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Review: Iron Man 3 Is Flawed But Remarkably Entertaining

Posted on the 03 May 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Immediately after the last line of dialog in Iron Man 3 we cut to an incredibly entertaining closing credits sequence which through a combination of rapid-fire editing and comic book-style animation represents scenes from the film as well as quick shots from the prior two Iron Man films all in service of simply showcasing the names of the main actors in the movie. The style mimics that of a 70s buddy cop film or tv show, and is scored to an energetic instrumental from the film’s composer, Brian Taylor.  The name of the song?  “Can You Dig It?”

That director Shane Black chose to have a bit of a laugh and end his film with a wholly unexpected mixture of comic book and blaxsploitation-esque credits sequence with the hilariously named “Can You Dig It?” playing in the background tells you all you need to know about Iron Man 3: the main goal for all involved was to have fun.  Make no doubt about it, this is an incredibly fun and often times ridiculously hilarious movie (e.g., Tony’s dispassionate reaction to a small child’s story of being abandoned by his father is tailor made for any lover of black comedy and/or  hater of film’s typically mawkish, cute children characters).  Those who prefer their Iron Man light and breezy, heavy on the Downey Jr. face time, and not at all like the dour, Christopher Nolan-esque movie the trailers misleadingly promised will not be disappointed.  However, there is a downside to the joviality: the plot suffers considerably.

*HEADS UP: THERE ARE SEVERAL LIGHT IRON MAN 3 SPOILERS BELOW.*

After a flashback to a seemingly innocuous but incredibly important night in Tony’s life from 1999, we open the main plot, for some reason, at Christmastime. An undisclosed amount of time has passed since the near-death and world view-altering experience that was The Avengers for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., delivering his best performance as Stark to date), the events of which have left Stark displaying post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms.  The mere mention of the wormhole he went through in The Avengers is enough to set off a panic attack.

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Tony took the wormhole thing from The Avengers far harder than we would have predicted.

His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, reliably solid though mostly absent until a truly inspired sequence in the last act) has progressed to co-habitation, but he mostly distracts himself creating new Iron Man suits while she runs Stark Industries.

While Tony prepares himself for the next big galactic throwdown, trouble is brewing at home.  On one end, there is a dapper businessman, Dr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, who is clearly having a lot of fun with the role), making the moves on Pepper and talking about awesome but scary-sounding new technology; on the other end, there is The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kinglsey, whose hamminess serves a purpose), a jihadist who “talks like a Southern Baptist preacher” and has a nasty habit of threatening the life of the President of the United States.  Also showing up is Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, lovely in a horribly underwritten role), an ex-lover of Stark’s who has created a bio-electronics package she calls “extremis.”  When applied to plants, extremis can foster new growth and regeneration of broken branches and can do the same when applied to humans but has one rather explosive flaw.  She has come to Stark for help in perfecting the formula.

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Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen. Jessica Chastain was originally cast in the role, but dropped out…possibly because she realized how little Hansen gets to do in the movie.

All of these plot lines eventually converge, often predictably with one wickedly (and delightfully) surprising exception.  Even those who are familiar with the film’s source material, the 2005/2006 comic book story arc “Extremis,” won’t be able to see everything coming as the film wildly departs from the book in multiple areas.

However, in the film’s effort to connect all the dots it ultimately fails to present a completely cohesive narrative. For example, the bad guy’s ultimate plan, once revealed, does not make nearly as much sense as the film pretends it does, and the theme of Tony Stark being Iron Man, regardless of whether or not a suit of armor is involved, feels undercooked by the time the ending voice over narration comes around.  Moreover, the film’s consistently light tone (even Tony’s panic attacks are played for comedy) and Joss Whedon-esque plays upon genre convention (spoiler: Iron Man really should look twice before flying across a busy highway) prevent any of the proceedings from carrying any real weight.  This is a case where an action movie may be a bit too funny for its own good.

All of this is probably to be expected given the stated intent of both Shane Black, the director, and Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios’ President of Production, to make a movie which is “very interested in Tony Stark” but “only tangentially interested in everybody else” (Interview with Film School Rejects).  The plot merely functions to ultimately remove Tony from his support structure, both human and technological, and watch him rely on his cunning and wit to MacGyer his way through the story.  This results in an incredibly charming middle section in which Tony, sans a properly functioning Iron Man suit, befriends a small child in Tennessee who he uses as an assistant in his research of a hunch concerning a bad guy.  Tony’s banter with the kid is so ascerbic that those who remember Due Date would be forgiven for thinking Downey Jr. was about to slap the kid at any given moment.  The same goes for a brief encounter with a fun character played by Adam Pally of Happy Endings.

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For a second there, it seems like Tony Stark has dropped into his own version of Real Steel with this kid, but it gets better.

