This may turn out to be more diatribe than review, but I just can’t help myself. The biggest moneymaker of the year, at over 1.2 billion dollars? As I like to say to my friends, when these empty, summer spectacles rake in the cash, “imagine if it was actually any good”. Shane Black(screenplays for the first two “Lethal Weapon” films)takes over directorial duties from Jon Favreau for this installment, which works well enough initially. This is a brooding, PTSD Iron Man/Tony Stark, still recuperating from the events chronicled in 2012’s “The Avengers”. Robert Downey Jr.(our metal-clad hero)makes the early scenes sing, as he mixes his trademark rapier quips with periods of debilitating anxiety. But then the slam-bang starts. And except for a much-heralded action sequence involving the rescuing of people plummeting out of Air Force One—it’s mostly incoherent. Question: how in the world are we supposed to immerse ourselves in the travails of Iron Man, when this latest chapter goes so wildly out of its way to show that everybody(or nobody, for that matter)can be Iron Man? I couldn’t get past it. But apparently, based on its ginormous box office haul, I’m one of the only ones. Thank goodness the summer is over.
In between blowing things up, there is an occasionally clever, but mostly convoluted plot line. Guy Pearce plays some nerd who Stark dismisses in a flashback-to-1999 prologue, so the egg-head borrows the Riddler’s back story from 1995’s “Batman Forever” and becomes our bad guy. There’s also an obviously Bin Laden-inspired terrorist, named the Mandarin, who pops up on television every now and then, and threatens to do terrible things. Oh yeah, the Mandarin is portrayed by none other than the increasingly prolific(and lately, consistently annoying), Sir Ben Kingsley. Speaking of annoying, Gwyneth Paltrow has her screen time(and duties)ratcheted up to new heights, as Stark girlfriend Pepper Potts. Lucky us. Done Cheadle returns as Iron Man buddy, James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, a.k.a. the Iron Patriot, and the boys even get to engage in some 1980’s-style black guy/white guy repartee. Did I mention that Shane Black wrote “Lethal Weapon”? And where are “The Avengers”? They are mentioned in “Iron Man 3” so often, that you would think they’d actually pop in to lend a helping hand. Nothin’ doin’, but if you wait until the very end of the credits, one of the team does deign to make an appearance. Sorry, he’s only in his civilian clothes. And that’s about all of the “plot” I can muster to cover.
It’s a bit difficult to work up much enthusiasm here, when Shane Black continually falls back on all his old standards, and our principals can’t register any genuine emotion through their green-screen gymnastics. There’s a late film reveal of a major character, that I believe is supposed to play as funny. I wasn’t laughing, but possibly I read it wrong. It was a pleasure to see Rebecca Hall embodying a major role—I wish she had gotten some of Gwyneth’s screen time. Listen, I liked “The Avengers” very much. Some of my favorite stuff was Iron Man/Tony Stark engaging in aggressive debates with Captain America/Steve Rogers. Billionaire playboy industrialist vs. corn pone, patriotic war hero. It was nifty and inspired screenwriting, and I’m told that the characters often did that in the comic books too. I appreciate that “Iron Man 3” attempted to get a bit serious, and have Tony Stark kind of falling apart emotionally. But I wish there was just a little richer focus on that, and a bit less on destroying Stark’s gigantic, cliffside home. Again. The end result of all this nonsense doesn’t quite gel. In “The Avengers”, it did. Thor gets his chance with a second solo go-round next month. My hopes are not high. Grade: C