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A smooth return

Tony Stark has multiple problems. No, it’s not that the super-rich, former playboy is short of fancy sunglasses or hair products, but that his former assistant-turned partner-cum-girlfriend Pepper is not happy with him at a time when a super-mysterious terrorist called Mandarin is blowing everything up. Added to that is the fact that Stark can’t sleep, can’t get over the assault by aliens in New York (The Avengers, 2012), which is giving him anxiety attacks, and is just not able to get his newest body armour to work the way he wants it to.

The combination of all these factors makes the third instalment of the Iron Man franchise a huge step up from the disappointing second part. Stark is now not just the spoilt brat; he is a man on a journey of self-discovery plagued by a philosophical question: whether Iron Man and Tony Stark are inseparable identities.

Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who has not slept for 72 hours, is spending too much time in the basement with his gadgets, which is upsetting Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). He is not too concerned even when a terrorist who calls himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) starts attacking different parts of the US. The Mandarin cannot be found; he can be seen only in the video messages that he sends across. When Stark’s head of security Happy (Jon Favreau) becomes a victim of one of Mandarin’s attacks, the billionaire challenges the terrorist. The consequences are not pleasant, as Stark’s world comes crashing down, along with his Malibu mansion, and puts Pepper’s life in danger.

It’s also the time when typically callous neglect from the past comes back to haunt Stark in the form of a mad scientist-turned-suave entrepreneur, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).

Stark now has to manage on his own, out of his den, without his toys or his suit, against zombie-like enemies he cannot understand. His only help comes from a tech-savvy child, Harley (Ty Simpkins), and his trusted robot Jarvis (Paul Bettany’s voice).

This time round, the franchise gets a new director in Shane Black (Favreau helmed the first two instalments) and Black improves greatly upon Iron Man 2 (2010). He gets together an interesting ensemble of actors, pulls off a brilliant twist in the middle of the film, and creates edgy characters.

Downey is predictably glib, though he has far fewer smart lines than he did in The Avengers. His portrayal of Stark is beginning to merge with that of Sherlock Holmes, another role he has repeated. But nobody does cool as well as he does, whether it’s the fashionably-styled hair or the fascinating array of coloured glasses.

The action sequences are edge-of-the-cushion stuff—including the helicopter attack that brings down the house, the hand-held delivery drop of 13 people who have fallen off Air Force One, and the climax when Stark’s experimentation with remote-operating bodysuits comes to fruition.

But it’s the villains, as happens often, who hold your attention. Pearce, who unfortunately does few films, is a powerful adversary, bringing a physical force into his character that matches up to Iron Man. Kingsley, displaying an entire repertoire of acting skills and accents, has probably never enjoyed himself so much on screen, clearly the best thing about the film.

Iron Man 3 releases in theatres on Friday.

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