First off, let me take a moment, on behalf of the Simply Film crew, to apologize for last week’s little hiatus. The college student is a fickle beast at the best of times, and when finals roll around, we tend to withdraw into an autistic state, colloquially known as “couldn’t be asked.” Now that exams are coming to a close, we can get back to what really matters: the movies.
This week, the year’s first superhero flick hitting the big screen was Iron Man 3. I think the film has already made more money than exists on the entire planet, and if you do in fact posses the ability of sight, chances are good that you’ve already seen it around 2 or 3 times. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at what old Tony Stark has up his sleeve this time around.
Iron Man 3 is helmed by genre veteran Shane Black, who perhaps does action comedy better than anyone else in the industry. With accomplishments like Lethal Weapon, The Last Action Hero, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang filling out a robust resumé, the bar was set preposterously high for Iron Man 3- his first foray into the Marvel universe. Happily, Black doesn’t disappoint as far as both the action and the comedy are concerned, and real effort has been made to flesh out Tony Stark as a character as he interacts with people and situations in his trademark caustic manner. Action sequences, likewise, are explored in a fresh new way as Stark’s toys get a fun, new spin and provide for some enthralling visuals. In an unprecedented turn, I actually recommend investing in the jaw dropping 3D experience if you have the chance and are willing to drop the extra cash.
Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, who at this point in his career has almost reached cult hero status, in the same vein as Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack. While I appreciate that RDJ is a polarizing figure, with some folks being off-put by his flamboyant personality, it’s basically accepted fact that no Iron Man, past or future, will equal his. RDJ captures Stark’s incorrigible roguishness and scathing brand of humor like no one else can. Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow also reprise their roles as Col. Rhodes (aka War Machine) and Pepper Pots, respectively. The surprise standout, however, was the supremely talented Ben Kingsley as an ‘international terrorist’ known as The Mandarin. Kingsley gave a delightful and genuinely charming performance, which was unfortunately let down by some extraordinarily disappointing writing.
I’ve got a slew of issues with this film which are exacerbated by a thick coating of disappointment. The film had so much going for it: the cast was talented, it had a budget larger than the GDP’s of several third world countries combined, and it had the entire wealth of the Marvel canon to draw from. Why, then, did it ultimately fall flat?
Good question! The story is a good place to start. The weird thing about Iron Man 3 is the Iron Man as a charter is barely involved in it at all. From the beginning, he’s reactionary, and simply responds to what’s happening around him. In a normal hero story, the plot is driven by the actions of the protagonist, which allow the audience to get invested in the struggles of a single individual. Here, Iron Man could have sat around catching up on episodes of Game of Thrones (save the final showdown, obviously) and things would have been largely the same. In the second act, the story takes a wrong turn at the corner of Contrived Cove and Arbitrary Avenue, with characters serendipitously being in the right place at the right time when Tony Stark just so happens to blow into town. The relationship between Pepper and Tony is quite stilled and unconvincing, which is important because the old girl is kidnapped (Kidnapping? In a Shane Black movie?) and the audience feels no motivation to get her back. Come to think of it, her whole role in relation to Tony is strange too. She seems to show no empathy towards Tony when he is shown suffering from severe symptoms of PTSD, even when Tony entreats her to be patient with him. With this kind of unconvincing relationship, it’s hard to get engaged in the personal struggles of the characters.
And the twist. Oh, the twist! I can’t really talk about this next section without revealing the SPOILERS BELOW, so be warned. About half way through the film, The Mandarin- the big baddie that the whole movie has been hyping up- is revealed to be nothing more than a hoax, orchestrated by a character we were introduced to earlier. But here’s the thing: The Mandarin is replaced by a completely generic, uninteresting, uninspired, insipid, bland, banal, trite, and ultimately boring charter who has no distinguishing characteristics aside from being the evil white guy du jour. With an absolutely ambiguous and arbitrary motivation, Whitey seems to want to be in charge just for the sake of being in charge. That’s not good storytelling! That’s just laziness! At least The Mandarin was interesting to watch.
To me, Iron Man as a series is finished. I was curious to see how the franchise could continue to ramp up the stakes after the presumably world-shattering events of The Avengers. My big questing was “Where do we go from here?” Sadly, Iron Man 3 provides no answer, and doesn’t seem to keep the series fresh enough to warrant another sequel. Nevertheless, we’re reminded at the during the credits that “Tony Stark will return,” but the only place that I see him still being relevant is in The Avengers 2.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5