Phase 2 Fizzle
A Film Review of Iron Man 3
By: Lawrence Napoli
Thanks to Robert Downey Jr. (and him alone), the Iron Man franchise has become a household name for the Marvel/Disney Super PAC that isn’t named Spider-Man, Wolverine, Mickey Mouse, Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker. His performance breathes life into the inanimate and has raised the bar substantially for actors taking roles in the contemporary action/adventure/blockbuster film that is more than likely based on a comic book. Unfortunately, Iron Man is still a man, and apparently Downey isn’t interested in doing these movies for the rest of his career. Yes, Downey is in for The Avengers 2 (which is what Phase 2 is all about), but Iron Man 3 is clearly the official beginning of phasing out Tony Stark from this film universe (thus confirming the rumor that alpha personalities tied to this franchise are walking away) and this impacts Iron Man 3 in a negative way. The parallel to The Dark Knight Rises are undeniable and though we can debate over which final chapter was better than the other, both films could have and should have been more than the final product we all witnessed. Iron Man 3, like Iron Man 2 before it, is guilty of being an average (but expensive) blockbuster. It isn’t fresh and inventive like the first Iron Man, nor does it approach the greatness of Marvel’s The Avengers. For this entire movement of putting the Marvel Universe on film with the infinite resources at its disposal, the crime of going through the motions is inexcusable.
Is Iron Man flying or falling? You be the judge.
Once enough people fork over the cash to see Iron Man 3 (and don’t you even consider the increased prices for digital DLP projection or IMAX because the 3D effect is 100% NOT worth it), we will finally know what Joss Whedon meant when he was quoted as saying “Now what am I supposed to do now? What am I going to do in Avengers 2?” Everyone in the news media press presumed this was some posturing to the effort made by director/co-writer Shane Black by acknowledging that Whedon’s own plot for the next Avengers would somehow pale in comparison to what others have described as Iron Man’s “epic,” “bombastic,” and “incredible,” third installment. Go ahead and watch the film, then think about that quote one more time. Whedon wasn’t bowing. He was pulling the last strands out of his balding dome over the plot and character limitations imposed on him as a result of Iron Man 3. There are no spoilers here, so if you want to know what I’m talking about, read EIC Matt McGloin's thoughts. There are only so many places Whedon can go with the Avengers’ MVP and now those possibilities are cut in half.
So buddy. Where do we go now?
Ultimately, the story of Iron Man 3 is a whole lot of blather that involves Tony Stark’s spring cleaning of some trivial domestic issues back in the US. The Mandarin is blowing up American landmarks and he’s a crazy terrorist that needs to be put down. I found it hilarious how his buddy James Rhodes actually makes reference to this situation: “Aren’t you running around with the Super Friends now?” as to suggest that his involvement in this plot is a little low-ball for Tony. What was suggested as a terrorist plot for some sort of world control boils down to a personal grudge between massive egos in this fictitious, scientific community. What was hinted as Tony becoming an even more devoted partner to Pepper Potts is glazed over thanks to a time consuming, Sherlock-ian investigation and is used as a shameless plot device to usher in what will be the end of Robert Downey Jr. in these films. What would have been possible in seeing the fallout of the invasion of New York is completely swept under the rug with another convenient plot device of Tony’s frequent panic attacks which allows this script to ignore The Avengers completely.
You know, I could have used you in The Avengers.
I didn’t like any of this. It reaffirms the fact that while Iron Man is a cool Marvel personality, he has the worst rogue’s gallery of every major comic book hero. It tells me in a world where aliens have invaded and can potentially invade again, terrorism in any capacity is somehow still relevant. This script only introduces more important, personal issues with Tony Stark (the man) only to ignore them in order to focus on the active plot of pitting Iron Man against some obscure villain. The story is still funny in that it still shows off Tony Stark as an ego driven, genius, philanthropist, playboy, but there’s just so much of it shoved in your face from start to finish that the audience is left wondering if even Stark is taking any of this seriously even when he gets angry after the conflict hits way too close to home. The climax and resolution of this film treats the audience like children by presenting us with several brand new toys (plot twists) and then taking them away immediately, never to be seen again. The bullet points of Iron Man 3 too closely resemble those of Iron Man 2 and nothing that happens in this film (even in the post credits teaser) introduces, suggests or even slightly hints at anything that could be happening for The Avengers 2. Perhaps this is Hollywood mimicking the comic book industry by employing a lot of writers all in charge of their own projects and are somehow expected to be relevant to the crossover arc the company as a whole is trying to promote. Whedon was right. I have no idea what the heck he’s going to do with Tony Stark now.
