‘Iron Man 3′ Flies High in First Reviews

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3

The reviews are starting to zoom in, and it looks like "Iron Man 3" is going to be a hit -- with critics, at least. And they all seem to be noting one thing: The film is funny, in spite of all that dark seriousness that's been in the film's trailers.

Of course, barring disaster, everyone knows that Robert Downey Jr.'s latest turn as Tony Stark will dominate the box office when it opens in the U.S. on May 3. But the picture debuts today in several European and Asian markets, opens in the UK tomorrow, and has been screened for the international entertainment press.

As the first reviews hit the streets the word is good – critics are praising the film as exciting, clever and funny, and calling it an improvement over "Iron Man 2."

[TONIGHT: Watch the live 'Iron Man 3' premiere starting at 8:30 ET/5:30 PT]

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"Iron Man returns refreshed and ready for action in this spirited third installment of the thus-far $1.2 billion-grossing Marvel franchise," Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter declared. "In a way a double-sequel, both to 'Iron Man 2' and to last year's mega-hit 'The Avengers,' 'Iron Man 3' benefits immeasurably from the irreverent quicksilver humor of co-writer and director Shane Black, whose obvious rapport with Robert Downey Jr. in his only other directorial outing, 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' is further manifest here," McCarthy wrote.

The THR critic also had high praise for leading man Downey ("The star executes almost continual verbal pirouettes, barking out sardonic quips and rejoinders even in moments of greatest distress but, due to his exceptional lingual dexterity, it rarely gets old and never seems condescending to the admittedly cartoonish context") and the film's two villains, Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian ("Pearce brings an arresting presence to his role as an egghead villain") and Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin ("a fabulously accoutered and adorned Kingsley has a field day as the elusive Mandarin").

Peter Bradshaw, critic for the British news site The Guardian, also gave IM3 high marks, giving it four out of five stars. Bradshaw praised the cast, called the film "luxury superhero entertainment," and described director Black as "the Aaron Sorkin of action comedy." "'Iron Man 3' is smart, funny and spectacular," Bradshaw wrote. "Stark now probably succeeds Chaplin as Downey's key creation as an actor, loosing off funny lines with virtuoso skill, throwing away gags and delaying punchlines: Alec Baldwin does something similar, but in a more reflective style. This may not be to everyone's taste and some odd repeated jokes about Christmas indicate that a different release date may have been planned. But it is quality Friday night entertainment: the innocent pleasure of the week."

Another leading British critic, Robbie Collin of The Telegraph, also gave "Iron Man 3" four out of five stars, and he credits director Black (who wrote the first "Lethal Weapon") and the cast with the film's success. "Black has an instinctive feel for balancing action set-pieces against the passages of soap-opera that are required to make them matter," Collin wrote. "He also avoids the preeningly self-satisfied insider gags that made 'Iron Man 2' such a slog: instead, there are jokes about 'Downton Abbey' and Croydon, and we can all laugh at those. The supporting cast get it, too. Don Cheadle, as Col. James Rhodes, the pilot of Iron Man’s official US military counterpart War Machine, channels the 'Lethal Weapon' spirit, happily playing Murtaugh to Downey’s Riggs; while Gwyneth Paltrow, as Tony’s sweetheart Pepper Potts, may not have been this straightforwardly likeable in a decade."

Probably the least enthusiastic major review for far came from Tom Huddleston, a writer for Time Out London. Huddleston was put off by "[T]he tedious, talky first act, the script’s uneasy attempts at psychological realism, Gwyneth Paltrow’s increasingly shrill and redundant Pepper Potts and Robert Downey Jr.’s disastrously smarmy, David Gest-like facial furniture." But he goes to praise the movie's "punchy one-liners courtesy of 'Lethal Weapon' scribe Shane Black" and "Ben Kingsley as one of comic book cinema’s most astonishing and unlikely supervillains."

Huddleston sums up the movie by writing, "Calling 'Iron Man 3' a mixed bag doesn’t really do justice to the heady peaks and interminable troughs in this scrappy but overwhelmingly likeable superhero sequel." Huddleston's review was no rave, but he also found too much to like in "Iron Man 3" to call it a pan.

So far, Rotten Tomatoes have given the movie a 91 percent rating based on twenty-three reviews from critics and bloggers; Metacritic, which only follows professional critics, gives it a 74, citing four positive reviews and one mixed write-up (Huddleston's). Both are strong passing grades, and even the weakest reviews so far are calling "Iron Man 3" good entertainment.

That's good news for fans and even better news for Marvel Studios and Disney, who look to have a still-profitable franchise on their hands.

Check out the live red carpet premiere of "Iron Man 3" streaming direct from Hollywood on tonight at 8:30 p.m ET/5:30 p.m. PT right here on Yahoo! Movies: movies.yahoo.com/iron-man-3-live/