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Ten Word or Less Review  – Better than 2.  Still iron deficient.

In the grand scheme of things the only thing Iron Man 3 had to accomplish to be considered a rousing success, besides making assloads of cash, was to be better than the woeful Iron Man 2.  The flagship franchise of the whole Marvel universe saw it’s second outing deliver such a creative thud that one was left to wonder if the whole Iron Man thing was going to be a misbegotten fluke.  A one night stand of a movie that you foolishly try to date because you thought the first time was special, but you’ve sobered up and are seeing things clearly now.  Iron Man 3 does succeed at being better than 2.  It isn’t nearly as flippant and slapdash in execution as the previous mess.  There’s an easy to notice improvement in things but be that as it may Iron Man as a series still isn’t shaping up to be long term relationship material.  At its best, Iron Man 3 is a fancy looking, high-priced comic book movie entry that you like passively, but once you’ve parted ways you’ve forgotten why you went out of your way to hang out after that first hook up.

In Stark’s second adventure I had to compare the iron suited hero to some sort of big budget Bugs Bunny dueling with silly adversaries he could thwart by delivering a box full of dynamite while wearing a postman’s costume that they would then foolishly open to only have blow up in their face.  Iron Man 3 mercifully begins with Tony in a more stressful mindset than when we last saw him.  After the events of The Avengers, Stark finds himself suffering from an extreme case of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He’s unable to sleep, spending his days and nights in the world’s fanciest mancave making different Iron Man suits to file away, and generally freaking out at inopportune times.  Out in the world at large a villain known only as The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingley) wrecks havoc through terrorist attacks.  A strange, menacing evil doer of unknown origin and weird accent, he lays waste to people in ways which confound the world.  Places and the people in them just blow up without warning and he’s threatening America and its leaders directly with his sinister weapons.  After one of the Mandarin’s attacks leaves Stark’s plucky bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in a coma, Tony throws down the gauntlet, calling out Mandarin and challenging him to a proverbial after school fight in the gym.  Mandarin obliges by subsequently destroying the Stark mansion with him in it and the billionaire superhero with scores of resources finds himself out in the cold, literally, with a powerless suit and no place to turn.

I’ll give Iron Man 3 credit for being a little more taxing on its protagonist than last time.  New writer and director to the series Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) makes a conscious decision to take certain tropes of this series and turn them around just a little.  Pepper Potts in the suit?!?  A kid sidekick?  He may shake things up a little but it’s quite clear though that Marvel wasn’t going to let him tear down all the walls of this series.  While it’s nice to see Stark actually struggle some, the PTSD angle doesn’t do much as a character arc.  Why would the events of The Avengers leave Stark anymore stressed out than his other conflicts and battles with the likes of Jeff Bridges Iron Monger or Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash?  I would assume having Mickey Rourke trying to kill you with electro-whips to be an inherently terrifying experience.  Guess not.  The PTSD is a curious and thin conceit to hang a debilitating character conflict on.  This is what happens when you’ve been bending over backwards to make your hero unflappable and all but indestructible.  Black also works hard, too hard actually, to keep Stark out of his signature suit.  There’s plenty of Iron Man action loitering around by the end but Black is working more on plot and character than some may expect and more than what the movie really needs.  He pulls off some nice moments here and there, a small town sequence that pairs Tony up with a fatherless kid works better than anyone could have hoped, but he still can’t shake the marginal, dramatic void that has defined the entire Marvel movie universe to date.  And even though Black and his writers make Stark squirm a bit, by the time the credits role everything is pretty much back in place for the guy.  If anything these Iron films are starting to take on a Connery/Moore Bond quality.  Every few years Marvel is going to trot out the character, run him through some shenanigans that make people want to overpay for popcorn, then roll the credits and say ‘Tony Stark will return in….”  Shall we start taking bets on who the next actor in the suit will be?

Iron Man 3 has a very credible supporting casts up it’s iron sleeve but it’s using most of them sparingly.   Downey and Paltrow still have a good give and take which was sorely missing last time and makes the movie tick in general.  Someone needs to pair the two in a romance that doesn’t involve flying suits of armor.  Paltrow isn’t sidelined so dramatically and the movie is better for it, but she’s still playing a lot of damsel in distress moments.  Don Cheadle is once again Rhodes/War Machine, and once again he’s wasting his time playing a very second banana.  I hope Cheadle isn’t holding his breathe for a War Machine movie.  Not happening Don.  Guy Pearce is the heavy whose dastardly plan is pretty obvious and not as mysterious as the movie would like to think it is.  Then there’s Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin.  His is the oddest role of all and what Iron Man 3 does with the comics one semi-iconic bad guy will leave many in the audience as tickled and amused as it will leave more dogmatic comic readers fuming and furious.  The subversive twist though comes at a price.  The movie’s Smokey and the Bandit 2 inspired ending feels like the same Marvel routine, big fight scene, we’ve seen too many times already.  You’d think watching 42 Iron Man suits battle a bunch of fire skinned, lava people would be more inspired but Black can’t elevate the experience past flashy and functional.

After three movies and an extremely popular group effort under the belt Marvel has clearly established what Iron Man is going to be.  A light, not too stressing action series that people can drop in on, watch Downey fly around and quip, and then move on with their life without worrying much about what they just experienced.  That actually seems to be the Marvel plan for all their series at this point.  Coming to terms with that fact goes a long way towards making Iron Man 3 a passable and less frustrating experience.  I don’t know if Downey’s Stark will ever have to face a challenge he can’t quickly overcome or actually loose something he can’t replace or rebuild with a quick montage, but it’s starting to seem doubtful.  Something tells me there’s at least one more Downey/Iron Man effort out there in our future and I don’t see it involving alcoholism, the death of a loved one or even losing a tooth.  He’s just too hip and whipsmart to have a real problem like that.

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