The emphasis on Tony Stark means there is surprisingly little Iron Man in this Iron Man movie.  Often times when we do see Iron Man it is just the armor being piloted by someone else or remotely by Stark, with his risk level on such occasions being non-existent.  The result is an ostensibly superhero movie which occasionally feels more like a standard cop film (it’s actually jarring to see Tony pointing a gun at someone), especially during several sequences involving Tony’s buddy Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, whose weary stoicism is every bit the match for Downey’s manic energy).  This does not feel quite as much like Lethal Weapon, which featured a screenplay written by Iron Man 3′s director, Shane Black, as other reviewers have argued.  The comparison, however, is unavoidable.  The same goes for the book-ending voice over narration, which is probably a little too similar to Black’s previous directorial effort Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which also starred Downey Jr.

Black does bring with him a more sure-handed approach to the action than departing director Jon Favreau, who is still on hand playing the comic relief character “Happy” Hogan.  The original Favreau’s films consistently struggled to make mostly CGI’ed good guy(s) fighting mostly CGI’ed bad guy(s) compelling.  Favreau’s solution was to strip Iron Man of his mask at climactic moments so the audience could see Downey Jr.’s face. Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce’s solution is to simply remove the entire costume for most of the film.  Why put anything between the audience and the immense charm of Robert Downey Jr., or so the thinking goes.  This works surprisingly well, but by the end one wonders if they might have slightly over-corrected.

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Similar complaints were made about The Dark Knight Rises, in which Batman is but an incredibly minor on-screen presence in comparison to Bruce Wayne.

However, the action is generally entertaining, even if the film’s major action set pieces have been spoiled by the trailers.  Plus, considering that at one point Stark, in full Iron Man armor, essentially throws a piano at a helicopter you know the approach was to add a little camp around the edges.  While none of the major action scenes thrill on the level of the final battle in The Avengers, there are still multiple applause-ready moments.

Ah, the 1.5 billion pound elephant in the room rears its Hulk-sized head.  Iron Man 3 is not The Avengers.  Nothing was going to match the 5-film (Iron Man 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America) build-up and pay-off that was The Avengers.  Granted, the actual merit of The Avengers as a film is rather dubious, and that comes from the film’s own director and screenwriter, who in an interview with Vulture admitted “I don’t think it’s a great movie.”  However, it was an event, and it had the Hulk picking up Loki mid-evil-villain speech and bashing him in the ground as if he were Bam Bam and Loki Barney from The Flintstones.

Adjust your expectations accordingly.  Nothing quite as cool as this happens in Iron Man 3.

Adjust your expectations accordingly. Nothing quite as cool as this happens in Iron Man 3.

However, this all started with Robert Downey Jr. making us believe a man can have a shiny battery for a heart in the first Iron Man, and it is only fitting he be the one to kick off the second phase of the Marvel cinematic universe in a mostly a self-contained story which either succeeds or fails on its own merits.  Granted, with a plot which threatens the life of the President it’s hard not to wonder why someone from S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America or otherwise, didn’t at least check in to see if help was needed.  Regardless, the film mostly succeeds on it own, admittedly flawed terms.

The director, writers, producer, and star recognized the absolute strength of the franchise, Robert Downey Jr., and built a story around him which also happens to de-emphasizes the supporting characters and could have used a couple more coats of polish on the final act and the villain’s master plan. This is unfortunate, but Downey Jr. shines in the spotlight and when the light finds its way to the other performers none of them fail to give it their best.  In fact, Paltrow gets a moment so astoundingly awesome it’s easy to forget she’s wearing a sports bra and bearing her sculpted abs (actually, you probably still notice those because, well, the world is obsessed with abs now) the whole time.

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Do not mess with this woman.

So, is this it?  The smoke signals so far are mixed, with Gwyneth Paltrow admitting she does not envision there being an Iron Man 4 and Downey Jr. only addressing the topic of his continued involvement with the franchise with his characteristic sarcasm.  If this were a James Bond film, the credits would have ended with a “Iron Man will return in…The Avengers 2” as Downey Jr. is confirmed to be returning there.  However, the closing minutes of Iron Man 3 do add an unexpected (arguably unearned) sense of finality.  If this is to be end, thankfully the franchise goes out having largely erased the stink of Iron Man 2 and giving audiences more excuses to laugh, cock their head slightly to the side, and rejoice, “Ah, Tony.  You’re incorrigible!” (of course, who really uses the world ‘incorrigible’ anymore, but just go with it).  Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Remember to stick around for the post-credits scene.   Just don’t expect it to hint at any kind of future film.

That’s Good: Solid performances from all involved, particularly Downey Jr. and Kingsley; unfailingly hilarious dialogue; often ingenious plays upon genre conventions; showcase of Tony Stark; the musical score and closing credits sequence

That’s Bad: The inevitable “why aren’t the Avengers showing up to help?” feeling does creep in; villain’s master plan does not make nearly as much sense as the film pretends it does; underdeveloped secondary characters; not enough Iron Man

Can I Go Now?: Shane Black must just really love setting actions movie at Christmas.  He did so in Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and now again in Iron Man 3.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know in the comments.

The Trailer:

Other Opinions
  • ‘Iron Man 3′ Review (screenrant.com)
  • Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (johnreviewsmovies.wordpress.com)
  • Iron Man 3: WORTH THE HYPE? (thefilmdiariesonline.com)
  • Iron Man 3: A Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Sequel Disguised As A Superhero Movie (alrighthearthis.net)

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