'Iron Man 3' leads off Marvel's Phase 2

This film publicity image released by Disney-Marvel Studios shows Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in a scene from "Iron Man 3." (AP Photo/Disney, Marvel Studios, Zade Rosenthal)

“Iron Man 3”


Marvel Studios

2 hours, 10 minutes

With the arrival of this week’s blockbuster “Iron Man 3,” we witness the ushering in of not only the summer popcorn season, but Marvel Studios’ highly anticipated “Phase 2.”

No idea what I’m talking about? Think about it this way: for the last few years, Marvel has been building up to something big. “Iron Man” 1 and 2, “Captain America,” “Thor,” and “The Incredible Hulk” all culminated in “The Avengers,” one of the biggest blockbuster hits of all time and definitely the gutsiest move a major studio has ever made, at least since Paramount gave James Cameron $200 million to tell a love story on a sinking ship.

Marvel, however, isn’t resting on it’s laurels. There’s a grand plan in mind. “Iron Man 3” starts Phase 2, but coming soon are “Thor: The Dark World,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and a new and cosmic entry, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” These films will all lead to the inevitable “Avengers 2,” due sometime in the next several years.

And after that? Crazy internet rumors abound for a Hulk-centric Phase 3! Forward planning like this may seem like hubris. What if one or more of these movies bomb? What if they suck? What if people get tired of comic book movies? Valid fears, but looking at Marvel’s track record, they are batting 1.000, so why not keep swinging for the fences? If this third outing for Tony Stark and his mechanical alter ego are any indication, things are looking pretty rosy for Marvel.

Taking place not long after “The Avengers” leaves off, “Iron Man 3” finds Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in a dark place. Terrified that he won’t be able to protect the one thing in his life that he truly cares about, that being his love Pepper Potts, played beautifully once again by Gwyneth Paltrow, Tony has thrown himself into his work, endlessly tinkering and perfecting, building a suit that works via a kind of mind-meld remote control, and that can propel itself, in pieces, to him where ever he happens to be.

It’s not just night sweats and panic attacks as a result of the chaos from his previous film that are weighing on Stark’s mind, however. The United States has recently come under attack by a terrifying and colorful terrorist who calls himself “The Mandarin,” played by Ben Kingsley. The Mandarin is in the process of teaching the U.S., and particularly it’s President, a series of lessons, punctuated by devastating attacks. When one such explosion leaves Tony’s longtime bodyguard and best friend in a coma, Stark publicly calls out The Mandarin and dares him to come for a visit. Bad idea. The result is the catastrophic destruction of Tony Stark’s gorgeous Malibu home that we all saw in the trailer, and a rough road of redemption for Iron Man.

Jon Favreau, who directed the previous two outings of “Iron Man,” takes a producer’s credit on this one, handing the reins over to Shane Black, a man who’s directed one previous film, but is best known for scripting such iconic 1980s actioners as “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout.” Black does a fine job maintaining Favreau’s tone, while injecting some of his own sensibility in as well. There is definitely a lot of action to be had in “Iron Man 3,” and while it may be a little off-putting to see Tony Stark engaging in a gunfight sans armor, I really appreciated how much Black made this film about the man inside the suit, instead of simply a special effect.

Downey Jr. gets to spend the majority of his time in this film unadorned, at least in regard to his mechanical alter ego, and it works very well. We all know by now what Iron Man looks like blasting things and flying through the sky. Black focuses on character, to his credit. As such, the movie also works very well as a bookended finale to a trilogy. There will certainly be more “Iron Man” to come, but this film elegantly wraps up the multi-film character arc of Tony Stark — much more successfully, I have to say, than does Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Taking a cue from Joss Whedon, though with a much smaller ensemble, Black does a good job of allowing each of his main characters to fully flesh themselves out. Not only does Gwyneth get plenty of stuff to do in this film, but Don Cheadle’s Col. Rhodes, formerly relegated to being Tony Stark’s needling conscience, really gets to show off his skills. Guy Pierce, as genetic entrepreneur Aldritch Killian, is great, and Ben Kingsley is just as stellar as you would imagine he would be.

I was a little afraid when Tony Stark takes up with a rascally kid, but the young actor is just fine and the whole thing wraps up nicely. In the 80s, the appearance of a young scamp was the death knell for a series, but Black keeps things in check.

To be honest, the only element of the film I didn’t like, aside from a few obligatory leaps of logic or silly lines of dialogue, were the closing credits which felt, to me, like the cheesy ending to an 80s action T.V. show, where highlights of the program you just watched are flashed before your eyes. I know this was intentional, but I would remind Black that, in the event he’s asked back, style is good, stylized is not. These movies, though somewhat lighthearted, are never goofy or silly or too referential. Remember what happened to “Batman” when Joel Schumacher got involved. A cautionary tale if there ever was one.

Grade: A-

“Iron Man 3” is rated PG-13 for comic book violence, mild language, and innuendo.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.