Iron Man 3 is a strange movie. It has its moments, but the true comic book fan is going to have major issues with it (yet with some cause for hope at the end . . .) and the casual action fan may end up bored.
Full disclosure: I am a Marvel Comics junkie and I enjoyed Iron Man. In the comics, the more primitive armor made for good early stories and Tony Stark’s alcoholism story line made for a particularly nuanced character (although the writing at the time was hokey. However, Iron Man had one major problem that Spider-man (and Batman over in the DC world) never had . . . Lame villains. The good story lines involved Tony Stark going up against good industrialist arch-enemies like Obidiah Stane, Justin Hammer and, later, Killian Aldrich. The one exception was the Mandarin- his powers were meta-physical and derived from 10 alien rings. His genius and scheming made him a worth foe for Tony Stark.
Iron Man I was a thoughtful and terrific movie. It laid out and modernized Stark’s origin well and Obidiah Stane was a good villain. Robert Downey is (and has been) a good Tony Stark. His natural charisma translates well. Iron Man II is a pale cousin to number I. Whiplash was a dim villain- Justin hammer was rendered as a cartoon. Tony Stark’s personal foibles were only glancingly addressed.
That leads us to this movie.
There is no reason to even have this movie without RDJ.. His charisma and banter eat up the screen wherever he is. And he is dependable in this movie. A larger problem is that the story is focuses on some sort of neuroticism as the engine for self doubt. Iron Man fans are ready for the alcoholism story line. It has been briefly referenced in the first three. Its the final frontier for this character and the final interest payment to true Iron Man fans. Side plots with a kid in Tennessee and the dim banter with Don Cheadle fall flat, but that’s writing not acting that causes that.
Gwyneth Paltrow is good as Pepper Potts which is saying something because I find her “goop.com” website despicable (perhaps I’m more jealous than outraged). Whoever trained her for this movie should get a gold medal because she looks great.
Guy Pearce is good as Killian Aldrich . . . However he starts turning into Val Kilmer from Tombstone toward the end. I found the Extremis story line to be fairly interesting. Essentially, Killian invented a way to regenerate human tissue- unfortunately, the cost is inherent fiery instability. This can be inconvenient . . . Or useful. Aldrich uses his advances to further a terrorist agenda. That by itself got me thinking a little about the government and its role in technological development and the control of such creations.
IM3 veers in all sorts of directions which hold together adequately, but you aren’t going to IM3 to get your Jane Austen fix. You are going to see some cool action sequences and to see Tony stark overcome the limitations of his armor in defeating a worthy foe. On that front, I think this movie has a fundamental problem. All of the different armor is too powerful and there are too many suits. There is never any doubt as to the outcome because it isn’t Stark’s wits that fuel his victory, its the overwhelming superiority of his technological and resource advantage . . . . That’s not winning drama. IM in “The Avengers” works better because he is facing more daunting opponents that are well beyond his advantages. That’s not the case in this movie and as such, the action sequences were pretty boring to me. Id id like the scene where Starks house in Malibu gets leveled, but I found that hard to “believe” given all the other advantages he seems to have.
However, where this movie galactic ally disappoints, yet somehow provided room for hope, is in the use of the Mandarin (and a genuine member of Hollywood royalty, Ben Kingsley). As stated before, the Mandarin is Iron Man’s best super-villain in the comics. In this movie, he is a straw man for Aldrich’s ambitions and reduced to comic relief in this movie. This is heretical on its face. It’s a waste of Iron Man’s best character and it’s a waste of Kingsley. To add annoyance to this is the fact that the Mandarin’s Asian roots are stripped away and made more Islamo-radicalized . . . Probably for marketing purposes. For the fan-boy, this is just a big dose of “meh.” However, a plot twist at the resolution of the story leaves a wide opening for future use of the Mandarin in Iron Man 4.
IM4 offers tremendous potential for redemption. The alcoholism arc remains available as does a continuing focus on the Mandarin as villain-in-chief. It’s strange that you would need to spend $200 million for a bridge movie to get to the actual movie that “should” be made with these characters, but I think that’s where we are here. [Then again, box office returns suggest financial success won’t be much of a concern for the folks at Disney . . . Global returns already more than $680 million!] IM3 was ok, but it skewers a lot of fan-boy sacred cows and I’m not sure it delivers the goods for the rank and file action fan. Let’s hope IM4 actually goes the distance and earns its profits.