Marvel's latest release has already surpassed $300 million overseas and hits domestic theaters on Friday
"Iron Man 3," Robert Downey Jr.'s fourth outing as "Avengers" frontman Tony Stark, appears to be a solid and entertaining, even if slightly flawed, Marvel movie in the eyes of the country's top critics.
Out of 130 reviews counted by Rotten Tomatoes, the big-budget blockbuster has received mostly "fresh" critiques, scoring an 81 percent on the critic aggregator's "Tomatometer."
The Shane Black-directed installment of the popular "Iron Man" franchise once again pairs Stark with his sidekicks Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who help the genius billionaire-turned-superhero square off against his toughest enemy yet — a global terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who is in cahoots with a scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), developing a super-soldier formula.
And according to the critics praising Hollywood's newest comic book adaptation, Kingsley, along with new co-writer and director Black, are welcomed additions.
"As the Osama bin Laden-esque villain the Mandarin, Ben Kingsley steals the movie," Chicago Sun-Times critic Matt Zoller Seitz wrote. "And I wish I could say precisely how without spoiling a wonderful surprise."
Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman agrees with the Bin Laden comparison and notes Kingsley "bites into the role with lurid gusto." The critic's major compliments, however, go to Black — the "Lethal Weapon" screenwriter taking his first stab at directing a movie of such a spectacularly large scale.
"His work here isn't just skillful — it's fast and furious," Gleiberman wrote. "He wires each scene for maximum intensity, and the result is that rarity, a superhero thrill ride with something at stake."
TheWrap critic Alonso Duralde also gives Black props for his work, too, but also recognizes the "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director's weaknesses.
"All of Black's best features get ample showing in 'Iron Man 3,'" Duralde wrote. "If you're the sort of viewer for whom Black's strengths more than make up for his weaknesses, the best bits of 'Iron Man 3' will make the lesser stuff worth forgiving — or at least worth enduring."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis, one of the critics who felt particularly rotten after a screening, was not in a forgiving mood when writing her review.
"The only significant difference between 'Iron Man 3' and others of its type is that it is opening a few weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings," Dargis opined. "It's an unhappy coincidence that might not be worth mentioning if 'Iron Man 3' didn't underscore just how thoroughly Sept. 11 and its aftermath have been colonized by the movies."
The over-the-top violence, inspired by real-life terror that has been haunting the country throughout most of the new millennium, isn't Dargis' only beef with the movie, either. In her mind, Downey phones in his performance to some extent.
"The 'Iron Man' films turned Mr. Downey into a huge star, but the role has gradually, maybe inexorably, swallowed him," she wrote. "He no longer necessarily does — and probably isn't asked to do — the hard work of a real performance."
USA Today critic Claudia Puig, on the other hand, praised both the star and his action-packed vehicle.
"Amid the Christmas holidays, Tony, aka Iron Man, is suffering from anxiety attacks and chronic insomnia," Puig wrote. "But, like another famous Tony – Soprano – the angst doesn't fully dent his swagger. He may be emotionally damaged, but it doesn't get in the way of his motivation and wry humor, nor the overall entertainment of the action-packed 'Iron Man 3.'"