Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) embraces with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in "Iron Man 3." The movie follows the further adventures of the Marvel Comics superhero.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) embraces with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in "Iron Man 3." The movie follows the further adventures of the Marvel Comics superhero.

Andy Bockelman: ‘Iron Man 3’: Same suit, different day

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Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

“Iron Man 3,” PG-13

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Run time: 130 minutes

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Ben Kingsley

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas. For a complete list of this week's movie times, click here.

— For a comic book film series, the third movie is the moment of truth, determining whether any imminent projects will soar high or go down in flames. Although it threatens to self-destruct at times, “Iron Man 3” inevitably blasts its way to greatness.

Genius inventor, billionaire playboy, superhero — there are few things Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) can’t do. One thing he is unable to do is forget his near-death experience as his armored alter ego, Iron Man, but there’s no rest for the weary when the world needs saving.

Even with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) handling his business interests and colleague James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) shouldering the burden of protecting the innocent, Tony’s life is no less busy. He’s as much on alert as the next American when a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins a campaign of violent attacks on random spots across the country, and his response to the villainous leader only incites a full assault against Tony, which he barely is able to escape.

With his home destroyed and the public thinking him to be dead, Tony must discover his new enemy’s true plans and put an end to them before he loses everything he holds dear.

Not many actors can sustain a character throughout five movies — Samuel L. Jackson’s multiple appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Nick Fury don’t exactly count — but not many actors have the personality of Downey. Tony Stark might need an artificial means of life support embedded in his chest, but RDJ is a power source unto himself that can fuel Tony’s fleet of Iron Man suits and still have enough energy to crack wise and think up ingenious gizmos on the spot whenever he’s in a bind.

As much attention as Tony gets, in his own adventures or in the Downey-centric “The Avengers,” Paltrow rightly is allowed more screen time as paramour Pepper, worried her lover is starting to lose his sanity with his constant tinkering with his high-tech toys. At least this time, she gets the chance to don the red and gold herself for the briefest of moments and always is there to save Tony from himself.

Cheadle is stuck in something of a thankless function as good ol’ Rhodey, whose War Machine armor has been repurposed by the government, painted to look like the stars and stripes and given the PR-friendly handle Iron Patriot.

Yes, Mr. President, if your one-man army capable of tearing apart a tank is getting criticized by Joan Rivers and Bill Maher, that means it has a lame name. There’s a reason superheroes don’t go through focus groups.

As for the less trustworthy folks, the instant you see Guy Pearce as rival industrialist Aldrich Killian, you get the feeling he’s up to no good with his talk of a biological development that will unleash the full potential of the human body. All Marvel fans need to see is his business card from Advanced Idea Mechanics to know what kind of man he is.

And then there’s the big baddie himself, Iron Man’s greatest foe — other than alcoholism — in all his 50 years of existence. Kingsley gets a thumbs-up for doing his best as the mysterious warlord whose half-mad soliloquies come off as a combination of Richard Nixon and Col. Kurtz hidden behind Osama bin Laden’s beard, but other than the top-knot, poorly manicured nails and Asian robes, little remains of the classic Mandarin, with even his 10 rings of power just for show.

Perhaps it’s for the best — besides the stereotypical nature of the 1960s incarnation of the character, trying to make him larger than life would only place him in the ranks of Dr. Doom, Kingpin, Mephisto and other Marvel villains who couldn’t make a decent jump from page to screen.

He might not have a Magneto, Dr. Octopus or Loki to match his valor, but what Tony lacks in a respectable nemesis, he makes up for by being a real person, probably the most genuinely flawed yet heroic of any of the Marvel Comics titles. The challenge of bringing him back to a solo venture after the massive success of “The Avengers” is how to maintain the feel of the first two films without losing any of the momentum of the multihero compendium that took Marvel to a whole new level.

Enter Shane Black as director, relieving Jon Favreau — who still portrays humorless head of security Happy Hogan — and possessing a familiarity with Downey from “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” that allows him to bring out the comedic rhythms of his star as well as keep them attuned to a story that often speeds past its predecessors. This doesn’t feel like a sequel, more like a continuation of an ongoing chronicle of a modern-day knight in shining armor that never gets tiresome.

True, it jumps in and out of subplots as often as Tony does with his multipurpose suits, and some supporting players, like the otherwise wonderful Rebecca Hall as a scientist from Tony’s past, are completely superfluous. Let’s not even mention the minivan-sized stuffed bunny Tony tries to give Pepper as a Christmas gift.

Not everything goes right, and the AC/DC-heavy soundtrack is missed, but like the buggy Mark 42 armor, it comes through when it counts, and when you’re engaging in activities like a midair free-fall game of Crack the Whip, that’s all you can ask.

Where “Superman III,” “Batman Forever,” “Spider-Man 3” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” let us down, “Iron Man 3” shows the curse of the third movie isn’t a definite rule — and that “The Dark Knight Rises” was no fluke — when you’ve got the right people on the job. We might have to wait until a second “Avengers” movie comes around to see him again, but Tony Stark, encased in metal or otherwise, has earned his place in movie history.

Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.

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