Movie fans who like the Iron Man franchise for its levity may not be happy with Iron Man 3. Virtually every shot selected for the new full-length trailer, the threequel’s first, seems aimed at selling the newest entry as the moment when the series goes all Dark Knight Rises. Under the end title, the hero’s life-giving arc reactor goes black.
But does anyone seriously believe that this will be the end of Iron Man? After all, Marvel’s already lined up Avengers 2. And sure enough, in the last few seconds of the trailer, the arc reactor comes back on, squandering any suspense built up by the rest of the trailer.
There are, however, still a few sparks of hope for the latest Iron Man film. Perhaps the most promising development is the selection of Shane Black to steer the helm as writer-director. Black, who directed the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also starring Robert Downey Jr.) and wrote reliably zippy dialogue for ’80s and ’90s action flicks like Lethal Weapon, seems like just the man to craft the character of a macho smartass like Tony Stark—after, of course, Robert Downey Jr., who has been the single biggest source of wit for the mostly unadventurous Marvel blockbusters.
And then there are the villains. The always interesting Guy Pearce—lately seen in other popcorn-friendly pictures, like Prometheus and Lockout—will play Aldrich Killian, a scientist who (in the comics, at least) is known for his serum that creates super soldiers. For the arch villain, Ben Kingsley wears the topknot as Mandarin, whom IGN declared the 81st greatest comic book villain of all time. Anybody who’s seen Sexy Beast (or, for that matter, Slate favorite Sneakers) knows that Kingsley can play an unforgettable villain, but we don’t see much of him here. If you’re wondering why the studio has cast an Anglo-Indian actor to play a character called “the Mandarin,” well, the “racist caricature” from the original Marvel comic has been re-imagined for the film. “It’s less about his specific ethnicity than the symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end,” according to Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios. Will Black and company manage to convey that vision of the character? They better hope so: Iron Man 3 is a co-production of the U.S. and China. It hits theaters this spring.