A movie adapted from a comic-book franchise typically elicits two different reactions.
There is the movie-geek perspective. And there is the comic-geek perspective.
Sample movie-geek reaction: Sam Raimi's Spider-Man works because Raimi puts his penchant for dynamic visuals and his cumulative knowledge of genre film to work in the service of a project that encompasses equal parts action, comedy and melodrama.
Sample comic-geek reaction: Where does Sam Raimi get off proposing that Peter Parker's web-slinging abilities are organic and not mechanical?
Consider yourself put on notice, comic geek: While a very entertaining movie overall, Iron Man 3 favours your cinematically inclined brethren.
You'll know it from its opening minutes, in which tech-billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) recalls an incident from his past that has an impact on his stormy present. Stark recalls putting the moves on beautiful botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and playing a cruel prank on a crippled genius named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).
Downey's loopy narration immediately recalls Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his last collaboration with Iron Man 3 director/co-writer Shane Black.
Black is a veteran scriptwriter making a smooth transition from action films of the '80s and '90s (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight) to the comic genre with an admirably irascible style.
He was pretty much born to write funny-snarky dialogue for Downey.
But of course, Downey's Tony Stark has other things to do than crack wise. After his mind-boggling adventure fighting gods and space aliens in The Avengers, he is having a difficult time maintaining his composure. Like any sleep-deprived paranoid billionaire, he forsakes sleep with busywork. In his case, that is creating more and more armoured Iron Man suits.
That turns out to be a good move after Stark's security guy Happy Hogan (played by Iron Man 1 & 2 director Jon Favreau) is seriously injured in a terrorist attack at the instigation of a mysterious, media-savvy mastermind known as The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley).
Sorry, comic-book geeks, this "Mandarin" ultimately bears no resemblance to the villain we've seen in the pages of Marvel comics.
Your protests are duly noted.
An angry Stark challenges the Mandarin himself, and that turns out to be a foolhardy move when his lush Malibu compound comes under air attack. Stark survives and finds himself with a non-functioning suit in rural Tennessee. There, he makes an unlikely ally in Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young boy who happens to share Stark's technophilia.
Yes, that sounds like a potentially cloying turn of plot, but, if you've seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you know Shane Black is the last guy to get all gooey-sentimental on you. The relationship between man and boy is gratifyingly acerbic.
The same can be said for the continuing love story between Stark and former assistant-turned-Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), which goes in a new direction after Pepper finds herself intrigued by the same Aldrich Killian. The bespectacled dweeb is now a studly magnate tied in with former Stark conquest Maya on a research project ominously dubbed "Extremis."
Comic geeks may appreciate the nod to the comic book's Extremis storyline, but they may be dismayed that Stark has not all that much screen time in full Iron Man guise, roughly equivalent to how much time Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne spent in the Batman costume in The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, the movie relinquishes the Iron Man costume to other characters, including Stark's pal Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle), the President of the United States (William Sadler), and even Pepper Potts.
Attribute this tendency to the screenwriter's penchant for defying the cliché. But Black makes the most of outsized action, including a rescue scene involving an assortment of passengers plunging from Air Force One, and an explosive climax on a mammoth oil refinery.
It's a big, grand comic-book movie. Apparently, the folks at Marvel decided this would be more of a sequel to Joss Whedon's witty, wild The Avengers, which it emulates, as opposed to the comparatively forgettable Iron Man 2.
Movie geeks will flock to the theatres accordingly.
So will the comic geeks. They just won't emerge as happily.