In the first "Iron Man" feature film and its sequel, director Jon Favreau showed a real commitment to the comic book's roots. Action and angst were such major conduits for delivering the story that it was as if Favreau had created three-dimensional versions of comic book panels.
Shane Black took over as director of "Iron Man 3," and he's opted for a more "buddy cop" approach -- a style he's used in writing movies like "Lethal Weapon" and "Last Action Hero."
Those who enjoy comic-book-inspired films merely for the action will find this latest attempt a solid effort. But comic book purists will have to deal with seeing less Iron Man and some twists that defy the accepted mythology of Marvel Comics.
"Iron Man 3" picks up in the wake of "The Avengers." Billionaire superhero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is dealing with the anguish and nightmares that came from his close encounters with a nuclear bomb and aliens. He doesn't have much time to dwell on his pains as a new threat has arrived -- The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).
This new villain is a raving madman whose only goal is to shower great violence on America. Even Iron Man has a tough time dealing with the terrorist, who destroys Stark's home -- and most of his colorful suits of superhero armor.
The heart -- albeit shrapnel filled -- of the movie remains the same: the glib performance turned in by Downey. Even in the face of this new threat, Stark never runs out of quips. Favreau mixed the quick retorts with some regular dialogue, but Black's script is so loaded with wisecracks that it begins to wear thin. It's the type of banter that better fits a buddy cop movie.
Black also spreads the superhero elements thin. Stark ends up in Tennessee looking for clues to a mysterious series of bombings. Sans his super suit, Stark pals around with the mop-topped Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young man with too much enthusiasm and too many snappy lines. This effort to humanize Stark might have worked if the conversations between Stark and Harley had not sounded so scripted.
It's nice that Don Cheadle gets more action time as War Machine, now known by the more consumer-friendly name Iron Patriot. There's so much of his character, it's as if this film's an audition for a "War Machine" movie should this be the last time Downey decides to suit up.
There's a nice progression with Stark's love interest, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who's gone from gal pal to love interest to a strong character. Not much can be said without spoiling the film, but know that Potts doesn't sit quietly on the sidelines.
This film has as much action as the first two outings. But Black isn't as skilled as Favreau at pulling the audience into the middle of the battles. The big showdown is loaded with firepower, but it is shot with such an arm's length approach that it's like watching a fireworks show rather than setting the fireworks off yourself.
Black's brought his own voice to the franchise and it's a big change. It would have been better had he toned down some of the dialogue, stayed a little more loyal to the source material and not had so many scenes in a movie called "Iron Man" without the character.
And, the added scene at the end, which has become a staple of the genre, lacks the surprise or humor that have made the previous ones worth sitting through the credits to see.
There's enough dents in this "Iron Man" to suggest it's time to retire the suit.
"Iron Man 3," rated PG-13 for action scenes. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce. Directed by Shane Black. Running time: 135 minutes. Grade: B- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.