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Iron Man 3

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

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8 comments on “Iron Man 3

  1. Ouch! Glad I didn’t get see this in the cinema. Might check it out on blu-ray out of curiosity but not in any hurry after reading this.

    Meanwhile what do you think of the new tv show agents of SHIELD?

    • I’m lucky I get to the theatre, Simon, never mind trying to squeeze in weekly T.V. series, too! One of my oft-spoken phrases is “if I watched television series(on top of seeing all the films and plays I attend)I’d never leave dark rooms my entire life”. I’ve got to get some sun sometimes! Seriously, there are a lot of shows I would like to watch—but time is a factor. As for “Iron Man 3”, I’m glad that I waited for DVD. ML

  2. Being a former Marvel Comics nerd myself I can testify that the action sequences in the comic books carried more resonance because you cared about the characters. The first Iron Man film was heavy on character and built up to action. And having RDJ as your Iron Man should make the character, and thus the action, more appealing. When the first Iron Man film came out the hype was “RDJ is PERFECT” and the trailer showed him being the coolest dude in the world riding around in that Hum-vee. Man, you wanted to just be NEAR the screen it was so appealing. The action stuff was a bonus. But Hollywood thinks the action is the meat and not the bonus. And that’s why we get crap like this (which I haven’t seen, to be fair).

    • Love the observations, Brian! And I think you are dead-on target. Of course, when I say “I’m told they did that in the comic books, too”, you were my reference point. Downey is excellent, but I was especially struck by his lack of “real” emotion during a penultimate action sequence. Then I realized, CGI is killing his performance. Contrast with Christopher Reeve’s perf as Superman, right before he rotates the Earth backwards in the 1978 film. It was incredibly emotional. Of course, they did just about everything with wires and rear-projection back then—not the case any longer. Anyway, so pleased to have your astute input! ML

  3. I really enjoyed this film, but at the same time I was fully aware of its problems. The plot was overly convoluted and yet kinda dumb at the same time, and Guy Pearce was wasted on a flat, uninspired villain role (Kingsley at least got some value out of his character). And the action sequences were fine, but nothing to write home about.

    So why did I enjoy it? Essentially because I still find RDJ’s Tony Stark charismatic, funny and yet complicated. I liked that they fleshed out his character (even if some of the plot contrivances to pull this off didn’t make too much sense in retrospect) with some real pain but mostly I just enjoyed the guy getting to chew on the scenery and deliver a lot of charming banter. It was one of those popcorn flicks that I found a good movie but bad cinema, if that makes sense (and it was a distinct improvement on the bloated and unfun first Iron Man sequel).

  4. It is dumb, as well as convoluted, but yes, RDJ is as charismatic as ever—and I was certain to give him his props. Good movie, bad cinema? I kind of like that, and maybe that applies here. The action was the main problem for me…it was soulless. And there’s a key scene in the finale(that I’ve worked hard not to give away)where Downey’s reaction just seems all wrong. But I agree with you, Dave, that it is an improvement on “Iron Man 2”. Plus, I’m truly bummed when these things don’t work for me. I greatly appreciate you sharing your thoughts on it, and I’m pleased that it worked for you. ML

  5. Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of both the Iron Man franchise and RDJ as well and therefore my views are extremely biased in favor of both

    I personally thought this movie was good simply because it made the all important transition towards Tony Stark becoming more human than machine. While the Avengers climax sequence changed him a bit, this movie and the subsequent fact that he had to go back to building things, the realization that at the heart of it all, he was a ‘mechanic’ as he puts it, that was what made this movie great for me.

    Yes, the villain in Guy Pearce was drab, but the whole villainy was made delicious by The Mandarin who ended up as a funny farce at the end. But then this movie was not about the action sequences or Iron Man, was it, it was about Tony Stark. And that was why I liked the movie so much.

    • Appreciate your fervent defense, but I wish you saved it for a better movie. I appreciate what they were aiming for with Downey, but I didn’t feel that Shane Black pulled it off. The emotions seemed muted here, and most of the action is as incoherent as in part 2. Thanks for checking in, though! ML

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