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'Iron Man 3' is Marvel's funniest to date, and Films for Action dries for freedom
Following the hugely successful gamble Marvel took by turning over the reigns of "The Avengers" to geek-auteur Joss Whedon, the Disney-owned studio has turned the most popular hero of their multi-film franchise over to another genre master.
"Iron Man 3" was co-written and directed by Shane Black, the master of the action comedy, and true to form, there is a heaping dose of both throughout this wobbly but entertaining entry into the Marvel canon. Although Black (who also wrote "Lethal Weapon" and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") and co-writer Drew Pearce subscribe to the typical general story beats of every Marvel film, they have a lot of fun playing within the sandbox.
At its core, "Iron Man 3" is a screwball comedy about Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), post-intergalactic invasion. Stark is haunted by the fact that the world as he knew it is way bigger and more dangerous than even his ego may be able to handle. Pepper has moved into Tony's house and strengthened her hold on Stark Industries, but Tony seems more distant than ever.
In the meantime, terrorist attacks cooked up by an evil warlord with an Osama Bin Laden look and a strange drawl called The Mandarin (a hammy, envigorated Ben Kingsley) have the world on edge, and the reappearance of two scientists from Tony's past (Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall) further complicate things.
What makes "Iron Man 3" so enjoyable as formulaic escapist entertainment are the little tweaks that Black has made to the template. "Iron Man 3" forces Downey outside of the suit and makes him rely on his scientific brilliance and cunning more than ever. A subplot with an impossibly cute fatherless little boy (Ty Simpkins) ends up being a clever parody rather than melodramatic fodder, and somehow ties up with an ending so earnest and effective that it might send grade-schoolers all over the world racing for their science play sets.
The movie also fundamentally changes what it means to be Iron Man. With the emergence of James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) as War Machine — re-dubbed Iron Patriot in a funny parody of military branding — and a whole fleet of other Iron Men (don't cry, it's in the trailer; I'm not giving away anything), Black has given Stark a reprieve from his sole alter-identity and a terrific setup for a high-flying action scene with inventive choreography. The final action scene in "Iron Man 3" is revelatory, like seeing Spider-Man swing between New York skyscrapers for the first time.
In the midst of various plot threads with varying degrees of contemporary relevance, Black pulls off a crazy plot twist a little more than halfway through the film that's truly inspired and solidifies "Iron Man 3" as a comedy. Speaking of comedy, one downside to Black and Pearce's ear for dialogue is that everybody has a wry sense of humor, not just Stark. Granted, it's a good problem to have, but when henchmen and minor characters have as many witty comebacks as our hero, it tends to undermine his own wit.
Also, despite the fact that "Iron Man 3" is centered on Tony and Pepper's relationship, Paltrow just doesn't have enough to do onscreen. Her and Downey's chemistry may still be the series' greatest asset, so it's disappointing that other elements of the vague world-domination plot had to take precedence. That said, Black ties things up in a satisfying way.
The narration at the beginning hints at some major changes in Tony Stark's world and "Iron Man 3" delivers on that foreshadowing, taking Tony to some dark places and making him question his ego more than ever before. There are at least three spectacular action sequences, enough humor to make most straight-up comedies jealous, and the best end-credit sequence of all the Marvel films.
Sidenote: Like all the Marvel movies, the 3-D is completely superfluous. Don't waste your money on the extra charge.
Hopefully with the crappy weather subsiding, we'll be able to do this again, but there's one way to save energy when you're drying your clothes. Films For Action's first screening of this year is "Drying for Freedom," a documentary about the drain of electrical and gas-powered clothes dryers and the demand for dirty coal energy across the globe. This one-time screening is 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., and is co-sponsored by art nonprofit Lawrence Percolator and air-drying, cold-water-washing resource Project Laundry List. Admission is only $4, or $2 with a current student ID.