IRON MAN 3 (Rated PG-13)
Shane Black made his mark in Hollywood mainly for original screenplays of high-octane action films such as “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout.”
For “Iron Man 3” Black performs the double duty of writer and director.
This duality explains, in large measure, why “Iron Man 3” has its fair share of loud noise and explosions, including the surreal destruction of Grauman’s Chinese Theater carried out by the red-eyed minions of a mad scientist.
To its credit, “Iron Man 3” works fairly well as a stand-alone entertainment, beginning with a flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999 at a swank affair in Switzerland, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) rebuffs the entreaties of a tech geek.
Flash forward to the present, the nerdy scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), though still weird, now looks like a male model for Abercrombie & Fitch, albeit one with a diabolical plan for world domination, or possibly nothing short of global annihilation.
Killian holds a grudge that Tony Stark, whose alter ego is Iron Man, rejected his program for a project called Extremis, so now he’s in cahoots with an Osama bin Laden-style terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).
Apparently, Killian’s thugs are an army of zombie-like characters who outwardly look like normal humans, but they turn their bodies into a red-hot fury of molten flesh and then explode like human grenades for maximum devastation.
Worn out from too many superhero duties, the eccentric billionaire Tony Stark, suffers from anxiety, causing him to ceaselessly tinker with refinements to his armored Iron Man suit. This results in our hero being a mere mortal for much of the film.
His old pal, Captain Rhodes (Don Cheadle), ends up carrying the load of action heroism. Meanwhile, Stark is also paying little attention to his love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Spurred on by taunts from Stark, the Mandarin launches a full-scale rocket assault on the industrialist’s Malibu seaside mansion, blowing the entire estate into a pile of rubble at the bottom of the ocean.
In the manner of bin Laden’s videotaped threats, the Mandarin interrupts global television programming with diatribes intended to inflict fear of the latest terrorist assault.
Still fiddling with his metal suit, Stark tests a new system that allows him to fly through the air only partially armored while the other pieces hurtle in his direction as if he were a large magnet.
Testing his prototype armored suit leads him to the backwoods of Tennessee where his only ally is a young orphaned kid (Ty Simpkins) who helps the superhero piece together the mystery of the Mandarin.
The clock is running because the Mandarin continues to hijack the airwaves and threatens to bring America to its knees if President Ellis (William Sadler) does not exceed to his outrageous demands.
As expected in the Iron Man franchise, there are plenty of great action set-pieces, even if Stark spends much of his time outside his alter ego comfort zone.
Most spectacular of all is the hijacking of Air Force One, resulting in Iron Man having to fly through the air to rescue about a dozen people blown out of the plane, turning the exercise into what resembles an aerial circus act.
Of course, as with all action-fueled adventures in the superhero genre, the climax is a spectacular battle on the massive loading structure at an unidentified shipping port.
The climactic showdown proves to be too big a job for just one man, so Iron Man is joined by his War Machine colleague, Captain Rhodes. The reunion of the pair allows for them to engage in easygoing banter.
What makes the “Iron Man” franchise entertaining in many ways is the ease with which Robert Downey, Jr. infuses his character with affable wit and charm, along with a superb knack for delivering biting one-liners with facile nonchalance.
Without a doubt, “Iron Man 3,” fittingly as it is based on a comic book, has its cartoonish aspects. Nevertheless, it strives for a higher purpose than just being loaded with special effects.
Though it is hard to imagine the “Iron Man” character inhabited by anyone other than the quirky, fevered Downey, the best of all this time around is Ben Kingsley, whose surprises should not be revealed.
If you are game to sit through endless minutes of credits (where it appears that half of everyone in Hollywood was involved in the production), there’s an amusing session of Tony Stark in a bit of psychoanalysis at the very end.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.