Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a “piping hot mess”. His words, not mine. Suffering severe anxiety and PTSD over last summer's alien attack in The Avengers, he takes comfort in tinkering with his small army of mechanical suits after hours, while his harried sweetheart Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow in fine form) worries alone.
This is the status quo for much of the first half of Iron Man 3, Marvel's latest summer adventure, daring to stretch out character development for a while before settling into non-sop action. It's a commendable approach, but the whole product does indeed end up something of a “piping hot mess”.
Shane Black takes over the directing duties from Jon Favreau (returning only onscreen as Stark's ironically named bodyguard Happy), and also takes up co-writing duties with Drew Pearce. Their screenplay is a twisty one that's none too short on unexpected turns, but the result is a film that's inconsistent of tone and pace. The somewhat shoddy editing proves distracting from frame #2 onward, and even some of the film's most humourous surprises feel strangely perverse for having played games with such intense emotions.
Nevertheless, “fun” is the name of the game, and this outing is a marked improvement over 2010's relatively joyless Iron Man 2. For every obnoxious line there's a laugher, and for every misplayed dramatic beat there's a spectacular thrill. Be sure to stay seated for the post-credits stinger (as though you don't already know to do that) for another delightfully Whedonesque gag involving one of Stark's Avenger pals.
*** out of ****