Don't tell me the dream is dead.
Iron Man 3 is not a total loss (despite the fact it is a big disappointment) and most of that credit goes to the action and visual effects on display. $200 million yields plenty of massive set pieces that get devastated from gun fire, missiles and massive explosions. It also yields lots of awesome Iron Man aerial maneuvers, combat and technology. I must say that it was a real treat to see Stark’s ‘Iron Family’ at work during the climax, but my criticism of them is twofold. First, they only pay off in a minimal way thanks to how they end up (but that’s another writing criticism) and second, the different armors don’t really show off their individual specializations very well. The only one that stands out is the ‘Hulk Buster’ armor we’ve all seen in the trailers, which is used to do one thing and never seen again. As a result, the Iron party is more like a lot of copy/pastes with different paint jobs that still look sleek and realistic, but all do the same thing. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Robert Downey Jr. engaging in a lot more action out of the suit in this film, but those sequences are surprising at displaying Tony Stark’s martial prowess (I’m pretty sure Matt Murdock isn’t his sensei). I like that the plot forces Tony out of the tin can for no other reason than giving the audience something different to look at which is still stimulating, though not as sexy as the suit. Eye candy alone will see this film easily double its budget, but it won’t see Avengers money.
Here we come to save the day.
I have no complaints about the performances in Iron Man 3 because the overall cast demonstrates their veteran prowess. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is your stereotypical bad guy/crazy evil genius, and I knew his character was going to be that way because the man’s made a career of playing *ssholes in movies. Don Cheadle, the man who should have been established as James Rhodes in the first Iron Man, produces another fine performance as the Iron Patriot who secretly pines for a resurrection of War Machine which produces a few memorable laughs amidst Stark’s constant “I’m a needy genius” comedy throughout. Jon Favreau is thankfully limited to screen time in the beginning of the film as Happy Hogan (ugh, how is he still skulking around the sets of these films?). Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen presents a character meant to be plagued by the ethics/morality of science unchecked (which is a plot point that dies before given a real chance to live), but she is hilarious when making reference to her role in Ben Affleck’s The Town in the beginning of the movie. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is once again personable, elegant and charming, and I really enjoyed when her character is called upon to get her fists dirty, but that too is muffled thanks to shoddy writing. Paul Bettany simply does not get enough credit as the voice of Jarvis in all of these films, so I’ll give him a much deserved shout-out now because his dignified delivery is matched only by his brilliant comedic timing.
Wait a minute! We can do stuff outside of the armor?
A word on Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3: I totally get what they were trying to do with this character, but I cannot fathom how Shane Black lured an actor of Kingsley’s caliber into this film with the red herring his character represents. Let’s not confuse the quality of his performance with the irrelevance of his character. Kingsley delivers; plain and simple. You may think the lines of dialogue we’ve all heard in the trailers may sound annoying thanks to his disjointed delivery, but that goes away to reveal something much more entertaining, hilarious and actually thought provoking when considering the world’s modern experience with terrorism. Perhaps the uniqueness of the satire is what hooked Sir Ben; that and one fat paycheck.
I am more (or less) than what I appear to be.
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. It’s all been said and it’s all true once again.
Seriously? Were you expecting anything less?
This movie was good, but it is not great. Iron Man 3 is very entertaining in presenting amazing visual effects while coalescing them with uniquely hilarious dialogue and circumstances. Unfortunately, without any effort to move the Avenger franchise forward with Tony Stark’s individual efforts in this film, it makes this story a complete waste of time. It’s great that Tony still cares about stuff at home, both in his country and his personal life. It’s great that he’s still at work doing his innovative Iron-Man-thing. It’s great that he feels anguish over the invasion of New York. But let’s expand on all of those plot points, not just leave them behind in the dust. For a character all about transformation and improvement, there really isn’t a concept of change that matters for Tony Stark. He’s the same human dynamo that is simply put into another dangerous situation that he can skillfully address thanks to his own efforts. A $200 million dollar investment should be thinking about doing more than giving me another day in the life of the amazing Tony Stark especially when you consider the future of the character moving forward. Phase 2 is in like a lamb, and it is left to Joss Whedon to insure that it goes out like a lion.