Being tickled is really good fun. And if someone knows your weaks spots, laughter becomes impossible to resist. Iron Man 3 is a movie that knows your weak spots. It knows that you cant help finding Robert Downey Jr. charming. I knows that you love that deep yuddayuddyudda sound of the suits afterburners. And it knows that, even after all these years, youll pay virtually any amount of money to see Gwyneth Paltrows sweaty midriff.
In fact, your enjoyment of the film depends a lot on your willingness to be beguiled. This is a movie that flagrantly celebrates its own canniness: a summer blockbuster, set round Christmas time, presumably designed to maximise on Blu-Ray sales later in the year. It also wears it product placement proudly: Sun Microsystems must be pleased, but the main winners here are Audi, whose cars either knowingly, or inexplicablly, depending on how you look at it, appear in nearly every scene. Tony Stark seems to have key that will open, not just his own Audi, but every other Audi he might find on the street. Just one of the perks of the job.
The appeal of superheroes is that they can do anything. And maybe the same is true of superhero films. They can cover comedy, action and romance and splice them with just enough psychology to stop you feeling like youre completely wasting your time. Its been said that superheroes are own psychological challenges made myth. Hulk is the body dysmorphic, Spider Man the adolescent coming to terms with his own sticky discharges, the X-men a group of teenagers coming out.
Tony Stark is a narcissist. Iron Man 3 wrestles, on some level, with the layers of his character. He is, underneath his chestplate, a wounded man. The suit which was initially a form of life support has become his armour. Hes actually not a natural superhero at all, but he tries, through his own ingenuity to become one. And while his alter-ego allows him to do incredible things, it puts him through traumatic experiences and ultimately comes close to turning him into a grandiose prick whos cut himself of from the people who love him. At the films opening Tony is having panic attacks, his fractured personality falling apart at the seams. The narrative arc then, is one of reconciliation of his parts. His final acts of heroism, and of failure, are all done without mechanical assistance.
Theres a kind of hyper-competence to this film. The writing is whip-smart and the performances are excellent. Guy Pierce slightly redeems himself from the shit-fest of Prometheus, with a preppy manevolence that seems to be modeled on Tom Cruises Oprah appearence. Ben Kingleys turn as The Mandarin is brilliant, in a plotline that undercuts what might otherwise have been a tediously islamogeneric villain. The suit is used beautifully, and surprisingly, sometimes as a shell, sometimes as an infinitely versatile mannquin, and in the final denoument, The House Party Protocol, the worlds best firework display.
But all of this is to take the film way too seriously, something its writer director Shane Black (Hawkins in Predator, trivia fans) never does. Iron Man 3 is a great big tickling bear of a movie, its coming for you whether you like it or not. Its so good its hard to know where Summer blockbusters have left to go after this.