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FILM REVIEW: Iron Man 3

Categories: Movies

When I was 12, if I had couple of dollars to rub together, I'd pedal off to the local convenience store for my latest superhero fix (yes, it was back in the days when they still sold comics.) I was always a sucker for crossovers: Avengers versus X-Men, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars. A dozen heroes battling each other for the low, low price of 75-cents? Sold!

Flash forward to 2012 and a legion of grown-up geeks (like me) happily shelled out for the ultimate cinematic smash-up: The Avengers. It was the culmination of five years of corporate planning, pulling together strands from Iron Man, Thor and Captain America into a Marvel-ous mega-movie. Astoundingly, director Joss Whedon managed to pull it off and, in the process, broke box office records.

Now comes Iron Man 3, which takes place in a post-Avengers universe where New York isn't just the name of a city, it's an event. It's a place holder for the inexplicable, namely the hole in the sky that opened up over Manhattan and spewed out aliens in an epic battle.

But what do you after you've saved the world? For billionaire tech genius and Iron Man inventor Tony Stark, you dive back into your work. After a brief flashback to set up Stark's past sins, we find him back in the lab and churning out more new models than IKEA.

>Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth PaltrowRobert Downey Jr., appears as Iron Man and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in a scene from Iron Man 3. (Disney/Marvel Studios/Associated Press)

As Tony tinkers with his suits, cracks are forming in his empire. A slick new titan of industry named Aldrich (Guy Pearce) catches the attention of Stark's partner, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Then, there's Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). The classic foe from the Iron Man comics has become a more politically inspired bogey man: like an ultimate Osama bin Laden, he interrupts prime-time TV to taunt the president.

When the Mandarin sets off a bomb in L.A., a bit of real world horror might interrupt your summer escapism, as echoes of the Boston bombing still reverberate. In the film's devastating attack, citizens are reduced to ash shadows on the wall. In the rubble lies Stark's affable head of security, Happy Hogan (played by earlier Iron Man director Jon Favreau). Horrified and humiliated, our hero dares the Mandarin to come and get him, setting in motion a series of events that truly tests Iron Man's mettle.

Director-writer Shane Black's approach to handling the Armoured Avenger as a solo act is to break him down to basics. Stark is reduced to buggy tech, a mysterious foe and little more than his wits plus what's available at the local home improvement shop.

Robert Downey Jr., Shane BlackRobert Downey Jr., left, poses with director Shane Black while promoting their film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

While IM3 doesn't do a proper job of explaining just why Stark didn't simply call on his superfriends ("Hey Banner, could you spare five minutes?"), it does pull back on Stark's charm offensive. Overclocking his brain, skipping sleep and struggling with PTSD, the character becomes human once again.

The pace is quick and the dialogue even faster, thanks to a change of staff behind the scenes, starting with Black taking over from Favreau. The high priest of buddy-cop flicks, Black is the screenwriter behind Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The latter is somewhat of a holy relic among buddy cop aficionados and for good reason: the 2005 film may have been too snide for the mainstream, but if you want to pinpoint where Downey Jr. found his voice again, start there.

Where Favreau had a way of keeping the action within realm of the believable, Black brings a sense of authenticity to the characters. Yes, this is still a Marvel movie with the requisite giant set pieces, evil super-soldiers glowing like atomic nightlights and more flying robot limbs than you'd see at a Voltron convention. But there's also a lack of preciousness in the way the film's characters relate. Watch how Stark and his buddy, military officer Jim Rhodes, pal around. The comedy is caustic: squint and the rebellious hothead with Col. Rhodes aren't far from Lethal Weapon's Riggs and Murtaugh.

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CBC's Eli Glasner talks to Don Cheadle about Iron Man 3

With Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Black deconstructed Philip Marlowe-like detective stories. Here, amidst a golden age of big-screen superheroes, he gives us Iron Man Unplugged. There's more man than machine here (not that you'd know it from the trailers). Again and again, Stark is tested and -- more often than -- not he fails.

There's a pattern here: the set-up and the payoff. Black's plots rarely go where we expect and there's a massive red herring hiding in IM3. Credit goes to the filmmaker for having the guts to mess with comic book conventions. Still, although Black helps Tony Stark find his voice again, in the end the director is overwhelmed by the action -- one final sequence with Stark jumping between multiple suits feels more Super Mario than Iron Man.

Like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 feels like the end. It's not that there couldn't be more instalments, it simply feels like everything's been said. Though the action takes a turn for the generic, Stark's character has been rebooted. Iron Man 3 doesn't tickle my comic-consuming inner child the way The Avengers did, but it's a fitting finale for the hero who made us believe.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5

Don CheadleDon Cheadle appears as James Rhodes in a scene from Iron Man 3. (Zade Rosenthal/Disney/Marvel Studios/Associated Press)

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