And so it came to pass that "Phase 2" of Marvel's plan to rule the world via the medium of the box office began with the continuing story of the character who started "Phase 1" back in 2008.
Returning to the suit (rumoured for the last time now that his contract is up), Downey Jr this time is under the direction of a new helmer to the World Of Marvel. With original director Favreau now just in front of the camera as Stark's upgraded from-bodyguard-to-head-of-security sidekick, it's the turn of Shane Black to help shape the world of Tony Stark, billionaire playboy who "builds neat stuff and occasionally saves the world."
Black and Downey Jr who previously worked together on the underrated Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, show all the spark, wit and downright questionable laughter that they delivered on their first project together here on the more personal story of Iron Man in its third outing. For those who know Black's work, all the things that make him "him" are present and correct throughout his latest. Like his previous efforts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long, Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) the story takes place around Christmas; there is a voice over to help proceedings along and there are some cracking lines of dialogue for you to try and remember so that you can quote them back to others and feel cool whilst doing so.
Yep, Downey Jr's natural swagger and Stark's coolness have just been given an illegal dose of Black's cultdom and it's a match made in heaven. As Kingsley's The Mandarin states to the US President via one of his many Bin Laden-esque video messages, you, as an audience member "will never see them coming" with what they have in store for you during its 130 minutes running time. More on him in a moment though.
The challenge facing Iron Man 3 is more than just being better than its predecessors (although that's not too hard when the below par Iron Man 2 is considered) - it has the task of being the first film released after the exceptional Avengers Assemble showed that under Joss Whedon, a superheroes film could be, well, super. And with all the superheroes having interacted and now aware of each other, the challenge here would be to find a story that would only involve Iron Man and not the likes of Thor, Hulk or Captain America. The way that Black and co-screen writer Drew Pearce have gotten around this is simple - make it personal - "no politics here, just good old fashioned revenge." With this personal edge now in place story-wsie, we are able to see the cool swagger of Downey Jr/Stark get stripped away - along with his suit - and have him try to build things back up from scratch... his composure, his strength, his trust and love in others and a back-to-basics suit just like the first time we saw him held captive in a cave, have to be built up from scratch. It's Tony Stark's fall from grace and his rise from the ashes as the premise. He may have helped save Earth with his newfound superhero chums, but the dying in the process has weighed heavy upon his mind. This makes him feel more real to the viewer despite his Malibu pad, his millions and his suits - of which they are plenty!
Downey Jr as expected is a star and this time gets to play off a few people - notably Cheadle - "it's WarMachine rocks...with a Z" - and a smalltown boy that gets just as good as he's given in the banter stakes, but the real other main shining star who gives Downey Jr a run for his money is Kingsley. His performance of The Mandarin, once the plot has moved on to its big reveal, is brilliantly executed.
A confidence-boosting start to Marvel's "Phase 2" of its universe, Iron Man 3 sets the bar for Captain America 2 (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Thor 2 (Thor: The Dark World) and only adds to the already building anticipation that will be Avengers 2.
Cool. Neat. Go see.
UK release date: 26.04.13