Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

Grade: 52/C+

It seemed like a good idea, didn’t it? Teaming Robert Downey, Jr. up with his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang collaborator Shane Black on the third and final Iron Man movie opens the door to a number of possibilities- a more distinctive directorial touch than journeyman Jon Favreau, a wonderful dark sense of humor, a sense of playfulness that compliments Downey’s personality. The fact that the two are teaming up after last year’s excellent The Avengers only sets expectations higher. It’s unfortunate, then, that Iron Man 3 is too plagued with problems to really take off. Even compared to Favreau’s uneven but still entertaining Iron Man 2, this is the weakest in the series.

Tony Stark (Downey, still wonderful as ever) seems to be at the height of his powers- business is booming, he’s at a new peak creatively, and his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is more loving than ever. But Tony has been plagued with panic attacks ever since the events of The Avengers, and it’s starting to affect his sleeping habits. There’s an even bigger problem in the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who’s using a new technology to bomb the United States. When Stark’s bodyguard Happy Hogan (Favreau) is injured in a blast, Stark swears revenge, but it turns out that pissing off a terrorist isn’t such a good idea. Things are further complicated as Stark learns that the Mandarin may be connected to Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a brilliant and successful scientist Stark snubbed years ago.

Sounds intriguing, right? Well, too bad, because many of those intriguing plot threads are going to peter out or be solved with a shrug. Much is made of how Killian’s genetic research was used to correct deformities or heal injuries, to the point where the film introduces Pearce as a limping, gibbering scientist in the style of Edward Nygma only to bring him back as a slick, suave character Pearce would usually play. Pearce’s performance in that opening scene is intensely distracting, but it could easily serve a purpose and say something about the way genetic research could go from correcting deficiencies to turning men into something far more sinister. The film doesn’t explore that beyond how it makes for some pretty cool effects as henchmen like James Badge Dale turn into explosive soldiers. Oh, and Rebecca Hall is also involved here as a morally dubious scientist/old flame of Stark’s, but don’t worry too much, because the film doesn’t much care about her either.

That’s one example of what’s wrong with Iron Man 3- potentially intriguing characters and ideas are introduced, only to give way to standard action material. Stark’s anxiety issues could make for great character business, but they’re eventually forgotten about. Killian and the Mandarin eventually involve Pepper in the plot in a rather interesting way, but not much is done with it. It’s not the fault of the actors- Pearce, Hall, Paltrow, and a similarly wasted Don Cheadle are reliably good- but the script just doesn’t give them enough to do other than be damsels in distress, friends to the hero, or the same scheming villains we saw in Jeff Bridges and Sam Rockwell in previous entries. It’s rather disappointing when Joss Whedon so ably switched from character to character in The Avengers, giving most of the major players compelling arcs. Kingsley’s Mandarin is the only supporting character handled well, particularly in a twist that will likely irritate many a comic book fan. This is a spoiler-free review, so mums the word, but needless to say that it’s very much in keeping with writer/director Black’s playful style and knowledge of film history. Pity he can’t pull it off with more characters.

All of this would be less problematic if Black at least delivered the goods in terms of action and, in what’s been the true asset to both his films and the Iron Man series, comedy. Does he? Well, sort of. Black is a more confident action director than the blockbusters-by-numbers Jon Favreau, but only one major set-piece truly dazzles, a thrilling rescue of the passengers of a downed Air Force One. The rest are fairly standard. More problematic, though, is Black’s irreverent sense of humor, which is amusing in parts but often undercuts the seriousness of the situation. Black too often fits in jokes in rather serious situations (the climax has far too many jokes) or tries too hard to be irreverent (Stark jokingly calling a kid a pussy). Worst of all is Black’s tendency to linger on moments of broad comedy for minutes at a time in moments where the urgency of the situation doesn’t really make time for jokes, at least not if they’re not directly related to the situation. A scene with a rabid Stark-admirer in a van is particularly endless. It undercuts the energy of the film, takes away time from more compelling characters, and takes away focus from the plot. It’s never a good sign in a summer blockbuster when one thinks, “Get to the point”.

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