By Marc S. Sanders
The third chapter of the armored superhero, Iron Man, is an improvement on the second installment. Still, that’s not much of a compliment.
Action director Shane Black takes the reins from Jon Faverau, and gives himself a writing credit as well. I’ve always liked Shane Black’s writing style. Like this film, a lot of his works take place during Christmas. Lethal Weapon is a well-balanced picture that over thirty years later shows a nice offering of character background and action. When the action occurs, you are already invested in the characters. So, suspense is capable of holding some weight to an action movie. I only wish I saw some more of that here with Iron Man 3. Oh well!
First, let’s get the most obvious problem out of the way. Once again, Gwyneth Paltrow is there to wear sharp looking ladies suits, carry a brief in her hand and yell “TONY” a lot. You could make up a drinking game around that bit. Just when the Marvel films got it right with Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, they revert back to their old ways yet again. If you are going to have female characters in your films, give them something weighty to work with that is evenly matched with the guys.
Robert Downey Jr is another problem, I’m afraid. He is so cherished in the role of Tony Stark by now. The first Iron Man really offers a great performance by him with a good arc. The prior film in the MCU, The Avengers gives him some great play with the other titanic superheroes. However, the writing is not thoughtful in Iron Man 2 or Iron Man 3. The first installment left you feeling that Tony was open to accepting care and tenderness from other people. His cockiness became subdued following a traumatic capture and escape.
Then the cocky monster within seemed to resurface in #2 and #3. Did Downey (who improvises a lot of his material) and the writers forget where they left off? Black literally has Tony Stark give away his address on live television to the bad guys, headed by a mysterious terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). How stupid is this? Batman doesn’t give away where his Bat Cave is. Why would Iron Man do that?
From that point, we are treated to an attack on Tony’s ocean view, cliff side home from helicopters. Reader, Shane Black wrote a sequence like this twice before, in Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2. It’s been done before. The filming appears clunky in this centerpiece scene with camera shakes and uneven sound editing and lots of ceiling and wall dust. It’s a little hard to follow.
I’ll give credit to Black for throwing in a twist that comes out of nowhere. To my knowledge, this moment has left viewers very divisive. For me, I admire the effort but the development comes off wimpy. It involves Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin who promises to be a real threat to the film. Yet, the character’s motive turns out to be something else entirely. It’s odd, but it kept me engaged during the film. When the film ended, I was left wishing it was something else altogether. For the first two thirds of the film, Kingsley is very good with a hard, edged, roughly intimidating voice as he shares disturbing newscasts of threats to the President and the world. He was a different kind of villain that we hadn’t seen before, much like Heath Ledger’s Joker. Then the rug is pulled out on that attraction.
One really bright spot comes from Ty Simkins, as a kid named Harley that winds up assisting Tony when everything is against him. He is a fun, spunky kid who has some good exchanges with Downey’s well recognized, zippy delivery. He’s more fun to watch than Gwenyth Paltrow. That’s for sure.
Guy Pearce is another adversary who leads a team of baddies. Their bodies heat up to extremely hot and orange looking temperatures. (Forgive my poor English! That’s what comes to mind. Oh well!) Amazingly enough, their clothes don’t burn off while they easily can singe any Iron Man suit they come in contact with. Should I be focusing on that inconsistency? That’s one main problem with the film. It’s too apparent. I know this is all sci fi, but don’t make the fiction of the fiction so obvious, please. Pearce is fine in the role but he’s overshadowed by what his super villain powers are capable of. So, basically cast iron metal burns, but clothing fabrics do not. Got it! Check!
I’m not sure if Iron Man 3 is really worth a watch. Probably not, actually. Maybe so, if you want to marathon through all the Marvel films like I do. Yet, it really offers nothing significant to the films yet to come and shows nothing new to carry forward from the prior films. Much like Iron Man 2, it’s a pretty meaningless.