IRON MAN THREE (2013, directed by Shane Black, 130 minutes U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC A decade of endless super hero blockbusters, the majority from the Marvel Comics roster, should be enough to exhaust any Hollywood trend, but fresh or not the genre shows no signs of abating. The one thing that set Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark apart from the pack in previous installments of the Iron Man franchise was that, unlike his crime-fighting colleagues, he wasn’t crippled by angst but instead loved being a world-beating Man of Iron. However, with Iron Man Three the good times are finally over as Stark falls into the same troubled hero ennui that seems to haunt every modern screen titan. If you’re wondering whether Iron Man will get his groove back you haven’t seen enough of these movies, but familiarities aside Iron Man Three delivers the advertised goods as well as could be reasonably expected from the third entry of a contemporary Hollywood franchise. Looking for something more innovative or daring from a film budgeted at the $200 million mark is like trying to get blood from the proverbial stone.
Perhaps because the film was mentioned in Steven Soderbergh’s fascinating recent diatribe on the state of Hollywood, critics seem to be working overtime bemoaning the film’s shallow politics and massive budget, complaints that are hardly unwarranted. As a symptom of Hollywood priorities, the industry’s comic book obsession is cause for concern. But acknowledging that argument doesn’t have to dim the absurd, bombastic pleasures of this third go-round for the armored sci-fi knight. When we meet Stark in part three he is riddled with anxiety and incapable of sleep, a frazzled state of mind brought on by the events of last summer’s Avengers movie. Stark is also being badgered for attention from his live-in paramour, the blandly ever-faithful Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) who nags him for spending his nights away from bed tinkering on prototype metal suits. The bleary-eyed Stark is finally stirred from his gloom when his best pal Happy (Jon Favreau, stepping down from his past directorial duties here) is injured in a terrorist attack on Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Credit for the attack is taken by The Mandarin (the always-game Ben Kingsley) and soon Stark is calling him out to rumble like a high school brawler.
The Mandarin is an obvious stand-in for Osama Bin Laden but the film’s script (co-written by the director, Lethal Weapon-scribe Shane Black) gets more out of the parallel than mere race-baiting. As with most of these Marvel adaptations, the film hints at richer ideas but is satisfied with dropping them in favor of more CGI chaos. The film isn’t without its politics, it does expect sympathy for the death of an oil company CEO, yet if the film offended somebody by having discernible perspective on a political subject, how are they going to make that 200 mil back? A less interesting villain is ultimately behind the mayhem, the serviceable Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a Bill Gates-type nerd who was slighted by Stark on New Year’s Eve 1999 and is now bent on proving his mad genius.
Many of the dramatic beats here are fairly standard comic book film plot tropes: Stark is stripped of his powers, he mentors an under-privileged kid, his laboratory is destroyed, his girlfriend is held hostage; he routinely makes jaw-dropping long-jumps to avoid quickly advancing fireballs. Check, check and double-check. But much like a solid James Bond entry, the scenes are staged with imagination and energy that semi-miraculously overcomes its predictable pretext. It’s particularly fun to see Stark’s armoring flying in like a heat-seeking missile, a piece at a time during his acrobatic fights, Not much here transcends the genre but if you enjoy Marvel’s super hero brand, Iron Man Three is a pretty solid example of how pleasurable this foolishness can be. Is there much more to be said than that? Probably not. Since this was the last film in Downey’s three-film contract it is a little hazy on whether we’ll see him leading an Iron Man film again (he is scheduled for The Avengers 2 though.) If Downey doesn’t come back Three does end on a tidy note, with Stark dedicating himself to domestic bliss with Pepper Potts. But as dull as Paltrow’s Potts has been shown to be, I bet Stark won’t retire until this franchise is successfully beaten into the ground.