Iron Man 3 (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Iron Man 3 (2013)

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Toward a bright futureAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerThe original Iron Man was an unexpected delight.  It took an excellent character through a genuinely touching arc that reflected on military power as a whole, had a quadruple threat of excellent performances, some inventive action staging, and was entertaining as hell.  Now the series is simply spinning its wheels in preparation for the next Avengers film and doesn't even try to bring anything new to the table.

It's a shame, because I had a lot of hopes for this film with Shane Black behind the camera and assisting with the screenplay.  He and Robert Downey, Jr. worked together on the excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang together a few years back and this was the perfect opportunity to revisit that chemistry.  But that film was a passion project and this is just another cog for the money printing machine.

Iron Man 3 opens with a Shane Black staple, the voice-over, as Tony Stark (Downey) tells an unseen listener about the way the sins of the past creep up on you.  The stage is set with a gala in 1999 where Tony slighted a limping fanboy, Aldrich Killian, (Guy Pearce) who wants Tony to join him on a think tank.  This is in the height of his playboy prowess so Stark instead spends the night with the beautiful Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who hopes to get Tony's insight on her own project.

The Mandarin is not all that he seems, but none of it very interesting.

The Mandarin is not all that he seems, but none of it very interesting.

Flash forward a few years and America is in the grip of fear because of attacks from a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) while Aldrich has shed his physical deformities for a business sheen and Tony is unable to sleep after the events of The Avengers.  It seems going through a wormhole and nearly dying have given Tony an extreme case of PTSD.   He's unable to sleep and since he's starting tying his Iron Man armor to his thoughts and emotions is proving to be an accidental threat to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  After an attack from The Mandarin leaves his friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in a coma Tony vows to bring him in, and since there would be little reason for the film to spend the effort of introducing new characters, Aldrich and Maya are involved in the latest threat against Tony's life.

Despite the machinations involved, and Shane Black's desire to do something new with the material, this third film copies the structure of the second as if it was a checklist.  Villain brought into the picture because of the hubris of Tony's history?  Check.  Ailment that plagues Tony until the plot magically cures him?  Check.  Problem solving force that could have been used at any time by the hero but he doesn't in the interests of dragging the conflict out for no reason?  Big ol' check.  Even Killian is just a slicked up version of the same kind of villain that Sam Rockwell played in the second film.

The one positive is this third installment is not the gigantic mess that the second one turned into but is still an inconsistent experience.  The most troubling part comes from the way the movie deals with The Mandarin.  He's vaguely sketched as a foreign terrorist but then Kingsley and Black, in one of the worst decisions I've seen in these films, do something with the character that takes the piss out of the film.  Black goes for a too dark tone at times, which makes sense given the terrorism sub-plot, but contradicts too sharply with the stabs at humor and jarring character changes.

The chemistry between Downey and Paltrow is still excellent with one of the best parts of the film involving Paltrow's expanded role.

The chemistry between Downey and Paltrow is still excellent with one of the best parts of the film involving Paltrow's expanded role.

Where's the sense of reflection?  Part of what made the first film so great is that Tony got a sense of how his military prowess affected the world and how he decided to try and change it.  Iron Man 3 asks no questions of its universe outside of a setup for the next joke or action scene.  There's no real threat to the status quo, just a series of sometimes entertaining scenes that put all the characters right back where they were before the film started.

However the film does entertain quite nicely when it works.  My favorite moment involved a mostly de-powered Tony assaulting a Florida compound using weapons he improvised after spending a lot of cash at a home improvement store.  The absurdly clad Tony is just as dangerous as the fully charged one and Downey delights at the prospect of taking folks down without the suit.  There's also a great running gag involving Tony's difficulty at getting the Mark 42 Iron Man suit to perform as intended.  But for every scene that works there's another that feels like it belongs in a completely different movie, like the horrible detour which involves Tony getting a kid sidekick for a time.

With the film's already substantial success there's little likelihood that they'll be changing the formula anytime soon.  But formulaic is the last thing we should want out of these films.  Marvel has taken stories that could be used to say anything and is content with churning out the same story with a new coat of paint.  Even James Bond knows how to switch it up better than this.

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Iron Man 3 - TailIron Man 3 (2013)

Directed by Shane Black.
Screenplay written by Black and Drew Pearce.
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Guy Pearce.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. It’s not even that Tony’s PTSD is magically cured by the plot: It’s just forgotten. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the “You just invented a magic element” plot point of the 2nd film. And for what it’s worth, I actually liked what they did with the Mandarin as a whole, even if really threw the tone of the film off. At least we didn’t keep hearing about how he was “born in a hole.”

    • The PTSD thing is more like Tony’s blood sickness in the second film. Instead of Nick Fury showing up and magically curing it with the drug he had the whole time, the kid basically says “Feel better” and Tony does. Regarding The Mandarin I like what they were at least trying to do with him, even if the cumulative effect just reminded me of The Love Guru.

  2. I had completely forgot about the blood sickness from the second film. I’ve also never seen the “Love Guru”, though Danny keeps threatening to fix that…

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