So where do I begin? My friend pictures me as a sort of Tony Stark—intelligent, handsome… a smart-ass. I like to think of myself as Robert Downey, Jr., post-detox. Either way, that’s a lot to live up to.
When I wrote my review of SUPERMAN RETURNS, and presumably when I review the upcoming reboot, MAN OF STEEL, I’ll probably mention that my love of Superman stems from my appreciation of things that could fly, whereas walking was always difficult for me because I have cerebral palsy. But Tony’s superpower? He’s an incandescent jerk who happens to be right most of the time.
He’s like me, but with money.
What? Oh, the review… right.
Similar to the epilogue of every James Bond film, “TONY STARK WILL RETURN” insists the end credits of this third installment in the IRON MAN franchise. Billionaire weapons manufacturer turned philanthropist and superhero, Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) final outing does, at times, seem inspired by James Bond—gadgets, girls and intrigue. Yet, for all of the film’s clever dialogue, frenetic action and suspenseful plot, the film is an unremarkable matinee entertainment. After letting it brew in my head for a couple of days, I feel somewhat indifferent about it.
The plot centers around a mysterious figure known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). From some remote lair, he spouts intentionally vague criticisms leveled at the President of the United States (William Sadler). His modus operandi includes random acts of terrorism which leave no evidence of a bomb. But because of the film’s seemingly unrelated opening sequence, the explanation for and origin of the bombings is almost immediately evident—fouling any element of surprise the film might have otherwise relied upon.
I do admire that the film is very dialogue driven, a staple of Shane Black’s work including the witty KISS KISS, BANG BANG, starring Mr. Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer, which answers the question, “What would happen if you put two self-imploding drama queens in the same movie?” The answer: Comedic genius. Unfortunately, this film suffers from a case of Val Kilmer Isn’t In It.
I have some technical quibbles with the film, such as large explosions that don’t seem to incinerate people 50 feet away even though anyone who’s ever stood near a fireplace, and not directly in it, understands the concept of heat convection. But such quibbles are minor in a movie where a computer named Jarvis can construct a time-based, three-dimensional map of a crime scene purely off of (I assume) traffic cameras.
Where many other superhero trilogies suffer, post-origin story, is that the writers can never seem to overcome the desire to keep showing action-driven scenes “in the suit”. They believe this is what audiences want, despite character struggles being the thing that makes everyone vote for origin stories as their favorites. Here, Mr. Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce have taken the less-traveled route (sort of). When his Iron Man suit dies, and he finds himself in a rural town quickly descended upon by the villain’s henchpersons, he befriends a smart, geeky young boy, Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). Harley provides the film’s best comic relief but also encourages a desperate Stark back to basics, “You’re an engineer. Build something.”
Unfortunately, the conclusion still relies heavily on a predictable intervention either because the writers couldn’t figure out a cleverer way for Tony to fight his way out, or because the studio mandated that there be some gargantuan, effects-laden sequence so as to not render the more expensive 3D screenings pointless—which they ultimately will be when Ultra-High Definition and Laser TVs (I’m not making this up) make their way stateside.
What makes it a palatable entertainment all rests on the strength of the principals: The aforementioned Ben Kingsley has a lot of fun with The Mandarin, and I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers. The before/after duplicity of Guy Pearce’s Killian reflects a younger, thinner (sorry Val) Kilmer somewhere between REAL GENIUS and THE SAINT. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts has an independent, strong female character relative to your typical comic book love interest. The film actually passes the Bechdel Test which is marvelous considering how my… I mean Mr. Downey Jr’s- er, Mr. Stark’s ego drowns out almost everyone else except Sir Ben whose onscreen eccentricities will have you wondering if the stories are true.
Bonus: My favorite scene? Without revealing too much, every begrudging partnership tends to unfold where the reluctant loner walks/rides/drives away, then stops, and rethinks his decision. Does our superhero wait for Harley to tag along or does he say something smug and drive away? Would I’d be a real jerk if I spoiled it for you?
Iron Man 3 • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Running Time: 130 minutes • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content