Verdict: Four stars out of five. This is a very different Iron Man movie from its predecessors,  with some bold and risky moves.  There are strong performances all round from Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce. The surprise twist in the middle will surprise and disappoint in equal measure, and spark endless debate among fanboys.  As one of those fanboys, I’m somewhat conflicted, but I still  like the movie. 

Iron Man 3, Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth’s neck was getting strained from holding the dramatic pose. ©Marvel Studios

There’s a terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) on the loose, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has to save the day once again. But first, he’s got to do something about his insomnia. Not to mention those troublesome anxiety attacks he keeps getting.

Wait, say that again? That’s right, this is Iron Man – traumatised by the events of The Avengers (2012),  enduring sleepless nights and declaring his love for Pepper Potts (!), played by Gwyneth Paltrow.  IM3 goes dark in a distinctively RDJ fashion: Tony is at his most vulnerable, but never reaches Dark Knight-levels of angst. He is still the whimsical, egomaniacal yet endearing Tony we all know.  Think of it as PTSD-lite.

Robert Downey Jr, Iron Man 3

Putting on the suit always gave him armour hair. ©Marvel Studios

But this is not your father’s – well okay, big brother’s – Iron Man movie: Tony spends a good half of  the narrative out of the Iron Man armour. Which is potentially a very risky move, since all we really want is for him to put on the suit and start beating up bad guys. After all, no one particularly wants to come to the cinema to watch Tony Stark emote.  But it still  works because of RDJ’s charisma and his abilities as an actor.  I suppose it all serves as a heavy-handed metaphor for Tony coming out of his shell. There is also no shortage of spectacular set-pieces, starting with the destruction of Tony’s cliffside home.

The acclaimed Extremis storyline by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, which posits the age-old notion that the brain is a hard drive that can be reprogrammed, is a key part of the narrative. Enter Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Dr Aldrich Killien (Guy Pearce), two scientists from Tony’s playboy past that will come to play a key role in proceedings. Tony may no longer be an arms dealer, but they are peddling a weapon that is a match for anything he can build. And with The Mandarin directing things from behind the scenes, he finds himself driven into a corner.

Iron Man 3, Ben Kingsley

He just knew Tim Gunn was going to like his outfit © Marvel Studios

There is a very ballsy twist halfway through the second act that will definitely divide the fanboys. Suffice to say that it centres on The Mandarin, and a terrorist threat that turns out to be something else altogether.  That the twist doesn’t derail the movie entirely is down to the excellent casting and sure direction of Shane Black, and it just about pays off as the movie draws to a climax. It feels like an experiment on Marvel’s part to see how far they can push the boundaries, and a harbinger of things to come in Marvel’s Phase 2.

The chemistry between Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) still sizzles, and Paltrow is given a lot more to do this time besides being his Girl Friday in need of rescue (hint hint, fanboys!) Kingsley is also, quite simply, terrifying, exuding menace with every line and move. Where his Don Logan in Sexy Beast (2000) was all shouty and sweary, The Mandarin is much more restrained. “Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher,” he solemnly intones in a bizarre accent that is somehow all the more frightening. Guy Pearce utilises the sneer he perfected in The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) to great effect, while poor Rhodey (Don Cheadle) is reduced to, essentially, the role of a T-Dog, despite the Iron Patriot armour.

Iron Man 3, Iron Patriot, Don Cheadle

Don often wondered if he would make a good action figure ©Marvel Studios

But back to the RDJ show: there’s a reason he was paid US$50m for Iron Man 3  The Avengers, and it wasn’t to let other players steal the show. Judging by the strong performance that Black draws out of RDJ, there is clearly a very strong trust between leading man and director, going back to the first time they worked together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). There are plot holes, as there always seem to be in movies of this nature, but the Black-RDJ partnership smooths things over. And there may be a fourth movie to come, judging by Black’s recent comments. But in the meantime, enjoy!

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 Iron Man 3 opens in Singapore today. Leave a comment and tell me what you think of it!