Film Review – Iron Man 3
It is amazing to think that in the last five years, Iron Man has gone from being just another character on the comic page to the crown jewel in Marvel’s movie stable. In large part this success has been achieved by the iconic title performance by Robert Downey Jr., but the series has also produced some of the most consistently fun comic movies to come out in the last few years. This all reached a fever pitch with last year’s release of The Avengers, so it only feels logical that the first film to try to pick up the mantle after that would be the latest adventure in the Iron Man saga, Iron Man 3.
This chapter finds Tony Stark haunted by his experience during the battle in New York at the end of The Avengers. At the same time, an unknown terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins an assault against the American government. After one of the acts of terror hits close to home, Stark steps in to take on the Mandarin directly.
Clearly the biggest question coming into the film was “now that the Avengers are out of the bag, how are they going to explain them not being there?” The answer is simple: they pretty much skip explaining it. Besides one throwaway line in the beginning, the issue is never raised. This feels like a bit of a cop out, and frankly, given the plot, makes no sense. But it isn’t the first time Marvel has taken that tactic for large plot questions; they didn’t bother to explain how Thor returns in The Avengers, despite him being trapped at the end of Thor. This isn’t the kind of problem that ruins the movie, but it feels like a question they couldn’t really answer (or perhaps there was an answer and it was cut from the final product).
Taking over at the helm is Shane Black, who has a long history in Hollywood, including major successes as the writer of Lethal Weapon and later with his only other project as director, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. His familiarity with Robert Downey Jr. from that film certainly played a role in him getting the gig on Iron Man 3, and probably helped the process of making it be that much easier. Black is definitely talented, and there is skill to be seen both in the script and final product here, but it feels like he is a bit of a victim of the studio system. The script has great moments, but it feels bloated. The CGI seems to take over by the end, and while I like the general concept behind the twist in the story, it doesn’t really feel that surprising.
The psychology of Tony Stark is what has always made him an engaging character. He is tremendously flawed, but self-aware enough to recognize his failures, and despite his ego-centric attitude, he clearly cares deeply about the welfare of others. Iron Man 3 gets deeper into this pathology, as it tackles his fear over protecting his love, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as exploring the fact that actions have consequences (much in the same way that The Place Beyond the Pines explored that idea). Without Downey Jr. to guide this character, he could easily become unlikeable, and despite the fact that he probably will never be nominated for playing Tony Stark, he consistently gives one of the best performances each year. The fact that he makes the character feel so effortless speaks to this.
I’m not entirely sure why film companies feel the need to include multiple villains within the same story. Perhaps it is viewed as making the project “bigger,” but it usually ends up making the plot more convoluted, as the characters aren’t given sufficient time to make them feel three dimensional. Even the best of the comic movies, including The Dark Knight, probably would’ve been better just by keeping it to one villain. Iron Man 3 is no exception. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley are terrific actors, but neither of them is given the proper development, and because of this, neither ends up feeling particularly menacing, and the end game the villains hope to achieve feels a little muddled.
The film is paradoxically the biggest of the series and the smallest of the series. Sure, the CGI action set pieces are massive and fun, but the best part of the movie is when it is a small “detective” thriller as Tony Stark is isolated and trying to figure out the mystery behind the Mandarin. This is in part because the film is at its funniest and showcases Downey’s acting the best. It’s also the strongest element of the plot, and doesn’t depend on the CGI that becomes a bit heavy-handed at times and feels like a crutch.
Comparing the movies in the franchise so far, I would put Iron Man 3 as the most consistent of the three. It doesn’t have the highest highs, but it also doesn’t have the lowest lows. I wish it had achieved the feeling the trailer evoked of being haunted by a truly unknown terror, but it is sure to be a crowd-pleaser nonetheless. Even with its flaws, I would still rather watch another Iron Man movie than a lot of filler Hollywood produces every year.
Final Grade: B