I don’t know about Sophomore Jinxes, but the third film in a trilogy is almost always a tricky one. The thrill of discovery is gone after the first one, the assured handling and dramatic heft is covered by the second one, so what remains? Emotional baggage, mostly. (And killer mutant teddy bears sometimes, but that’s a bit of an outlier.)
Iron Man 3 traverses some of the same territory. The events of The Avengers where Tony Stark had to face Gods and supernatural entities have left him with, well, something like PTSD. If you’re a superhero, the last thing you want is a tendency to get anxiety attacks when someone mentions New York. Friends and loved ones — few though they may be — try to help, but in the end, you have to carry your armour and whatever else comes with it.
Tony has other kinds of baggage as well. His pre-Iron Man persona didn’t endear him to too many people (not that the current version is Mister Congeniality either), and some of those chickens have now come home to roost. And these birds are more than just angry — they’re seriously deranged, with the firepower to match.
So yeah, he has his hands full with demons both within and without. As good as the action is (and the 3D experience isn’t half-bad either), there’s only so far you can go with this material at this point in the franchise’s history. What makes it work as a serviceable summer entertainer is the strength of two performances.
The first is not surprising: Robert Downey Jr. has always had a nice line in sass, but his ability to switch gears in the more dramatic moments is especially noteworthy. The sass is the more important characteristic, though: here it’s more than just a lovable character trait, it’s practically a survival skill. And since the Iron Man franchise has always been about him, the film relies on him to carry us through the portions where the action gets a bit tiresome.
The second is a man whose acting skills have never been in doubt, even if his choice of roles has been considerably dubious at times. But suffice it to say that Ben Kingsley steals the film from right under everyone’s nose. Forget wisecracking armour-clad superheroes, AI-systems that give as good as they get, fiery supervillains and gorgeous women — the real reason to watch this film is an aging British character actor who gets ten minutes of screen time, five of which are worth the price of admission. If that isn’t a superpower, I don’t know what is.