The third installments of superhero franchises are known for being let downs, and “Iron Man 3” will do little to dispel that reputation.
I don’t mind shallow if a movie compensates with spectacle. The action here, though, wasn’t enough to save the day. I found “Iron Man 3” to be at times silly, misguided, dull, and disappointing. It’s still a big budget summer superhero movie, and as such, carries an inherent entertainment value. But anything else above and beyond is squandered, sadly.
A terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been hijacking national airwaves and broadcasting anti-American diatribes, claiming responsibility for a series of mysterious explosions. When someone Tony Stark (Robert Downey) is close to is caught in one, he publicly vows revenge. Unfortunately, this makes him a target for the Mandarin and his forces. Stark’s ocean-view estate is destroyed by a helicopter assault soon thereafter, and he’s left without his headquarters and back up armors.
There’s no time to regroup, however. In addition finding and stopping the Mandarin, Stark will have also have to determine what, if any, is the connection between the explosions and A.I.M., the biological research group headed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). A.I.M. has been conducting experiments with a genetic compound known as Extremis, which grant people extreme regenerative (and other) powers, but at the cost of becoming unstable on a molecular level.
When Stark’s girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is abducted by A.I.M., Stark has to use his wits and suddenly limited resources to rescue her and stop the terrorists.
I have a number of issues with “Iron Man 3”, many of them major.
I’m not enamored of either villain in this film. Ben Kingsley puts on an angry Walter Cronkite impersonation before the film absolutely neuters his character (something the comic book fan in me is very, very angry about). Pearce’s character, meanwhile, is given poor to no motivation to be who he is or to do what he’s doing. In fact, what his master plan was is still a bit of a grey area for me, I’m still not certain I know 100% what his character was hoping to accomplish. The evil henchmen glow in the dark and attack people by grabbing hold of them (something the film makes easy for them, in spite of the fact that our hero can fly). One of them even breathes fire at one point. It was a level of ridiculous I wasn’t prepared to fully accept.
I’m not a fan of the fact that Tony Stark adopts a kid sidekick for a significant stretch of the film, nor of the fact that his girlfriend actually dons the armor. The Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) exists solely to give someone for Stark to crack jokes to, outside of one lame action moment that I swear was written just to give him something to do.
The action content was disappointing to me as well. It was sparse, carried little weight, and was occasionally silly. By this point in time, Stark’s armor is practically magic. He can leap into it in mid-air, telepathically summon it from hundreds of miles away, use it to encase or entrap others, or explode them remotely. The suits even fight on their own now, which, frankly, removes the stakes from combat. Should audiences worry that a robot Iron Man is going to be destroyed? Of course not. The resulting action is hollow, unfortunately. Certainly, much of this is done to illustrate that it’s Tony Stark, and not the armor that’s the hero (as he spends so much time WITHOUT the suit), but that doesn’t help the fact that as an audience we don’t actually get a lot of Iron Man, and when we do, Tony Stark isn’t even always in the suit.
“Iron Man 3” illustrates some of the worst aspects superhero storytelling. There’s honestly no real reason for it to exist except to make a third movie in the franchise. There’s no new characters that were begging to be brought to life on the big screen (and don’t get me started on what they did to the one that was, the Mandarin), there’s no story that needed conclusion from prior installments, it’s not a direct adaptation of a story from the comics (Yes, I’m aware of the “Extremis” arc) and in and of itself, there’s really nothing original here worth telling. As a result, we wind up with a film that feels like an excuse just to have a superhero movie.
I wouldn’t have minded any of that, if this movie didn’t make me feel it so blatantly.
Were it not for my pre-existing affection for these characters, and the big budget spectacle of it all, I’d be tempted to call this film bad outright. As it is, it’s still a big movie, loaded with visual effects, telling a story about characters that I’ve liked in other context, both in comics and prior films.