Iron Man 3 [***]

Iron Man 3As Lt. Col. James Rhodes might say (privately at least), Iron Man 3 rox. The first cab off the rank since Joss Whedon's The Avengers, Iron Man 3 is a worthy addition to the Marvel stable. There's no surprise that it fails to measure up to the ensemble magnificence of The Avengers - and really, what could other than The Avengers 2? - but even so, this third Iron Man movie is at least as good as the two that preceded it, and it sets a high benchmark in a year in which we'll see sequels to Thor and Captain America.

The usual suspects return and slip effortlessly into their well worn (iron) skins - Robert Downey Jnr steals the show, as he should, bringing immense humour and pathos to the character of Tony Stark; we get to see a new side to Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, and Don Cheadle, as Lt. Col. James Rhodes, has his own star spangled iron suit, the Iron Patriot (aka War Machine). Clearly, in the wake of the world shaking events that took place in New York with gods and monsters and alien invaders from another dimension, Tony Stark has relented and given the military control of at least one suit.

Jon Favreau reprises his role as the excessively zealous security chief Happy Hogan (with a penchant for Downton Abbey) but he vacated the director's chair this time around in favour of Shane Black. Black co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, based on the six-issue Extremis story arc (2005-2006) by Warren Ellis. Described as a virus, Extremis "hacks the body's repair centre - the part of the brain that keeps a complete blue print of the human body. When we're injured, we refer to that area of the brain to heal properly. Extremis rewrites the repair centre." In a world in which the extreme has moved centre stage, Extremis seems all too plausible.

Introduced into the mix are two figures from Stark’s past, Dr Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) a beautiful and brilliant scientist who invented the Extremis virus, and Dr Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). In the original Marvel stories Killian jointly developed the virus but quickly exited the story. His role in Iron Man 3 is significantly enhanced and may surprise those more familiar with the comic books. A brilliant scientist with physical disability, he is driven by an extreme will to achieve perfection.

And, of course, there is Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, an ideologically nondescript terrorist whose purpose is to visit a number of terrible lessons on the US President. The less said about his role the better - Kingsley very nearly steals the show, but in a way that will surprise and delight. Suffice to say that while there is no place for subtlety in a world in which gods and monsters strut their stuff, there is a place for the theatre of the absurd.

The world has changed since New York. When gods and monsters rain from the sky and aliens invade from another dimension things inevitably change, although perhaps not as much as you might expect. For the most part we humans maintain the status quo as best we can, quietly going about our daily business; to be fair, there's not much more we can do other than question our various beliefs. Tony Stark however was at the centre of things and he, unlike his superhuman peers, is all too human. Suffering anxiety attacks, unable to sleep, he is tormented by his near-death experience in New York and the question which haunts him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

By the closing credits (and be sure to wait until they roll all the way to the end), we're left in no doubt about the answer to that question. Stark may be of the US elite, he may have inherited immense wealth and seemingly limitless resources, but take it all away and he remains a genius and, above all else, a super hero.

Highly recommended.

(If you're wondering about the [***] in the title, it should make sense when you see the movie...)

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