A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Shane Black, who made his bones writing "Lethal Weapon," "The Last Boy Scout" and other crash-and-burn action films, was the perfect person to take on "Iron Man 3," and not just because he worked with the franchise's star Robert Downey Jr. on 2005's "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." The new film's not great, but it's consistently involving because the tonal shifts are so abrupt. One minute it seems to care a great deal about what's happening, the next it's sneering at the notion that anyone could care about anything that happens in a movie.
For a franchise on the brink of fatigue, this attitude seems just about right — especially considering that all of the Iron Man movies are more self-aware comedies than dramas, with overlapping, often improvised-sounding dialogue and winks at the audience which suggest that the filmmakers are fans of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's affable Road series. This is the kind of film in which the hero can swear revenge against the villain for injuring his friend, then a few scenes later earn big laughs from the sight of Tony Stark in Iron Man regalia tottering down narrow stone steps like a drunk drag queen in nosebleed heels. "A girl and a couple of lame quips, that's all you got?" a female assassin taunts Tony. "Sweetheart," he replies, "that's the title of my autobiography."
Of course "Iron Man 3," which pits Tony aganst an Osama bin Laden-style terrorist-guru known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), is a lot more brutal than the old Hope-Crosby pictures. In fact, its violence stretches the PG-13 rating to the breaking point, with lethal (if mostly bloodless) gunplay, and moments of wanton cruelty that would be jarring if the film weren't a cartoon fantasy in which pain and the laws of physics are largely theoretical. (As in his other screen appearances, Tony survives high falls and supernatural body-blows that would pulp a real person, but it's all of a piece with the film's dream logic.)
The story reunites most of the recurring cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts (CEO of Stark Enterprises, and Tony's girlfriend), Don Cheadle's "Rhodey" Rhodes, aka War Machine (re-christened Iron Patriot, and enlisted in the ongoing War on Terror) and Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan, who's still guarding his quipster boss with big brotherly devotion. There are new gadgets, including a segmented "prehensile" Iron Man suit whose pieces are controlled via a receptor implanted in Tony's body and fly through the air, locking onto his arms and torso part-by-part. There's a love triangle — more of a tension triangle — involving Tony, Pepper and a supposed botanist named Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall).