Stark contrast to typical superhero genre film

“Iron Man 3” is not your typical superhero movie.

For much of the mid-section of the film, our hero, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is without his armor, and that is all to show the audience that he is Iron Man with or without the suit. While that sounds sentimental, the actual result is far from it.

This is Robert Downey Jr.’s movie because director Shane Black understands him.

Black is a very witty former screenwriter who throws plot largely out the window to frame scenes as perfectly as he can with as much banter and snarkiness that he and his performers can muster. In fact, parts of “Iron Man 3” make it seem as though the film is just as much a sequel to Black’s hilarious 2005 directorial debut, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”

That film also starred Downey (and Val Kilmer) in a role I like to believe is practically himself. The film also pitted him as a lone detective with very little luck in his life and seemed as though it poured the gumshoe awesomeness of a Raymond Chandler hard-boiled detective novel through a drug-filled kaleidoscope, and smashed it onto celluloid.

And so does “Iron Man 3.”

“A famous man once said we create our own demons,” Tony Stark says in voice-over at the very beginning of the film, as Iron Man suits explode in their glass enclosures silently and in slow-motion in the background. “Who said that? … It doesn’t matter. Now two famous guys have said it.”

There’s a style at play here unfamiliar in this territory, and Downey is the actor for the job. And the film would be so perfect hard to do as a super hero movie, I must say if that style could stay throughout, but Black is way too playful a director and screenwriter not to make the film a mess of disparate parts and scenes strung together where the parts are so much better than the whole.

New Year’s Eve, 1999. Playboy billionaire inventor Tony Stark is celebrating the holiday in style with a supposedly comely botanist Maya Hansen. It’s a scene reminiscent of meeting Poison Ivy in 1997’s absolutely terrible “Batman and Robin.” Simultaneously, Stark is also completely disregarding fellow scientist and

inventor (and ridiculous geek) Aldrich Killian in the process. This is where he forms his demons.

Killian waits for Stark on the roof of the fancy, European hotel as he was told to do.

Thirteen years later he tells Stark that for the first 20 minutes he actually believed Stark would come to the roof to meet with him to discuss and collaborate with him on some new genetic technology. The next hour he felt like taking a step off the roof.

Flash forward to today and Stark is still in love with himself and his work, and spends most of his time “tinkering” with his suits and other projects. He largely ignores his live-in girlfriend, Pepper Potts, at night when he can’t sleep. It seems odd that Pepper is so jealous of his tinkering since the technology is what brought them together in the first place, but where would drama be if it weren’t for conflict – marginal or otherwise.

The other conflict, the one that keeps Stark up at night in his basement, is what happened in New York. You see, the plotline of “The Avengers” movie factors heavily into the backstory of “Iron Man 3,” and those who largely forgot the plot or the conflicts of the Marvel Universe (like me) may want to rent that film to see why he’s so high-strung.

The anxiety attacks don’t help him much in this modern day world when evil terrorist The Mandarin continues to blow-up things in America and at bases overseas for largely frivolous reasons. The theatrical madman – played creatively by Sir Ben Kingsley (in a far cry from “Ghandi” or “House of Sand and Fog”) – has a ridiculous accent, braided hair, ringed-fingers and robes to the hill. He will cite as his reasoning for bombing California’s Chinese Theater things like fortune cookies as being not Chinese like we envision them, but instead an American invention because “they’re hollow inside and contain lies.”

You see, while the rest of the nation is on high-alert, Stark wants to buy Pepper an oversized, buxom rabbit as a gift and tinker with a new suit that comes to him (especially when he plays Christmas music, it seems). The Mandarin plotline makes for classic villainy for a superhero to snuff out and save the world – and get the girl, and lie in wait for the next daring-do. Iron Man is a character full of tics, cynicism, arrogance, narcissism and sardonics.

With very little attention paid to the plight of the nation earlier in the film. Stark suddenly throws his home address in Malibu Beach out into the world as a threat for the Mandarin to come at him.

And come at him he does. While some will worry as Iron Man and Pepper (and the botanist from 1999 who suddenly appeared at his door moments before a three-helicopter assault commences) scramble that Stark may be dead, others will dread the post-modern architecture crumbling into the ocean and will lament a world without such a home.

The reason to worry is explained in the credits. While the film was supposed to be all about Stark the man, the credits reveal how much CGI and special effects went into the outstanding action sequences. One credit sequence for effects seems to cover the screen in names for what felt like minutes.

And those effects are beautiful, because lone warriors out to ruin the world have an orange glow. It seems like some genetic modification has taken over their bodies that allows for instant healing of all wounds and also a heating effect that ensures they will never need to buy a blowtorch.

Yes, the action and effects are great, but this may have been too large a film for Black, who had only directed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” before this directorial outing. The pacing labors a bit over its over-two-hour runtime and the parts feel disparate. The three acts of the film are obvious in their separation and intent and the audience probably won’t feel drawn through with their minds on auto-pilot. For an action film, this is a major drawback, but for fans of the Iron Man franchise or the wider superhero genre this film will at least feel fresh and bright with many talented people throwing their weight toward a new definition for the franchise.

Jon Favreau, director of the first two “Iron Man” films, has exited that former role but remains attached to the franchise as Happy Hogan, Stark’s old bodyguard and now paranoid head of security at Stark Industries, as well as executive producer. With the move to a new feeling for the franchise, it does seem a safe move to keep Favreau attached as he is, to make sure the films don’t stray too far from the framework he laid for it.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)