jason stives proves his metal …
Plot: When Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
Going into this summer movie season, Iron Man 3 was always going to be a guinea pig. After the colossal success of last year’s The Avengers, anything going into the Phase II era of the Marvel films will be compared to that film. Iron Man 3 was going to be risky due in part to the overall reception of its second installment; but with a change in direction and overall tone, did this film just need a few adjustments to its armor? From this reviewer’s standpoint, yes it did. While things get a bit hairy towards its climax, Iron Man 3 lived up to its hype and told a story both personal and exhilarating to boot.
While many questioned if Shane Black could pull off directing this film in the wake of Jon Favreau leaving the director’s chair he does a damn good job filling those shoes. It helps that he has worked with Robert Downey Jr. before in the highly underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Black understands mixing action and humor due to his success as a screenwriter for the first two Lethal Weapon movies. The film seldom struggles to find its tone: it is a deep personal story, but also very dark. I was quite surprised at how violent the movie actually is. Perhaps this shows how hostile Tony Stark’s world is, in spite of being exposed to intergalactic threats.
On the cosmetic end of things, the film looks great. CGI is more than in abundance this time around (I counted some 200 members of the films digital crew in the closing credits), it doesn’t take away anything. The destruction of the Stark estate is awe-inspiring. Every possible detail went into creating the destruction of one of the many things that represents Stark’s ego and lifestyle. I could go on about the visuals, but this was far more a personal story than it was a grand spectacle. Stark grows as a character, and his personal journey has reached an end with what transpires.
For years fans wondered if they would ever tackle the “demon in the bottle” storyline. While it was never realized, there were ways that the filmmakers utilized it in the sequels that worked better than actually turning Tony into an alcoholic. Having Stark suffer anxieties from the events in New York made his personal struggle far more interesting. He is a man dependent on being Iron Man, but by using his work and his suits as a means of personal identification. This has hurt him personally in his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), making him less the person he thought he was. By giving him something to struggle with, it brings him down to Earth. He loses a lot here by not having those machines to depend on, forcing him to identify himself for what he can do as a person.
This was handled well by emphasizing the whole idea of him being a mechanic who fixes things. I personally like that it took a kid to help him to figure that out. Sure, it seems a bit silly, but a kid would be the last place Tony would think to look for inspiration. All these personal issues wouldn’t be realized the way they are if the lead wasn’t as strong as he was and Robert Downey Jr. truly shines in this film. He is Tony Stark. But what works best here is Downey shows how he can incorporate a sense of compassion and humanity slowly over time into a character that is known for being kind of a cocky jerk. We find ourselves less likely wanting to smack him for being a colossal ass than we have before and he even apologizes to someone with a lot of sincerity.
The rest of the returning cast is serviceable at best but we aren’t given a lot of time to spend with them. Gwyneth Paltrow continues to just walk through her role as Pepper Potts and while she gets some truly bad ass moments here and continues to show great chemistry with her co-star, she is a take-it-or-leave-it individual. Don Cheadle should have had more time here as Rhodes and I really wanted to see more of the Iron Patriot in action (yes, I like that name over War Machine tremendously) but he is just not that important enough in this particular story. Guy Pearce does a good job as Aldrich Killian, but he also feels a bit stale and overacted at times. I always say there is never enough Guy Pearce in films these days, but even here he felt more like a Bond villain than a serviceable threat to a superhero. The supporting cast doesn’t weigh down the films overall pace and enjoyment by any means but what does way it down is how everything is resolved.
As stated before the film starts to get a bit wonky towards the end, and I would go so far to say that the third act is a bit of a mess and incredibly over the top. The trouble is the film spends a lot of time watching Tony unravel himself and then learn from his mistakes, but not enough care is given in the resolution of the bigger picture. Tackling the Extremis storyline from the comics was a smart move because, much like what Stark goes through, it’s about how one thing can manipulate the life of a person serving a particular purpose. However, it’s given so much time to breathe that all the events that conclude the film either feel rushed or completely scatterbrained, including the reveal about the identity of the Mandarin himself. I’ll admit this only bothered me a bit since the actual inclusion of the Mandarin felt like an odd choice for this film but how it was done was both clever, if rather pointless at the same time.
The over top nature of the climax shouldn’t be an issue after the global spectacle that ended The Avengers, but for some reason, as cool as the army of various Iron Man suits looked in battle (I loved their availability to Stark when it looked like he was going to fail), it felt hard to follow at times. The conclusion felt like a cheap way out of this very complicated situation. The aerial ballet that was the Mark 42 rescuing the passengers of Air Force One was impressive but also rather silly too despite being visually elating to watch.
Despite the messy nature of the third act, Iron Man 3 really felt like a step up from the second installment in the overall story and presentation. Concluding Stark’s personal journey to find his identity was handled well here, even if it conclude with him simply deciding to fix his physical problem. It will be very interesting to see what becomes of Tony Stark from here on out both in his role with the Avengers and his path in any subsequent films that they may do with the character. With Iron Man 3 being the last contractually obligated film that Robert Downey Jr. has to do, it will be interesting to see if they even bother continuing doing Iron Man films down the line. If this is it, it was a very solid conclusion and one that I can easily throw its issues aside for to say that it was one hell of a ride to start off the summer movie season.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)