September 29, 2013

Iron Man 3 (09/28/2013)

Lettergrade: B

My minimal enthusiasm for seeing yet another superhero movie (during a summer that seemed to contain nothing but) meant I didn't really make the effort to catch Iron Man 3 when it was in theaters last May. Nevertheless, the flick showed up at the Redbox across the street from our house recently, and we decided to give it a crack. Low and behold, while I didn't think it was a "game changer" for the franchise, it probably engaged and entertained me a little more than the first two Iron Men did.

I think what won me over is that new-to-the-series director Shane Black made the decision to have billionaire, narcissistic, drug-addicted defense contractor Tony Stark (played by millionaire, narcissistic, drug-addicted actor Robert Downey Jr.) spend the majority of the movie stripped of his signature Iron Man suit and super-hero accessories. The result is that the picture has kind of a 90s action movie vibe going on, much like the ones Black wrote earlier in his career: The original 1987 Lethal Weapon, 1991's highly underrated The Last Boy Scout, and 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he also directed and where he first worked with Downey Jr., who was then struggling to make his comeback). I much prefer Black's breezier, low-key approach to the feel of the prior two movies, and the drama and character stuff played way better for me this time on the whole.

The Iron Man 3 plot springs into motion when Stark unwisely taunts a terrorist bomber known as "The Mandarin" (played by a ridiculously accented Ben Kingsley), who promptly destroys stately Stark Manor in Malibu and inadvertently strands our hero in bumfuck Tennessee. The amazing thing here is that the "Tennessee" segment, where Tony has a lot of interaction with a sass-talkin’ local kid, somehow allows this movie to simultaneously rip off both the Michael J. Fox classic Doc Hollywood and Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa. I will say, however, that it's also much more fun to watch Downey Jr. interact with people and sleuth around without his gadgets instead of being able to press a button and fly off toward the next story point as he's done in previous installments.

On that subject, Black really toned down the cartoony nature of the CG man-in-suit sequences overall, and staged a couple of solid action scenes: The destruction of the mansion, to step backward for a moment, is clever and striking in a way that I don't think previous Iron Man set-pieces have been, and the scene where Tony has to rescue a dozen people who are falling from an airplane without the aid of parachutes is top notch.

That's not to say that the movie doesn't fall into the same patterns as its predecessors did. This one pits Stark against yet another rival defense contractor who wants to "out-tech" him and take over the world (or something), just like Jeff Bridges did in the first movie and Sam Rockwell did in the second. Guy Pierce's Aldrich Killian is quite a bit more interesting and memorable than 2's Justin Hammer or 1's stupidly named Obadiah Stane, but it bothered me a little that the objective is essentially the same in all three movies. Each corporate villain is funding or manipulating another super-baddie to meet his ends. Iron Man 3 manages to stir that formula up in a way that surprised me, quite honestly, but the overall template remains the same.

I suppose Iron Man 3 has several clunky comic relief scenes too… beside the Bad Santa schtick, there's also the scene where Tony breaks into a telecom truck and meets a local who has an unhealthy obsession with him (there's no doubt in my mind that the actor in this scene was either a very close friend of the director or that he won a contest through Dr. Pepper which guaranteed him a small part in the movie). I think you take the good with the bad, though, and I stand by my opinion that 3 is mostly a step up from the previous entires.

Jon Favreau directed the other two movies, but declined to do so again this time, apparently so he could spend more time at the Round Table Pizza lunch buffet. He does appear once more as Stark's ever-corpulent bodyguard "Happy Hogan," however (albeit in a smaller role), while Gwyneth Paltrow co-stars again as "Pepper Potts," Stark's girlfriend who inexplicably has a stripper's name and who also was promoted to CEO of Stark Industries a few movies ago or something. Honestly, it's all running together for me at this point. Don Cheadle is back as Black Iron Man, and there are a bunch of old school actors I love in small roles: William Sadler as the President, Miguel Ferrer as his clearly-evil VP, and so on.

I remember liking the first Iron Man back in 2008, but looking back at it now, I can remember very little about the substance of it outside of Morton Downey Jr.'s highly entertaining performance. When I looked it up on IMDB, I had completely forgotten that Bridges had a role in the film at all! Part 2, by contrast, didn't even have that: It was a disastrous goat-fuck of a movie that was in no way coherent or satisfying, and it primarily seemed to exist in order to put pieces in place for 2012's superhero meet-up The Avengers. Now that we're on the other-side of that (and Marvel is a billion dollars richer), I really hope the movies avoid the trap of trying so hard to tie into the others that they're not "complete" on their own.

One thing that bothers me about 3 in particular is that it makes a whoooooole lot of references to the end of The Avengers from last year… There are several points in the movie where Tony stops and says that he just hasn't been right since "New York happened." I watched the premiere of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC the other week, and there were multiple lines in that which referred both to "New York" and some of the other Marvel movies to boot. During the S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere, ABC also ran an ad for next month's Thor 2: The Dark World and there was dialogue there that referred to "the events of New York" as well. Boy... I sure hope that each and every Marvel property doesn't contain an elaborate cross-promotion for all other Marvel properties that are out there and/or about to get a sequel.

If I may name an example from my youth, when the Jetsons met the Flintstones, there was much joy and mirth to be had, sure, but once it was through, Fred and Wilma were back in Bedrock, George and Jane were back in, um, their space apartment, and no one spoke of what happened again (although the reasons why would be much more clear to European audiences who saw the much longer, uncensored cut).

Anyway, all I'm saying is that the Jetsons moved on, and the Flintstones moved on, and damn it, I hope the Marvel superheros do too.

My post on Iron Man 1

My post on Iron Man Deuce

My post on The Avengers

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