First things first: Iron Man 3 is the best of the Iron Man movies by a comfortable margin. It has better action scenes, more witty dialogue and – outside of The Avengers – it’s the most fun I’ve had in a cinema watching Robert Downey Jr. be all smug while wearing the hallowed armour. This is a big, brash, glossy summer movie that pushes all the right buttons. It also feels like the kind of thing that could have come out around 1988. And that, my friends, is actually a massive plus.
Iron Man 3 is directed and co-written by Shane Black, the genius auteur of 80’s popcorn flicks who is responsible for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and one of the most underrated films ever made, The Long Kiss Goodnight (which came out in the 90’s but you get my drift). He even had a small acting role in Predator as the geeky soldier who keeps telling bad jokes. The man is a cornerstone of the action genre and Iron Man 3 is a veritable check-list of all the tropes that he invented; you want a baddie with 80’s hair and a suit to match? Check. You want disposable heavies with ponytails wielding machine guns? Check. You want a helicopter-based assault? Check. You want a wisecracking buddy movie shoot-out set on the docks of some generic industrial locale? Check and mate.
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On paper this could all be some sort of tired throwback that feels regurgitated and stale. After all, we’re not paying to see Lethal Weapon 5, we want a goddamn superhero movie. Credit, then, to Black for making a film that weaves in the staples of 80’s action cinema but also feels fresh and up-t0-date.
While most of it works, some of it doesn’t. The trailers promised us Tony Stark’s darkest hour, but throughout we never really get the sense that the hero is in any kind of lasting peril. The middle act of the film felt turgid and sluggish, and a revelation unveiled halfway through almost manages to derail the entire thing. There are too many characters. There are parts of it that don’t even feel like a Marvel movie. And what the hell happened to War Machine?
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But as the hero perseveres, so too does the audience, and we are eventually rewarded. Everything falls into place during the third act, building to a spectacular, wildly enjoyable orgy of action that references everything from Lethal Weapon to The Terminator and even includes one of the biggest laughs of the entire movie. There’s a lot more I could talk about, but doing so is impossible without giving away a spoiler so huge that an angry mob of Sick Chirpse readers would most likely gather on my doorstep within hours, demanding I be lynched. And I can’t blame them. Spoiling any media so soon after release means you are bound for a very special level of hell.
Iron Man 3 is a great opening salvo in this year’s arsenal of summer blockbusters. It’s good enough that I’d pay money to see it again (and I hardly ever do that) and you should stick around to the very end for a killer stinger that wasn’t what I expected, but which made me smile all the same. It also reminds the world how rad 80’s action films were, and that’s worthy of an Oscar all by itself.
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And lastly, because it’s obviously one of best songs ever made, here’s Black Sabbath performing Iron Man. Take it away, boys;