After headlining two of his own movies and teaming up to save the world in "The Avengers," the billionaire-playboy-turned-superhero Iron Man is a known quantity. Anytime he shows up, audiences can rest assured that high-tech battle suits, scheming villains, big explosions and snappy banter are soon to follow.
So it goes in his latest outing, "Iron Man 3," which finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) donning his famous armor to battle the terrorist mastermind the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), this time under the direction of Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"). While the film is receiving generally favorable reviews (to say nothing of its massive box-office prospects), many critics seem to have had their fill of Iron Man's heroics for the time being.
In a positive review for the Times, Kenneth Turan calls "Iron Man 3" a "spiritual reboot" and says, "like a stunt driver taking over the wheel while the car is moving at 100 mph, new director (and co-writer) Shane Black has managed to change this billion-dollar-plus franchise's tone for the better while keeping the same actor as Tony Stark." The most interesting thing about the film, Turan adds, "is that, far from being slicker than the first two versions, it is unexpectedly — and successfully — darker and more serious than its predecessors."
While the film "does tend to fall back on massive explosions and action set pieces as the conclusion nears," it also "creates the kind of jeopardy we can believe in, and for a superhero movie, that is an accomplishment in and of itself."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis, however, finds the film less than original, writing, "despite the needless addition of 3-D and negligible differences in quips, gadgets, villains and the type of stuff blown up, ['Iron Man 3'] plays out much like the first two movies."
Dargis also criticizes the film for exploiting the specter of terrorism as a plot device without really saying anything about it: "Mr. Black and his colleagues, like other filmmakers who use the iconography of Sept. 11 and its aftershocks, want to have it both ways. They want to tap into the powerful reactions those events induced, while dodging the complex issues and especially the political arguments that might turn off ticket buyers."
For USA Today's Claudia Puig, Downey saves the day once again. She writes: "This third installment … has such a surfeit of visual dazzle and eye-popping stunts that it teeters on overload. But Downey reins it all in with his perfectly timed dry wit."
Also turning in fine performances are Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle for the good guys and Kingsley for the bad guys. (Guy Pearce, as a villainous scientist, is "solid, but not memorable," Puig says.)
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post is less taken with "Iron Man 3," which she says "seems designed less as an artisanal object or visual entertainment than a full-body assault on the senses." She continues: "A frantic, occasionally funny, finally enervating bricolage of special effects, explosive set pieces, sardonic one-liners and notional human emotions, this branch of the Marvel franchise tree feels brittle and over-extended enough to snap off entirely."
Hornaday does concede that the film has its bright spots, including "a fine ensemble," and says it "ends with a tone of finality which, even if it's ersatz, feels like a well-earned respite."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr agrees with Puig that Downey carries this third installment. He writes, "The weakest in the series of Marvel Comics-related movies (including last year's all-star pig pile 'The Avengers'), 'Iron Man 3' suffers from confused plotting, flat-footed exposition, and more pure, noisy nonsense than even a comic book movie should have to put up with. Yet whenever Downey is being Downey, it's still the most subversive Marvel franchise around."
And thanks to Black, Burr says, "a little oddball cleverness does sneak into the mayhem."
Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal says the film is technically proficient — "the computer animation is often astonishing, even if the 3-D is indifferent and explosions are explosions, no matter what's being exploded" — but lacking in terms of narrative. "The third iteration of a franchise that began so well becomes a hollow hymn to martial gadgetry," he writes. "The suits and story clank in unison."
Ultimately, Morgenstern says, "'Iron Man 3' is an industrial enterprise fabricated for kids, and they will eat it up just as eagerly as the Iron Giant scarfed scrap metal. If you're not a kid, though, or if you want to keep your memories of the first "Iron Man" unsullied, beware of the buzz and hubbub, and the glowing reviews. You know the story of the emperor's new suit."