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Whatever they are pay­ing Robert Downey Jr. to play Iron Man, it is is worth every penny. Iron Man 3, the third instal­ment in his own branch of the Marvel Universe series that also fea­tures Captain America, The Mighty Thor and The Hulk is hurt­ling towards a bil­lion dol­lars of box office rev­en­ues and might just have broken even on the $200m pro­duc­tion costs by the time you read this.

Iron man 3 posterI’m not sure that there is a bet­ter tech­ni­cian in com­mer­cial cinema than Downey. Even when he is poorly – or not even – dir­ec­ted in films like the last Sherlock Holmes or the last Iron Man, he is nev­er less than watch­able, but when he is chal­lenged by a dir­ect­or and the mater­i­al he is up there with the best ever. The name Cary Grant just popped in to my head and I think the com­par­is­on is reasonable.

This block­buster just hap­pens to be co-written and dir­ec­ted by Shane Black, a lost Hollywood legend in his own right, whose Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005 restar­ted Mr. Downey Jr.’s career while not doing much for his own. Black wrote the first Lethal Weapon film in 1987, The Last Boy Scout for Bruce Willis in 1991, Last Action Hero for Arnold in 1993 and then all but dis­ap­peared. He’s lost none of his action movie chops though, as IM3 trucks along with enough explo­sions and wise­cracks to keep any­one happy.

[pullquote]Iron Man 3 is ter­rif­ic enter­tain­ment – the best value for money you’ll find at the mul­ti­plex so far this year[/pullquote]Billionaire Tony Stark is suf­fer­ing from PASD – Post Avengers Stress Disorder. He can’t sleep, he has anxi­ety attacks and he’s find­ing it hard to show the beau­ti­ful Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) how much he loves her. To make things worse, the glow­ing blue nuc­le­ar powered shrapnel that keeps his heart beat­ing is slowly pois­on­ing him and an obscure Middle Eastern ter­ror­ist tyr­ant known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) keeps blow­ing shit up.

It’s only with the help of a cute kid sidekick (Ty Simpkins), the military-badged Iron Man known as “War Machine” (Don Cheadle) and Ms. Potts her­self, that Stark can over­come this mani­ac threat to demo­cracy and recov­er his own peace of mind. Stark is still an ass, of course, but he’s a vul­ner­able ass. That’s Downey Jr.’s geni­us, of course – to hint at the depths of Stark’s sor­row, the little boy try­ing to live up to his Dad’s leg­acy, cov­er­ing it all up with quips and gags.

Iron Man 3 is ter­rif­ic enter­tain­ment – the best value for money you’ll find at the mul­ti­plex so far this year and the rest of this year’s com­ic book capers have a lot to live up to. One word about the great Ben Kingsley: if RDJ him­self could get an Academy Award nom­in­a­tion for Tropic Thunder, Sir Ben should be on next year’s list for IM3. You heard it here first.

First Position posterBallet doc­u­ment­ary First Position (Bess Kargman) fol­lows sev­er­al young con­tenders for the pres­ti­gi­ous Youth America Grand Prix, for the win­ners a tick­et to schol­ar­ships and careers. The prob­lem is the com­pet­i­tion – it’s massive. Hundreds and hun­dreds of kids from 11 to 19 years of age, from all over the world, going through audi­tions, heats and semi-finals before get­ting to strut their stuff in front dozens of judges at one big event in New York City.

As a study in the ded­ic­a­tion and dis­ap­point­ment deman­ded by a life in dance, the film is first rate. The sec­tion on injur­ies alone is as hor­rif­ic as any of the Saw movies. Parents temp­ted to intro­duce their babies to bal­let might think again after watch­ing First Position. My beef isn’t with the life, the char­ac­ters or the mes­sage – it’s with the struc­ture of the film itself.

Taking on the will they/won’t they, cliff­hanger form that the great Spellbound used to such effect back in 2002 (where a bunch of kids vied for the title of America’s Spelling Bee cham­pi­on), this film sets these great and worthy char­ac­ters against each oth­er. They all deserve suc­cess and hap­pi­ness but the com­pet­i­tion ensures that some will fail and I’m not sure that it’s all that sat­is­fy­ing to watch someone you’re root­ing for miss out. And you’re root­ing for them all.

Identity Thief posterFinally – for the sake of com­plete­ness – Seth Green’s Identity Thief which I have obvi­ously been attempt­ing to erase from my memory since I saw it a couple of weeks ago. In a ver­sion of Denver pho­to­graphed entirely by the second unit, fam­ily man and hon­est banker Jason Bateman dis­cov­ers that his care­fully nur­tured per­fect cred­it rat­ing and unblem­ished crim­in­al record has been stolen by conscience-free miscre­ant who now has access to all his cred­it cards – debased by data­based, if you will.

The per­pet­rat­or is played by Melissa McCarthy who stole so much of Bridesmaids in 2011 that she was nom­in­ated for an Oscar. She’s a gif­ted per­former and an obvi­ously tal­en­ted impro­vis­or – as I’m sure Mr. Bateman would be if he wasn’t simply coast­ing along on the strength of his good nature – but the mater­i­al is so mean-spirited and the tar­gets are so cheap that this isn’t a decent show­case for anyone’s tal­ent. Not as empty a ves­sel as the Streisand/Rogen vehicle The Guilt Trip which – in my trau­mat­ised state – I dis­cov­er I also for­got to review.