If by now you still haven’t watched Iron Man 3 or need to read a review to convince you to, then you are probably not a superhero fan and can't tell the Green Lantern from the Green Hornet. Chances are you haven’t watched the first two Iron Man movies or The Avengers. That means you haven't witnessed the way Robert Downey Jr, who plays motormouth, billionaire, playboy Tony Stark, delivers zinger after zinger with deadpan perfection and carries an entire movie from start to finish. You have been missing out.
Iron Man 3 is a cinematic treat. By itself, the movie doesn't hold a candle to the triumphant Avengers or any of Christopher Nolan's apocalyptic Batman films. But viewed as part of the trilogy, it is light-hearted, good-natured and, despite franchise fatigue, still makes for a great Friday night entertainment.
Second-time director Shane Black is responsible for the box office dud Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005 and is better known for writing all four Lethal Weapon movies. In Iron Man 3, Shane plays it safe and sticks to the same formula that has worked well for the first two installments: punchy one-liners, spectacular fight scenes and the determination to not take itself too seriously. Above all, Shane relies on Robert Downey Jr, who plays his role with such effortlessness that the director simply steps back and lets him do his thing.
Shane also enlists an all-star supporting cast. Rebecca Hall, who plays a prudish intellectual in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, is botanist Maya Hansen. Guy Pearce, best known for his cult hit Memento, is geneticist Aldrich Killian. Then there is Ben Kinsley (Gandhi, Hugo), who plays a super-villain called the Mandarin with great theatrical flair. The Anglo-Indian veteran actor steals the show despite Downey's dominating presence. To boost ticket sales in China, the film’s producers initially enlisted A-list stars Andy Lau and Fan Bingbing. Whereas Lau reportedly turned down the offer because he found his character too “dispensable”, Fan took the part but appears only in the film’s Mainland version.
Iron Man 3 gets off on a sluggish start. Tony Stark’s sidekick Happy Hogan, played by actor-director Jon Favreau, takes up too much screen time in the first half-hour, as his tiresome bantering with Stark drags on. It is perhaps part tribute and part appeasement to Favreau, who directed the first two Iron Man movies but was dropped after Disney took over the series from Paramount Pictures.
The pace picks up quickly, however, with the emergence of the Mandarin who looks like Osama Bin Laden in a Qing dynasty court dress. He is Fu Manchu meets Ming the Merciless, a caricature Star Trek villain that verges on the offensive. There are other cringe-worthy moments too. One of the attacks plotted by the Mandarin has pedestrians blown to pieces outside the TCL Chinese Theatre, a scene that evokes gruesome images from the Boston Marathon bombings. Alright, so the movie was shot months before the Boston attacks and the director couldn't possibly have seen that coming. Superhero fans would have let that one slide.
The Mandarin’s war chest consists of an army of genetically-altered Frankenstein fighters, thanks to an invention called the Extremis (an apt name for a party drug). Their bodies generate superheat that can burn through even Iron Man's armour. When they attack with bone-crushing strength, they bend their heads slowly to the side, harking back to Kristanna Loken's T-X character in Terminator 3.
The large action set-pieces of which there are many are as thrilling as theme park rides. They culminate in an epic finale that does not disappoint Iron Man fans. For non-fans, however, the fight sequences can be noisy and confusing and the story implausible. The bad guys, sophisticated enough to hack into government computers and plot meticulous attacks on a global scale, crumble too easily in the last 15 minutes of the film. And the way Extremis alters the human DNA and how easily the genetic changes can be undone all seem a bit far-fetched. But if you are thinking about plot holes, you are probably not watching the film properly.
So to all of you superhero sceptics out there, go and watch the first two Iron Man movies at home and catch the latest instalment on the big screen while it's still playing in cinemas.