Iron Man Three (12A, 130mins)

Director: Shane Black


Iron Man Three finds itself in a unique position in the annals of comic book movies. In following on directly from the most successful superhero movie of all time, Avengers Assemble, this first of the so-called Phase Two of Marvel adaptations has a lot to live up to.

But by also following up a lacklustre and poorly received second part in the Iron Man story, there's certainly room for improvement. And improve it undoubtedly does. It's a superhero movie as concerned with the man as the Iron Man, and that's where it finds its angle, its freshness, its reason to exist.

That's because Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is struggling in the aftermath of what the Avengers went through, unable to sleep and prone to panic attacks. He's obsessed with working on new upgrades to his Iron Man technology, to the detriment of his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and to the extent that he can't separate himself from his suits.

Boldly, there's almost no action at all during this long opening period of setup. It's the investible characters and their wisecracking that keep it going here, because it can occasionally be a slog, especially when Pepper and Stark are separated for a lengthy spell.

The arrival of new terrorist super-villain, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), triggers this. He's on a crazed mission to target the US president, destroying Stark's home in the process and leaving him for dead. There's also Guy Pearce's dodgy businessman to contend with and the matter of bombs made from a powerful heat source that are being used in the Mandarin's attacks.

Thankfully there's Downey's impeccable performance to guide us through the slower passages, and he's the major contributing factor in what makes these films tick. Stark's sharp, expertly delivered lines and no-nonsense dealings with everyone he encounters are enormous fun, but Downey can also find depth and darkness when required. And Kingsley is a revelation, with a turn that's a million miles away from what on the surface looked like a re-run of his villain from the daft Thunderbirds film.

But this is also a movie capable of being sober, able to take a step back and smart enough to be more than men in suits hitting each other. Tapping into a seam of self-reference that never becomes smug, it touches on how people react to superheroes and celebrities, while the Avengers are referenced frequently but not beholden to.

And there should be no cause for concern that it fails to deliver on its promise as a fantasy blockbuster, because the second half is a triumph, providing surprises and sensational set pieces on top of the existing fun and games, and relying on the skills and ingenuity of Stark rather than just whatever powers the Iron Man suits have.

New-to-the-series director Shane Black, who must be due a good percentage of the credit for the resurrection of Downey's career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, integrates himself smoothly, handling explosive action and characters stuff with equal ease.

Once it gets up to speed, Iron Man Three is as good as anything the series has yet offered and this is a fine finale to a trilogy. Make it through the protracted setup and it delivers just the payoff required.

Bernie (12A, 99 mins)

Director: Richard Linklater


Jack Black may have found his perfect role in this delightful and offbeat comedy drama based on true events, in which he gets to sing and dance as well act, playing small town mortician Bernie, who is accused of murdering Shirley MacLaine's spiteful widow with whom he has struck up a friendship. As a pillar of his small Texas community, Bernie is recalled through the people who knew him, and these talking heads seem wonderfully observed and acted until you realise they're the actual townsfolk who knew the real Bernie. He's charming and slightly creepy and well matched by a feisty MacLaine, while Matthew McConaughey rounds out a lovely package. Bernie is deft and light and full of warm humour and eccentric characters and blessed with a well-judged mock-doc structure, and is a real treat from indie darling Richard Linklater.


The ABCs of Death (18, 124 mins)

Directors: Various


In a novel approach to the compendium movie, 26 directors were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and asked to make a short film. The subject matter of each is death, so though this isn't quite the horror-fest it's advertised as, there's more than enough blood, splatter and nastiness to satisfy gore-hounds. Many of the shorts are foreign, most are forgettable, a couple are fun (especially the animated ones) and several are just terrible. Some are cheap looking, a handful are incredibly stylish, but so very few get under the skin, and you'd expect a higher hit rate given the sheer number of films. And since the relevant letter is only shown to us at the end of each short, there's sometimes more fun to be had trying to guess the title than the film itself provides.

The Look of Love (18, 101 mins)

Director: Michael Winterbottom


All the usual problems of biopics are faced in this account of the life and times of Soho porn baron Paul Raymond, as portrayed by Steve Coogan who finds it hard to break out into an actual performance instead of a character he might have played in a comedy sketch. It's strictly by the numbers stuff as we're taken through his start as a circus owner in the 1950s, and the building of his empire across the following decades. In his personal life there's some shallow goings-on involving his wife (Anna Friel) and his affairs before we move on to drugs and scandal. It's only kept grounded and watchable through Raymond's love for his daughter, with her death revealed early and their relationship covered in flashback, but even this leads to nothing but an obvious and trite conclusion.