Traumatised Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) believes the trouble started back in 1999, when he was in Switzerland to celebrate New Year and maybe pack in a little business while he was there. But mostly he wanted to bed botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who was also in the hotel, and considered it a success when he was invited up to her room, though he had to deal with a slight distraction when a budding boffin, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) interrupted him with a proposal to join his nascent AIM company. Stark tricked him with a promise to meet him on the roof, but went with Maya instead, where funnily enough she had an experiment of her own on the go...
Third entries in franchises are a tricky business, mainly because the filmmakers have to try and impress the audience all the more if their movie has been successful enough in its previous instalments to merit a trilogy. That audience will be conflicted by wanting to see more of the same and something different simultaneously, but the Marvel comic book spin-offs were such runaway hits that a by now huge title such as Iron Man was guaranteed to make big money at the box office, and so it was. However, the director of the previous entries, Jon Favreau, declined to helm this one, preferring to portray his Happy character instead.
A character who was swiftly sidelined within the first half hour, but there were so many characters in what was an overstuffed narrative that we could do with losing one or two so as not to let focus slip. Favreau's replacement was a man who had worked with Downey before, Shane Black, still most championed for the Lethal Weapon franchise and a man who knew his way around the vital mixture of action 'n' quips, here working with Drew Pearce on the script. The results on initial look appeared to be yet another sci-fi blockbuster which had the War on Terror as its main theme, but as you would see thanks to the controversial twist halfway through, it was something else, closer to the hearts of the Hollywood personnel, which it was distracted by.
Ever since Tony Stark revealed his identity to the public at the end of the first Iron Man, he was a celebrity - well, he was a celebrity before, but now he was a megastar, a genuine superhero who had not entirely selflessly used his fortune for the purposes of good, and didn't need any fancy-schmancy magic powers to help him. But this instalment was interested in the price of fame, which a movie star like Downey would have been all too well versed in, and the question about whether it is best to stay anonymous and pull the strings like a puppetmaster from behind the scenes, or to put yourself out there and use that high profile to get things done, both for the general benefit of others or for yourself. Both, in fact, could be accomplished.
Naturally, with all these famous folks involved in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark's method of being as visible as possible - he taunts the terrorist mastermind Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) by telling him where his home and lab are, goading the villain into attacking him - is shown to be ultimately correct, though we are aware that it is not without danger and sacrifice. Once his clifftop retreat is destroyed, along with it a bunch of equipment and armoured suits, Stark is presumed dead, but he's actually in Tennessee where he programmed his computer butler to send him to investigate a terrorist attack. From there on the question of how far Downey was willing to stay in the costume seemed an issue, as he was hardly inside any of its incarnations before he wanted to jump back out of it again, even using it remote controlled-style. Luckily, the dialogue remained true to the Marvel comics fashion, with many a decent oneliner, and the action didn't eclipse the personality, though Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper was relegated to damsel in distress for most of the movie. The Iron Man series was always a boy's club, really. Music by Brian Tyler, including a great seventies cop show theme arrangement.