Three years ago, staggering under the ponderous excesses of Iron Man 2, I wondered:
What would happen to the Iron Man franchise if you took out all the "iron"—the slit-eyed helmet and headlamp breastplate, ruby-red gauntlets and metal mukluks, repulsor rays and boot-jets—and left just the man, billionaire daredevil Tony Stark, armed with nothing more than his wicked goatee, dagger-sharp irony, and impenetrable aura of self-love?
Thanks to Shane Black, we now have a (mostly gratifying) answer to the question. Once a preeminent enabler of Hollywood's addiction to excess—he was the screenwriter for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight—Black subsequently took a decade off before offering amends as the writer/director of 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a wicked, ironic homage to the hard-boiled noir. That film, not coincidentally, was also a key step in the comeback of one Robert Downey Jr., who had recently taken his own hiatus from cinema at the request of law enforcement.
Now the two have reunited for Iron Man 3, which shares many of the strengths—and a few of the weaknesses—of their previous collaboration. Chief among these is the obvious chemistry between the two: Black excels at writing witty, self-referential, pop-infused banter, and there is no actor working today who is better suited to delivering it than Downey. Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, their new movie opens with a voiceover by Downey (this time as Tony Stark) in which he again displays his extraordinary gift for carrying on conversations with himself. "A famous man once said we create our own demons," he begins. "Who said that? It doesn't matter. Now two famous guys have said it." He pauses. "I'm gonna start again."