By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Iron Man 3 (Marvel/Paramount)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak, Paul Bettany, William Sadler, Dale Dickey, Ty Simpkins, Miguel Ferrer.
Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black, based on the comic books by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.
Directed by Shane Black.
As sequels go, there are few that have improved upon their original films, especially when the original is a huge hit. Iron Man (2008) was an out-of-nowhere runaway hit, launching the contemporary Marvel movie universe, complete with all the necessary groundwork for The Avengers (2012). As such, the Iron Man series is franchise-within-a-franchise, not exactly bound to the same rules as other film series or sequels. Iron Man 3 is the latest (and perhaps last) of the Iron Man-specific sequence of events.
Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, the genius billionaire who invented the technology behind the Iron Man suits. His girlfriend and CEO of Stark Enterprises is Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Patrow). The story begins as Tony recounts News Year's Eve 1999, when he has a romantic encounter (one night stand) with a beautiful scientist named Mya (Rebecca Hall). On the same night, Stark meets a crippled scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a man who wants Stark to invest in his Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) initiative, including a process called Extremis, which delves into the human brain, prompting it to regenerate parts of the body that are destroyed. Stark brushes Killian off, and barely remembers Mya, even though she shares some scientific ideas before sharing a bed.
In present day, a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is wreaking havoc upon the globe, claiming responsibility for several mysterious bombings while threatening the president of the United States (William Sadler). When The Mandarin targets the famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard for bombing, Stark's longtime security officer Happy is injured in the xplosion, prompting Tony to threaten The Mandarin himself, daring him to bomb his Malibu home. Inside the home, Stark has been spending his days developing several iron suits in his basement workshop, since he's been having trouble sleeping, not to mention a few panic attacks over what happened in the battle of New York (in The Avengers).
The Mandarin takes up Stark's offer, sending a squadron of helicopters to bomb the house. During the attack, Pepper escapes with Mya, who had only just arrived to apparently warn Tony and Pepper about her boss Killian, who she says is working for the Mandarin. Tony is thought to be killed in the attack, but secretly escapes to Tennessee, where his computer Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany) had programmed a flight plan as part of Tony's investigation into the bombings. In Tennessee, Stark meets a young latch key boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins), who helps hi repair his iron suit that was damaged in the Malibu attack.
Meanwhile, Tony's friend Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) patrols the skies in one of Stark's iron suits for the U.S. military as Iron Patriot (a.k.a. “War Machine”). It turns out the the War Machine suit was reprogrammed through a defense contract by AIM, and Killian (or the Mandarin) plans to capture Rhodes and use his iron suit as a Trojan horse to get close to the president inside Air Force One. Stark learns of the attack, but is captured by Killian, along with Rhodes. The two heroes break out in time to try and thwart the attack on Air Force One.
The bad guys get away with the president and capture Pepper, forcing Stark to stage a daring rescue.
Iron Man 3 is a great film for fans of the Avengers universe, and everything you'd expect from the series, including dazzling special effects, exciting action, and plenty of humor. The great cast is anchored by Downey, whose comic timing and talent for turning a phrase that makes Iron Man more than just a guy in a cool metal suit.
As for being a sequel, Iron Man 3 is better than most, but perhaps shouldn't be judged by the same standards. While IM3 stands alone, it's only a chapter in the Avengers/Marvel universe, even though there is an air of “finality” to it.
If you're familiar with all the latest Marvel/Avengers movies, you should also expect to stay past the end of the credits to see the surprise “cookie” scene. It isn't anything that previews another Avengers movie, but it's worth the wait.