Iron Man 3 (2013) / Action-Sci Fi
aka Iron Man Three
MPAA rated: PG-13 for violence, suggestive content and language
Running time: 130 min.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, James Badge Dale, Ty Simpkins, William Sadler, Stephanie Stoszak, Paul Bettany (voice), Miguel Ferrer
Cameo: Bill Maher, Joan Rivers, Stan Lee, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Shane Black
Screenplay: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Review published May 5, 2013
Tony Stark returns in this post-The Avengers outing, this time with Jon Favreau stepping down as director, with Shane Black, who directed Downey to great critical success in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, stepping in to take control, and co-write the screenplay as well. The pacing isn't quite as well done from a story perspective as the first Iron Man film, but Black is definitely in tune with the snarky repartee of the series, and knows that putting Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes, The Soloist) front and center as much as possible is always the best way to go.
In this entry, Tony Stark (Downey) is experiencing anxiety attacks after his struggle with the manner in which he contributed saving New York, as chronicled in The Avengers. It affects his work (Tony builds many different Iron Man armored suits, and is tinkering with his ability to control them remotely, keeping himself out of harm's way), as well as his romantic relationship with his lover and partner in crime(-fighting), Pepper Potts (Paltrow, Running with Scissors). However, he can't brood for long, as a madman terrorist known as The Mandarin (Kingsley, The Dictator) emerges on the scene in a big way, taking over the public media to showcase his mighty power to destroy whatever he wants, seemingly without any resistance, rattling an already shaken American populace, including President Ellis (Sadler, Man on a Ledge), to its core. Even Tony's friend, now Pepper's security guard, Happy Hogan (Favreau, Identity Thief) gets affected, causing Stark to throw down the gauntlet and threaten to kill The Mandarin once and for all. Along with Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Cheadle, Flight) as America's government weapon for fire, it's up to Stark and his damaged Iron Man suit to figure out a way to take down his most formidable for yet.
Meanwhile, seeds are sown from a fateful night in Switzerland at the turn of the millennium that has a humiliated poindexter named Aldrich Killian (Pearce, Prometheus) become a self-made giant in the tech industry, rivaling his idol, Tony Stark, not only in the business arena with the corporation known as Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), but perhaps even catching the eye of his beloved Pepper. He gets a bit of a makeover in the current day, as his dabbling with an experimental process for regenerative limbs called 'Extremis', that does more than just change a person injected with it physically. His grudge against Stark seems to be his main motivation, though his newfound power has thoroughly corrupted him through and through.
While Iron Man 2 had been entertaining enough for the character's fans, it had also been seen as a bit of a letdown, mostly because of too many character introductions that had been there solely for the purpose of setting up the Avengers crossover film. Although there will undoubtedly be an Avengers 2, Shane Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce (Pacific Rim) benefit from being the first post-Avengers Marvel film (not counting the unrelated The Amazing Spider-Man) to come out into theaters (known as "Phase 2" for the Avengers-related series), and without the burden of setting up for future films, Iron Man 3 is a slight bounce back from the second entry toward giving even the non-fanboys more of what they want and expect to see. Nevertheless, Iron Man 3, even without the baggage of an origin of the first film or the sequel-setup of its second is the longest film of the series, and, with its share of lengthy lulls and action overkill, it definitely doesn't need to be.
However, Black's film does suffer in ways that still keeps his film from being as exciting as our introduction into the character, and that's due to its double-edged sword of the inherent comedy infused in nearly every scene. On the one hand, without the quotable ad-libs and silliest of lines, the film would have been quite a bore for nearly everyone but die-hard action fans. On the other, there is an erosion involved toward just how pulse-pounding and harrowing the action scenes play out, as the constant elevation into snark and banter keeps reminding us that we're watching a purely popcorn film, where we're not meant to be taking its characters or any of their situations as particularly serious. That also would not be a negative if we weren't bored by the very lengthy and prolonged explosive action sequences, where much death and destruction is on display. If we can't take these scenes seriously, there's no suspense or feeling of fear of tragedy, and we end up merely waiting for the next one-liner or witty aside to give us a chuckle between the twisted metal carnage.
And yet, it's nice that Black is able to utilize his skills as a writer and director to provide commentary from within the story that toys with the conventions of the superhero genre, while also embracing them. Like Joss Whedon before him, Black comes into a mega-budgeted film with only one directorial effort under his belt, but with a cult reputation as a screenwriter of big, action-and-humor-oriented Hollywood hits.
Hardcore fanboys of the "Iron Man" comic book may find this film, in particularly the changes made to his longtime arch-nemesis, The Mandarin, to be a bit disappointing, though more open-minded fans will like the risky moves taken with the character that turns the film on its head a number of times. There are some strange story choices as well, not the least of which includes the introduction of a kid named Harley, who becomes a sort of semi-sidekick and would-be surrogate son figure for Tony that develops seemingly by happenstance. That this part plays for some of the better laughs of the film is perhaps the only reason to tolerate it.
The acting in the film is uniformly good, and while the characterizations are widely different, all of the actors appear to be on the same page in terms of how loose to play the dialogue for its moments of comedy. I suppose it is a great credit to the actors and the screenwriting that the Iron Man films are at their best when the visage of the Iron Man is not even on the screen. Ben Kingsley gets to shine in a colorful role that may go down as the most memorable in the franchise, other than the character-defining one as Tony Stark. Guy Pearce plays an unconvincing nerd at the beginning of the film, but exudes 'arrogant asshole' (as he should) for his role later in the film as the heavy, though I do think Black takes much of his slick look and cocksure personality from Val Kilmer's 'Gay' Perry character as he appeared in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Iron Man 3 is a superhero film with impressive strengths and glaring weaknesses, though should be entertaining enough to please the faithful. Black's risk-taking with the story is admirable, but like most ambitious endeavors, some you win and some you lose; its hit-and-miss ratio comes out about even. The rather loose plot (cobbled together from a few popular story arcs, especially Warren Ellis's "Extremis", derived in the "Iron Man" comic), which has a few nifty twists and turns, is quite hazy, and may prove futile to follow for many viewers. Luckily, the witty barbs come often, and while the main story is only marginally interesting at best, it's the little moments that soon begin to add up to a worthwhile enough experience for a modestly entertaining summer popcorn flick.
As with the other films in the Avengers-verse, a small scene plays at the end of the film, though it is played more for cuteness than as a teaser for a future Marvel release and is not necessary to wait for save for the insatiably curious and Iron Man/Avengers devotees.
©2013 Vince Leo