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An end to the Iron age? Iron Man 3'

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Super sequel doesn't quite measure up to previous installments

The start of the summer blockbuster season has been continually getting pushed earlier and earlier. Once upon a time, that season reliably started with Memorial Day weekend; you could set your watch by it. But things have changed; now, with this first weekend in May, the summer blockbusters are in full swing.

First out of the gate? 'Iron Man 3.'

Writer/director Shane Black has assumed the helm of the Marvel franchise, taking over from Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films in the series.

'Iron Man 3' takes place a short time after the events of 'The Avengers.' Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows') is struggling to collect himself after the trauma of thwarting the alien invasion. He's having trouble sleeping and suffering fairly severe anxiety attacks. While he does have girlfriend Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow, 'Contagion') and old friends James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, TV's 'House of Lies') and Happy Hogan (Favreau) by his side, he still struggles to come to terms with his new reality.

There's a new global threat out there; a mysterious terrorist who is known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, 'The Dictator'). The Mandarin is behind a number of untraceable explosions that have resulted in a multitude of injuries and deaths.

Meanwhile, Tony's old acquaintance Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, 'Prometheus') has reappeared; he's the head honcho of a think tank known as Advanced Idea Mechanics (or AIM) a think tank for which he desperately tried to recruit Tony back in the day. He's got some sort of high-end bioengineering process that is both extremely cutting edge and extremely dangerous.

It turns out that Tony Stark's enemies are coming from all sides - powerful enemies who can stand up even to the might of the Iron Man suit. He and his friends are all in danger, and it doesn't seem like there is anyone that he can truly trust. 

One of the things that make the 'Iron Man' films so popular is the fine balance kept between humor and action. There's a lightness to the films that helps accentuate the impact of the huge action set pieces and the good/evil dynamic. And here, for the first time, the balance is perhaps tipped a bit too far in one direction. There are some good, funny moments in 'Iron Man 3'; unfortunately, they occur too often and in inappropriate places. There's too much funny it lessens the impact of the more serious moments.

Credit (or blame) should probably be laid at the feet of Shane Black. While his direction seems fairly solid he certainly knows his way around an explosion the script relies too much on bon mots and one-liners. They're undeniably funny, but they oftentimes detract from moments that should be treated with a little more seriousness.

That said, the movie is still a good time. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark; he embodies the role beautifully. His inherent charisma and comedic timing are perfect for the part. And he's got the chops to capture the few moments of pathos that the script allows him. The rest of the cast is fairly strong. I'm not a Paltrow fan, but she's fine here. Cheadle is solid, though they could give him a bit more to do. Kingsley has some absolutely phenomenal moments as the Mandarin, although the departure the script takes from the comic book character leaves something to be desired.

In the end, 'Iron Man 3' is a perfectly pleasant popcorn movie. It's a lot of fun; plenty of laughs were had and there were some great action moments. However, there's no reason why it couldn't have been all those things while still maintaining a degree of balance. I'm not looking for self-importance or anything; it's a comic book movie after all. But treating the characters and events with at least a respect for realism would have made for a much more interesting and ultimately more satisfying cinematic experience.

4 out of 5

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