‘I’ ON CULTURE
Iron Man 3 is a sprawling, exciting, fun bit of a mess. It is a good film; the mob scene at the filming we attended stayed in their seats enthralled throughout. But compared with the first film and with The Avengers, it had a far weaker story. Anything I write will barely matter; the crowds are enormous, and it is the first really massive hit of the year. But in retrospect, I wish the writing had been tighter.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is easily the most enjoyable of all the superheroes. Let’s face it: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor could never do a stand-up comedy routine. They are, minus special effects and good writing, rather boring. But Stark is snarky and complicated, getting more complicated with each film.
In this movie, he is suffering from more than a little post-traumatic stress disorder. Unable to sleep, he builds dozens of Iron Man suits, stretching himself far too thin. His actions stress out his partner (both life and business), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He winds up challenging the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who seems to be everywhere and can find ways to blow things up that defy even Stark’s imagination. In a particularly dumb move, Stark challenges the Mandarin only to have his home destroyed and, through a computer glitch, winds up in rural Tennessee with a non-functional Iron Man suit and a computer that also isn’t working. There, he meets an adorable young boy, Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), who convinces them to go on and create his own tools to fight the bad guys.
The plot becomes convoluted as other villains rise. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a mad scientist has his own plans for domination and, working with a rather ambivalent DNA specialist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who years ago had a one-night stand with Tony, creates a truly credible enemy that leads to a long, intense climax for the film.
The cast, as expected, is superb. Downey is one of our best actors and has this character pretty well set, not surprising since this is his fourth movie in the part. Paltrow has a larger part than we’ve seen her in before and provides an excellent balance. She even winds up putting Stark in his place, something not easy to do.
Don Cheadle as his loyal friend, a top-of-the-line colonel called “Iron Patriot,” is mostly a joke while inside the device, but appropriately heroic as an action hero when on his own. Kingsley is superb in his characterization; his part is not as large as has been advertised, but it is always fascinating. Pearce does his usual excellent job, and Hall, a relative newcomer, is great as Hansen. Simpkins almost steals the film from Downey in their scenes together, and director Shane Black is smart enough to let that character be more fully developed than might normally be the case. There is enormous chemistry between Downey and the young boy.
So, if all of that is great, why is this not as good as a couple of its predecessors? The first issue is the use of 3-D. I have become convinced that, all by itself, the technology gets in the way of exceptional movies. Sets become enormous, and the camera focuses on that. The final scene takes place on a huge ship and dock facility, chosen mostly because it allows a lot of characters to run and leap toward the screen while also allowing many building parts to fall spectacularly.
Hollywood, it seems, has never heard of the phrase “less is more.” The final battle section is visually spectacular but runs far too long. Even more to the point, the really interesting action involved takes up only a short time, while fighting with nameless bad guys gets a bit boring. Another problem is Stark’s brooding. In past films, he was really a lot of fun. Here, he is grumpy a lot of the time, and it takes away from the real fun.
But we had a great time, as did the absolutely full theater. This is the first of the really big summer movies, and it will make a fortune. It provides fun and action, and everyone there seemed to have a great time. In short, a really good summer movie: not great like the first Iron Man but a whole lot of fun. See it.