Robert Downey Jr is back for his third solo outing as billionaire inventor Tony Stark, aka metal-suit wearing superhero Iron Man, and he’s in splendidly sardonic, wisecracking form.
Joss Whedon gave Downey plenty of knockout zingers in last summer’s Avengers Assemble and Iron Man 3 finds the star working with another sharp-witted kindred spirit in co-writer and director Shane Black.
Their pairing here is particularly fitting. Lethal Weapon screenwriter Black was instrumental in getting Downey his Tony Stark gig by casting him as the scapegrace hero of his directing debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and letting him show that when it comes to louche charm there’s no-one else in Hollywood to match him.
Now Downey has returned the favour, hiring Black to take over the Iron Man directing reins from Jon Favreau. Happily, star and director prove to be perfectly in synch.
Black and co-writer Drew Pearce have come up with a plot that pitches Downey’s hero against two villains drawn from the Iron Man comics. The first is Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin – part Osama bin Laden, part Fu Manchu – the West-taunting terrorist mastermind behind a series of global bombings.
The second is Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, nerdy scientist turned think-tank guru, whose Extremis project – based on a biotech breakthrough by Rebecca Hall’s geneticist Maya Hansen, a Stark old flame – proves to have a dangerously explosive side.
Unfortunately, Stark has been devoting so much time to tinkering with his Iron Man suits, leaving Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts to run Stark Industries, that he’s caught on the back foot when these twin threats emerge.
As a consequence, Stark goes to ground in small-town Tennessee, stripped of his protective suit and struggling to overcome anxiety attacks as he tries to figure out how to solve the mystery of the bombings and track down their instigator.
For the most part, Black and Pearce’s storyline does all that is asked of it, getting from A to B efficiently and throwing up the odd surprise twist. Yet in some places it stumbles. Iron Man 3 is designed to be the sequel to two different films, but the references to Stark’s traumatic experiences of the previous year seem jarring.
The events may all take place in the same Marvel Comics universe, but the alien attacks on New York in Avengers Assemble seem to belong to a different world to the ferocious aerial assault on Stark’s Malibu home that takes place in Iron Man 3.
Fortunately, Downey takes these odd blips in his stride, delivering Stark’s snarky one-liners with a whip-cracking snap. I loved his briskly unsentimental put-down to the fatherless boy (Ty Simpkins) who becomes his ally in Tennessee. ‘Dads leave. Don’t be a pussy about it.’
And his throwaway remark about the English actor whose Lear was the toast of Croydon is even better. Don’t worry about the plot, it’s the snappy verbal gems that make Downey’s superhero a winner.
In cinemas from Thursday 25th April.
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