"Iron Man 3," which opened yesterday in theaters across the country, is a movie with a lot of ideas but none of them are particularly compelling. Whereas as the first two films in the series papered over their lack of story (remember how the second act of "Iron Man" was "Tony Stark builds armor?") with Robert Downey Jr.'s lovable irascibility, this movie has enough plot for a whole new trilogy. In fact, the movie has so much going on that becomes kind of wearing about an hour and half in. As with the other the "Iron Man" movies, Downey's charismatic super genius must deal with the machinations of a malicious, lesser innovator, this time with "Lethal Weapon" scripter Shane Black at helm. As a superhero movie, it's better than average. As a Robert Downey Jr. movie, it's more rewarding than anything he's done since "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." As a Shane Blake movie, it's the worst thing to ever bear his name.
Someone in the Marvel Studio's production chain must have read reviews for their earlier films but not the right ones because this movie is a big departure from their standard formula. Instead being a character piece about a nobly intentioned goof learning to get out of his own way to become a hero, this film is a very traditional action movie designed to showcase some very expensive set pieces. There's no improvisatory freshness or winking humor to the film, just ham-fisted themes and a relentless pace.
In spite of their corporate mandate, Black and Pearce do work in some fun bits of genre tweaking. They retconned Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts into a capable super suit pilot which was nice since she spent two movies being tied to train tracks. They even allowed her to personally redress the kidnapping and torture the film's villain puts her through but she's still the only character to be kidnapped and tortured so it's a one step forward two steps back situation. Don Cheadle is still Robin to Downey's Batman but he does get to save the president and perform Chow Yun-fat's signature move of backsliding into a room while gunning down every bad guy in sight. Blowfish antagonist Ben Kingsley gives his most enjoyable performance since "Sexy Beast." James Badge Dale is great because he plays his super powered henchman like a guy who has always has something more important to do.
The big draw with these movies is Downey and he doesn't disappoint. He's more engaged with the role than he was in "Iron Man 2" and less abrasive than he was in "Sherlock Holmes 2." He's called on to do some actual acting in this film and it was affirming to know that after five years of commemorative cup roles he can still do that. It's a not a defining performance by any means but Downey makes you feel that the character has a gone on a real journey and is legitimately changed by the end of it.
"Iron Man 3" is better than most super hero second sequels but it's only an okay film. It's too plot driven to be to have much depth and it's overloaded with themes it only plays lip service to. The main conflict in the film arises because years ago Tony Stark slighted an insecure inventor (Guy Pierce) but at no point does the character lose his trademark arrogance. "Iron Man 3" also introduces the idea that Cheadle's War Machine armor has been turned into a slightly more P.R. friendly military drone but nothing comes of it, or the idea that Eastern terrorism is funded by Western business interests. Those concepts are there to make the film seem more sophisticated than other movies where super powered dudes try to punch each other to death.
There was lot of excitement around the announcement of Shane Black as the co-writer and director of "Iron Man 3." Instead hiring a studio hack or a discount TV director, Marvel Studios/Disney enlisted someone with a few bona fide classics on his résumé. Though nobody but James Cameron gets to make $200 million movies without non-negotiable parameters, it was reasonable to think that Black could bring of his lacerating humor and old school action sensibility to the film. Unfortunately, what ended up being made was a movie that asks permission instead of forgiveness. There's no bite to it and while the CGI set pieces are skillfully animated, they don't integrate into the narrative organically. Most of the film's dialogue feels like chewed over superhero movie boilerplate save for a few grace notes. It's silly to expect auteur filming from anything with a 3 in the title but this movie felt like opening an In-N-Out bag only to find a McDouble.
Iron Man was created in 1963 by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby.
"Iron Man 3" also features material from Iron Man comic books by Warren Ellis & Adi Granov and Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca.