OH, MAN: Tony Stark not only faces two villains in Iron Man 3, but also post-traumatic stress from the events in The Avengers.
The following is the unedited version of a published review.
DID you know that fortune cookies are not from China?
They are an American invention, according to the Mandarin, billionaire-genius Tony Stark’s latest nemesis.
Much like the pseudo-Asian dessert, subterfuge is the name of the game in Marvel Studios’ follow-up to last year’s crossover spectacular, The Avengers, as it cleverly subverts audience expectations and genre cliches.
For example, the Mandarin (played with mordant glee by Ben Kingsley) doesn’t have a grudge against or a clash of ideals with Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), unlike most comic-book villains.
The cultural chimera – he is a Middle Eastern with a British accent dressed in Chinese robes – does have a very huge beef with America, though, as he demonstrates by deploying suicide bombers and taunting the country’s people through hijacked television broadcasts.
When one of his attacks inadvertently puts a close friend of Stark in a coma, the brash industrialist throws down the gauntlet on live TV.
The Mandarin responds by permanently “relocating” Stark’s seaside villa to the bottom of the ocean.
Stark, now homeless and suitless, embarks on a quest to find out who his enemy is and how to stop his next nefarious plan.
Meanwhile, Stark’s longtime girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is approached by a man from her past and a woman from her beau’s past.
The former is her previous employer, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), founder of a brain-trust organisation developing a super-strength virus called Extremis.
The latter is Dr Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a geneticist working for Killian who had a fling with Stark many years ago.
You’d think a love quadrangle would happen. But, in the end, it’s really a love triangle between Stark, his Iron Men and Potts.
See, after the events in The Avengers, Stark is suffering from anxiety attacks. He keeps them at bay by working on his suits (he’s at No. 42 now) at the expense of his relationship with his sweetheart.
Those betting that Paltrow’s character will play the damsel in distress again, like in the preceeding films, will be surprised by her action-heroine turn in this outing. She saves Stark’s butt at one point and, by the end of the movie, kicks enough of others’ to live up to her (spicy) name.
Don Cheadle, who plays Stark’s best friend, Colonel James Rhodes, also gets in on the action as the newly-minted Iron Patriot.
Director Shane Black, who worked on Lethal Weapon and with Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, puts his buddy-cop-flick experience to good use in several scenes where Rhodes and Stark team up to fight the baddies.
There are many gags and set pieces that took me by surprise, from a running joke involving Stark’s prehensile suit to an exhilarating mid-air rescue inspired by a children’s game.
But the biggest twist comes two-thirds way through the film. I have a feeling it will divide many fans, but all I can say is I found it unexpectedly hilarious.
While Downey Jr’s fourth cinematic adventure as the titular superhero doesn’t match the breezy heights of the first movie, it’s funnier and more unpredictable than the morose second instalment. Plus, Stark gets to throw more one-liners this time round.
To paraphrase a famous Tom Hanks’ character, Iron Man 3 is like a fortune cookie. You’ll never know what you’re going to get.
Or, as the Mandarin promises, you won’t see him (and the film’s many jaw droppers) coming.
P.S. A note to Pixar fans: One of the villains reminded me of Syndrome from The Incredibles. Without giving too much away, this character shares much of his development and motivation with Jason Lee’s cape-wearing baddie.
P.P.S. Yes, there is a post-credits scene, so stick around or you’ll miss out on a laugh or two.