To use a recondite term in professional film criticism: whoo-hoo! Iron Man 3 is descending on cinemas with an almighty crash, assuming the dramatic-yet-camp landing pose that Tony Stark in his exo-body-chassis favours on arrival: right knee down, right fist in the smashed asphalt, left elbow back, head up.
This is luxury superhero entertainment and the director and co-writer is Shane Black, who gave us the excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005. I bow down to Mr Black as the Aaron Sorkin of action comedy; he gets the biggest laugh of the year with a joke about Croydon, with some additional Anglophile kisses blown to Downton Abbey, and what I suspect is a disguised homage to Mike Myers's immortal creation Austin Powers.
Robert Downey Jr is back, smashing walls and cracking wise as the billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, now out of the closet as Iron Man, living the dream in his future-tech clifftop pad and co-habiting with the beautiful Pepper Potts – Gwyneth Paltrow's excellent, relaxed performance making me wish she spent more time on film sets and less with her nutritional website. As so often in modern superhero tales, Stark's confrontation with wickedness triangulates into a question of two separate evildoers. Guy Pearce plays suave science entrepreneur Aldrich Killian — brilliant, yet unstable and unprincipled in the traditional manner – whose obsession with Stark may arise from a traumatic rejection in his youth, rather like Syndrome in The Incredibles.
And then, showing that Black playfully relishes the Hollywood convention of casting Brit thesps as the bad guys, there is the terrifying middle-eastern terrorist, Mandarin, played with relish by Ben Kingsley. Mandarin is taking to the airwaves to gloat over his various explosions, which appear to happen without bombs. Oddly, Mandarin prefers old-school television for these publicity appearances and has no Twitter account. Meanwhile, Stark has to juggle a tense relationship with his old buddy James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and beautiful ex-girlfriend Maya (Rebecca Hall).
Iron Man 3 is smart, funny and spectacular – I particularly liked Stark's brutally unsentimental reaction to the news that a kid who is helping him is missing his errant dad. Stark now probably succeeds Chaplin as Downey's key creation as an actor, loosing off funny lines with virtuoso skill, throwing away gags and delaying punchlines: Alec Baldwin does something similar, but in a more reflective style. This may not be to everyone's taste and some odd repeated jokes about Christmas indicate that a different release date may have been planned. But it is quality Friday night entertainment: the innocent pleasure of the week.
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image: © Vincent Wei