It’s the first weekend in May, which means Derby Day for horse-race lovers, Free Comic Book Day for nerds and Marvel movie weekend for the masses.
Ever since the surprising success of “Spider-Man” in 2002, which forever changed the start date for summer movie season (I prefer the term “blockbuster season” as calling movies opening in early May “summer movies” shows a serious lack of knowledge of how the seasons work), characters from Marvel Comics have owned this date at the box office.
For nine of the last 12 years* a movie starring Marvel characters has opened on this weekend, usually to great success. This year’s entry: “Iron Man 3.”
On the Iron Man Quality Scale, the current film ranks higher than the second — despite not having Scarlett Johansson in black leather — but not as good as the first. New director Shane Black has brought more humor to the franchise while crafting a superhero movie that’s unlike what you may be used to.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is having trouble sleeping. He also has panic attacks at the mention of New York, alien invaders and The Avengers. To occupy his time and his mind he keeps busy in his lab making improvements to his Iron Man armor.
Elsewhere, a mysterious terrorist calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is blowing up places, killing people, making threats and being a general nuisance. In response, the United States government takes Colonel James Rhodes’ (Don Cheadle) War Machine armor, paints it red, white and blue and dubs it Iron Patriot.
Meanwhile, a pair of scientists from Stark’s past — Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) — are collaborating on an experimental treatment that can regenerate lost or damaged limbs. An unintended side effect is that it can cause you to blow up.
How all this ties together you’ll have to learn at the cinema. “Iron Man 3” has all the trademarks of the franchise — a talented cast, humor, heart, impressive special effects and exciting action pieces. It’s another fun, popcorn movie in the Marvel mode. The 3D is fine but nothing spectacular. As always, stick around through the credits for a fun bonus scene.
Still, it’s a bit different from what’s gone before. Robert Downey Jr. has always been the key player in the franchise’s success and that’s never more apparent than in this installment. This movie would be more appropriately titled “Tony Stark,” as Iron Man is really just a supporting player.
Most of the film is centered on Stark with the armor showing up only when needed. A large chunk of time is spend with Stark playing secret agent man with help from a kid sidekick (Ty Simpkins). Don’t think having a young boy in the cast will soften Stark — he treats him with the same snark as everyone else.
There are the usual plot twists galore, including a major one that may upset some long-time comics fans. Did I mention this isn’t a conventional superhero story? Even Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) breaks out of her traditional role as damsel-in-distress on more than one occasion.
As far as the film’s weaknesses, there’s probably too much going on. It’s not the disjointed mess that “Iron Man 2” was but it’s still got issues. We’re never given a clear, or at least decent, motivation for Killian and the subplot with Stark’s anxiety attacks is just dropped without resolution.
There’s a sense of finality to “Iron Man 3,” as if this were the end of something and it’s true that Downey’s contract is up. If this is the final farewell it would be a fine send-off. But I doubt it will be.
*In case your curious, it goes like this:
2003: X-Men 2
2007: Spider-Man 3
2008: Iron Man
2009: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2010: Iron Man 2
2012: The Avengers
Note: X-Men 3 came out in late May of 2006