Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle
Released: April 24, 2013
Grade: B+

Iron Man 3
If you saw a movie on the Anzac Day public holiday last year, I’m willing to bet it was The Avengers. Released on 25 April 2012, the film took a staggering $6 million in its first 24 hours in Australia and wound up being our highest grossing film of the year with a $54 million haul.

When you’re onto a good thing, you stick with it. It’s no coincidence that Iron Man 3, the latest in the Marvel franchise, is being released at exactly the same time of the year. Midnight screenings have been scheduled and I’m expecting numerous evening sessions to sell out over the coming days.

I find the success of comic book movies somewhat amusing. I didn’t read any of them as a teenager growing up. They seemed to have a cult-like following with a small, yet passionate group of people. Through the medium of cinema, the audience for these villains and superheroes has broadened enormously. They’ve become part of the foundation blocks of each cinematic year. Since 2000, there have been a total of 26 movies based on a Marvel comic and they’ve combined to generate more than $10 billion at the international box-office.

With all the Marvel heroes coming together in The Avengers, the question was always going to be asked – how could they then return to their own individual movies? Shane Black, directing his first film since the wonderful Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, skirts around the issue. There are a few cute references to The Avengers movie but it is hard to explain why Tony Stark’s friends don’t come to his aid (and there are plenty of times when he needed help).

You may struggle with a few characters if you haven’t seen the earlier films but you won't have any problems appreciating the “awesomeness” that is Robert Downey Jr. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the leading role. I love the way he portrays Iron Man as a superhero full of contradictions. One minute, he’s saving the world… the next minute, he’s having an anxiety attack. Sometimes he wants to be centre stage… while at other times, he wants to live in seclusion.

I’ve been critical of the lame villains in recent actions flicks (see A Good Day To Die Hard or GI Joe: Retaliation for examples) but I can’t say the same here. Heading the “most wanted” list in Iron Man 3 is an Osama Bin Laden-like terrorist known simply as the Mandarin (Kingsley). He has an army of henchman at his disposal and while his motives could have been fleshed out in a little more detail, it’s clear he wants to terrorise the United States and expose their leaders as a bunch of hypocrites.

Given that so many of today’s action films are crafted from the same mould, it was a pleasant surprise to see Iron Man 3 taking a few chances and offering a few unexpected twists – both dramatic and comedic. It’s part of the reason that I’ve been so brief in describing the plot. In addition, the film isn’t afraid to mock its own outlandish premise. There’s a quick yet brilliant moment when Iron Man confronts a bad guy who isn’t too happy with his work environment.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the action scenes. It feels like they've been edited by someone with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. There’s way too much going on at once. They’re also a little “cartoonish”. You’ll watch with interest and admire the extravagance of the fight sequences… but they lack the suspense and exhilaration that we’ve seen demonstrated in films such as Skyfall.

Most audience members won’t be too concerned though. You’ll see thousands of names listed during the lengthy closing credits (make sure you stay until the very end – trust me) but there’s only one name that counts here. As long as they keep giving Robert Downey Jr. a half-decent script to work with, this particular franchise will be going for many years to come.

You can read my chat with star Guy Pearce by clicking here.