Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is back for a third solo adventure. After the amazing success of last summer’s The Avengers, how does the first standalone Marvel film fare without the inclusion of the super friends?
Let’s bitch it out…Let’s begin with a caveat: Since this review is coming out in advance of the North American release of the film this Friday, the plot spoilers are being kept to a minimum.
Onto Iron Man 3…
Well, to start off, this is a more successful film than Stark’s second outing in 2010. It’s also the first film without director Jon Favreau (whose character Happy Hogan still appears, though he is on the sidelines for the majority of the film). Instead the reins have been passed over to buddy cop/action veteran Shane Black, who also co-wrote the script.
The addition of Black definitely brings new creative life to the sagging franchise (his writing are infuses more snap into the dialogue, which Downey Jr has a marvelous time delivering). This is not to say that the film is a slam dunk, however. There remains some pacing problems – particularly in the middle section of the film – and the motivations of the villain are alarmingly pedantic.
Your enjoyment of the film will depend on your appreciation of Downey Jr, who is front and centre for nearly the entire film. None of the other characters have even half of his screentime, so if you’ve enjoyed Downey Jr’s take on the character thus far, you’re in for a good time. If only the story – told via voice over (feeding into the post-credit scene) was as strong as Downey Jr’s performance.
The plot concerns the emergence of comic staple The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who is using genetically augmented suicidal bombers to carry out terrorist attacks. His actions are tied to the events that open the film in 1999 when Stark beds botanist Maya Hansen (a wasted Rebecca Hall) and dismisses social reject Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). These two usher Stark and new live-in girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) into the action as The Mandarin’s attacks become more personal.
To say any more would compromise the film’s twists and (convoluted) turns. The overarching theme is very much concerned with identity as Tony struggles with his role in a post-The Avengers world (at one point he laments that he’s seen gods and aliens while he’s just a man in a suit). Unfortunately this is one of the film’s biggest dropped balls: what should be a meaty running undercurrent ends up feeling like an anchor that weighs the plot down each time it gets referenced. There are repeated scenes of Stark struggling with panic attacks at the mention of “New York” or “The Avengers” (to the extent that one character asks if he’s suffering from PTSD), but these never amount to anything substantial. It’s as though Black and co-writer Drew Pearce mistake mentioning the issue for examining it (though allowing Downey Jr the opportunity to show more range by taking him out of the suit for a substantial portion of the running time is a good start). Even at the resolution of the film, when Stark realizes what he can accomplish on his own and reasserts that he IS Iron Man, it simply feels like a reiteration of the first film did better.
Other Observations (Mild Spoilers Ahead):
- Superhero girlfriends were assessed in an Entertainment Weekly article last month, and Pepper Potts didn’t fare very well. Iron Man 3 does give her more to do – and more agency – but at its core, she remains a damsel in distress. The climax of this film and its resolution are both exciting and disappointing in this regard
- I’ve never been a fan of War Machine (here renamed Iron Patriot). Neither Terrence Howard, nor Don Cheadle have managed to do much with the role and this third film doesn’t do anything to change that perception. This character is the very definition of superhero sidekick
- The villain(s) are part of the fun of the film, so I won’t discuss too much. The motivation is a huge issue for me: the intention is to take over the presidency, again?! Didn’t G.I. Joe: Retaliation literally just do this? On the actors’ parts, Kingsley has fun with his role, while Pearce seems to simply be echoing his characters from other films (Prometheus comes immediately to mind). Also Pearce’s hair is atrocious. Like distractingly atrocious.
- The genetically engineered supersoldiers are the weakest element of the film. Iron Man has always been grounded in science (albeit a heightened reality), so the presence of what basically amounts to heat mutants feels like a rip-off. Also, why are all of these people mindless villains? Their dedication without question to a terrorist cause is difficult to swallow
- Hall’s role is brief and unmemorable. One has to wonder why she was even cast at all. Ditto William Sadler as the President
- The action sequences, though heavier on the CGI than other Iron Man films, remains spectacular. Although the big guns come out for the climax, my personal favourite is the Air Force One attack which involves a mid-air rescue of fourteen passengers. It’s tense, exciting and exceedingly well done
- Finally, it’ll be interesting to see how the middle section – when Tony bunks down in rural America with a small child – is received. On one hand, this is where the bulk of the jokes lie, but it also features a precocious freaking child sidekick taking on the film’s evil henchman Eric (James Badge Dale). #WTF
Bottom Line: The first film remains the gold standard for this character, but as a summer kick-off, you could do a great deal worse than 2 hrs with Stark and co. The film has its issues, but the action and the dialogue crackle, even as the pacing and characters don’t.
Iron Man 3 opens in North America on May 3 and is currently playing in many international markets