Iron Man 3 is the first Marvel release since the Avengers Assemble and seeing as all the standalone movies released prior to that were simultaneously used to test the waters while setting up the inevitable crossover, one wonders how Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce even approached this. Turns out they did it by maintaining the tone and humour of the first movie, removing all the awful self-indulgent stuff from the sequel and having the story follow on from Avengers Assemble while working on its own. Throw in a few genuine surprises, some awesome action and Gwyneth Paltrow's limited screen time (HURRAY!), and you've not only got a great blockbuster worthy of its hype, but a film that will have Zack Snyder and James Mangold pooping in their respective pants.
Set at Christmas in 2012 (for absolutely no reason), Tony Stark (RDJ) is having trouble moving on from his near-death experience at the hands of Loki's flying aliens and is passing the time by building new machines and trashing his house. Meanwhile Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is running Stark Industries, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is now head of security and War Machine (Don Cheadle) has been re-branded as Iron Patriot. Elsewhere Guy Pearce earns a 'Best Makeover' award for going from looking like Edward Nigma to Felicia Jollygoodfellow's older, but equally buff, brother. He's a slimy bastard looking for funding for A.I.M. which is a company that helps you give powerpoint presentations of your own brain, or something. Naturally there's a new foe about in the shape of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a powerful and brazen terrorist after the President and Iron Man.
As expected there are some laughs and loud booms but unlike other comic book adaptations that are clearly a sure bet to make money, no-one involved here has skimped on character development. The heroes, the villains and even the bleedin' women have their part to play over 130 minutes and when Stark goes for long stretches without his suit, it doesn't feel any less entertaining. An unexpected sidekick is always charming and never annoying and when the surprises arrive it doesn't feel like a cheap Shyamalan-like trick thrown in for the sake of it.Shane Black practically created the buddy cop comedy in the 80s and there's plenty of zingy quips to quote on the bus ride home but unlike Iron Man 2, it's never to replace holes in the story. He and Pearce have basically taken elements of stories from the comic book and done whatever they liked with them, but who cares when it's this fun? No fanboy is going to be moaning because they'll be too busy fist bumping the air with joy.
Iron Man Three (as it appears in the title card) effortlessly teeters between buddy comedy and action-packed blockbuster and leaves other Marvel movies in the dust while setting the standard for 2013's big movies. Oh, and stay after the end credits, but you already knew that.