Outside of Pixar Animation Studios, I can’t think of another current film company with as impressive a track record as Marvel Studios. After years of having other people adapt their properties with varying levels of success, Marvel decided to be more in control of their destiny, and since 2008′s “Iron Man,” the comic book publisher has managed to bring some of their most well-known characters, such as the Hulk, Thor and Captain America, triumphantly to the big screen.
However, if there is one dark spot on their list of previous films, it would have to be “Iron Man 2.” Jam-packed with too many half-developed subplots, I view it as a muddled follow-up to the beloved original. So with “Iron Man 3″ now out in theaters, did Marvel Studios learn from its former mistakes?
Taking place after the events of last year’s “Avengers,” Tony Stark, as played by Robert Downey Jr, continues to do what he loves: tinker with his growing collection of all-powerful mechanical suits. But there is a growing dark side to this hobby. Since going face-to-face with gods, monsters and aliens, Tony has come to realize he isn’t the biggest fish in the Marvel pond any more. It soon becomes clear that his growing need to constantly build bigger and more elaborate suits is fueled more by outright paranoia than precaution. And the situation only becomes worst when a mysterious terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins to take credit for a series of bombings that hits close to home for Tony.
Unlike the messy “Iron Man 2,” part three is a straight ahead revenge movie. Those Tony cares about are hurt, Tony gets angry, Tony plots to get back at those responsible. Simple but it gets the job done. But what helps the movie from getting too familiar is the involvement of co-writer/director Shane Black.
Black, who previously teamed with Downey for 2005′s underrated “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” takes over directing duties from Jon Favreau, and while Black doesn’t bring anything too visually different to the franchise, he does contribute some fresh energy to the script. I mean, the man was the screenwriter of such action flicks as “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” so there is some pretty amusing dialogue being tossed around. Plus, Black manages to make the second act, which involves Stark being sidetracked in Tennessee minus most of his tech, more compelling than either the beginning or climax of the movie.
There might be some comic fans who will complain about the changes Black makes to Mandarin, but I kinda dug that they abandoned the whole alien rings angle from the comics and went in a completely different direction with the character. As to what sort of direction they did go with, I’ll let you go discover that for yourself. But those expecting a mustache twirling performance from Kingsley will be in for quite a surprise, and I’ll leave it at that. As for the returning cast, Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle continue to deliver charming performances.
“Iron Man 3″ isn’t in the same league as the original or even “The Avengers,” but it is a huge step up from “Iron Man 2,” and that is very encouraging for both this franchise and the future of Marvel Studios.