Ironman 3 (2013): Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black, directed by Shane Black. Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and Ben Kingsley. Rated PG-13 for: intense action scenes and intense camera-mugging. Running Time: 130 Minutes.
Rating: 3/4 Stars
Whether or not you are a fan of the current Ironman franchise (and, by extension, this latest addition) depends almost entirely on whether or not you can enjoy Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the character. Seldom have the identities of a celebrity and a superhero become so closely intertwined in the public’s mind (think Christopher Reeve and Superman). Downey is an excellent actor with a multitude of great movies in his filmography (among them Good Night and Good Luck and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), but it’s the Tony Stark/Ironman persona he’s developed over 4 movies (Avengers included) that currently dominates his status in the world of pop culture.
Yes, the movies feature increasingly extravagant (and admittedly great-looking) special effects- this one has a scene that features a blow-up 3-dimensional hologram of a human brain- and huge, sprawling, CGI-laden action scenes, but that can no longer sell an Ironman movie. There’s plenty of that to be found in every other Marvel movie of the past decade, and at no point does the very well-done action of Ironman 3 ever top the phenomenal third-act jamboree of The Avengers. No, what sells these films is the huge popularity of Downey’s one-lining shooting, cynicism-laden, self-aware Tony Stark, who is as Tony Stark-ish as ever in this, the first major blockbuster of 2013. If you love Tony Stark, you will love this movie. If you are sick of him, stay faaaaar away.
It’s been a year since Lowkey’s invasion (or, as everyone oh-so-subtly refers to it, “New York”), and Tony Stark has issues. Aside from the usual ones I mean. In addition to blowing Pepper Pots off as coldly as he possibly can (and disregarding her safety more than ever), he’s also struggling with PTSD as a result of his near-death experience within the wormhole. Every so often (but never at an inconvenient moment), sudden flashbacks cause him to break out in panicky sweats and run off from….whatever non-lethal thing he happened to be doing at the time. He don’ have time fer no panicky flashbacks though, because yet another terrorist (possibly from the same group in the first film) has been systematically launching a series of mysterious bombings around the country, and occasionally hijacking all national airwaves to broadcast strangely-edited messages warning of a coming reckoning with the President. The apparent leader of this operation is the Mandarin, who some have described to me as “Ironman’s Joker,” a strange figure clad in cross-cultural mystique (his title is Chinese, his garb Eastern, but he’s the head of an Arabic terrorist organization), and played by the ever-reliable Ben Kingsley.
I could set up the plot further, but at this point, I really shouldn’t have to. Ironman is the only one with the technological capabilities (aka the All-Powerful God knows as JARVIS) to solve the mystery of where the Mandarin is and how he’s pulling off bombings that seem to feature no explosives. There are a few plot twists involving both Stark and Pepper Pots, but they never really keep the film from following the now-standard Marvel formula, which I will not waste space refraining.
I enjoyed the film a lot while in the theater, although the whole thing started to crumble about 20 minutes later when I started to notice the strings trying to hold the movie’s disparate parts together. As stated above, Downey is as Starkish as ever, which actually saves a few scenes that few, if any, other actors could have pulled off. As for Pepper Pots, if you have been waiting for her to finally get a chance to do something other than be ignored, the reward for your patience has finally arrived, although by that time Ironman 3 adds so much more to the list of frustratingly unnecessary abuses to her character that some might not feel the wait was worth it. Gwyneth Paltrow deserves full credit for matching Downey by being as subtle as he isn't, even if their relationship is just a few notches short of being straight-up abusive, and I really wish the next film (if there is a next one) gives her character the dignity it fully deserves. Hell, give her a big role in the next Avengers film! She's earned it, damnit!
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned War Machine yet, well, I can’t really talk about him until the franchise decides to actually DO something with the character.
Aside from a few welcome shifts in tone and genre in a few moments that shake the narrative up a bit (and, in my personal opinion, make the film more interesting that it otherwise would have been), what really makes the film worth watching is the reveal concerning Mandarin, where he is, and why he’s doing all this. I will not spoil it at all, except to say that it is the one moment of genuine brilliance in the movie, made even more fantastic by Ben Kingsley’s spot-on performance. If you are a fan of the comic character, be warned- you might be pissed.
For all of the films’ flaws, it does its job well enough, and a few very good moments here and there were enough to tip the scales in my mind towards 3 stars for this one. Many (if not most of you) have probably seen the movie already, so for those of you who haven’t, I suppose I’d recommend it, although maybe not for the reasons Marvel would prefer. It’s fun and entertaining, it’s got good action and solid acting, and for most of you, it’ll hold up long enough for you leave the theater and be halfway home before your brain restarts.