Shane Black steps into the director's chair for “Iron Man 3,” and gives the superhero action series a dose of buddy-cop action. Black, who wrote the first “Lethal Weapon” and previously directed star Robert Downey Jr. in “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” brings a little more action and grit to the proceedings.
The story begins in 1999, as party-hearty genius Tony Stark (Downey) prepares to ring in Y2K at a science conference with botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). They're interrupted by the incredibly nerdy Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who has a proposal for them both involving his new science think-tank. Stark blows him off, an event he doesn't think will have any particular repercussions.
But 14 years later, again during the holiday season, Killian is back at Stark Enterprises, pitching a new technology to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Extremis can “hack into the hard drive of any living organism,” Killian says, but Pepper finds it too ethically questionable for Stark Enterprises.
Meanwhile, on the world stage, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is claiming credit for fatal explosions, and threatening the U.S. president. When Stark security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is caught in one of the explosions, Tony calls out the Mandarin, whose videos and mannerisms reflect some of America's darkest fears of the past decade. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is on the case for the president, as well, using the newly repainted War Machine armor as Iron Patriot.
All of these disparate threads interweave as Tony is defeated and downtrodden, and must rebuild his suit. However, his enemies won't wait, so Tony must use his own mind and strength to overcome his foes. A good note struck by Black throughout is how the events of the past year have had their effect on Tony — meeting gods, aliens and timelost heroes have shaken him, and at times the ever-cocky Tony Stark can barely deal with his own anxieties. In the film's middle section, as Tony tracks down information on an explosion in Tennessee, he's aided by a precocious young man named Harley (Ty Keener). The interaction between Tony and Harley makes for some of the film's more fun moments.
Pepper gets more to do in this sequel, which is good for the character. And Stark and Rhodes have some nice team-up sequences, especially in the film's final showdown. Black isn't afraid to tweak characters and settings from their comic-book origins, making for some surprises throughout. Overall, it's a strong showing from Marvel as it kicks off its Phase II of cinematic development.
— Matthew Price