspectacular. Paltrow gets her teeth into her meatiest part yet as the romantically-linked sophisto Pepper Potts, but is completely overshadowed by the efforts of Sir Ben Kingsley as uber intimidating terrorist, The Mandarin. Guy Pearce also gets a substantial role as Aldrich Killian and there's the like-clockwork cameo from Stan Lee; such appearances never fail to amuse/impress me in equal measure.
Tipping the two-hour mark is enough time to squeeze in the story Black wishes to tell. For the most part it's an enjoyable and thrilling ride about a billionaire playboy-cum-exposed superhero with anxiety issues. Ultimately, however, it's still as throwaway as the other films in the series, but does possess a little more substance and, dare I say it, depth for what is easily the most interesting and watchable character from The Avengers universe.