April 2024

Iron Man 3 (2013)

DIRECTOR: Shane Black

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, James Badge Dale, Ty Simpkins, William Sadler, Miguel Ferrer, Paul Bettany (voice)


When it comes to superhero trilogies, Iron Man 3 isn’t bad enough to be an example of the “third movie curse”, but nor does it save the best for last. Like Iron Man 2, it’s adequately diverting summer escapist entertainment, but like Iron Man 2, it’s mildly underwhelming. Perhaps responding to a common criticism of the last film, Iron Man 3 has a somewhat higher action quotient, and it wisely doesn’t try to match the sheer spectacle of last summer’s The Avengers, aiming to be a little more character-oriented. Like its predecessor, its pacing is uneven, with some lengthy sequences that tempt one to check the time in between spectacular action sequences. The result is serviceable summer comic book action fare, but doesn’t go above and beyond like The Avengers or Christopher Nolan’s recently completed Batman trilogy. Perhaps, after such entries that defy the supposed constraints of how far this genre can go, more ordinary installments like this just don’t feel like quite enough anymore.

Ever since the alien assault on New York that climaxed The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has been suffering from insomnia and periodic anxiety attacks. His relationship with now live-in girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is strained, and he spends his substantial free time building a small army of remotely-controlled unmanned suits that, like most Stark inventions, still have a few kinks to work out. Things only get more stressful when bombing strikes by a bin Laden-esque terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) leave Tony’s faithful bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in a coma and lead the President (William Sadler) to turn to Colonel Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to join the War on Terror in his own suit War Machine, renamed Iron Patriot. Meanwhile, scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is working with one of Tony’s old flings Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) to perfect a “super-soldier” type project with kinks of its own. Tony publicly challenges The Mandarin to face him one-on-one, but all is not as it seems and he may be biting off more than he can chew.

IronMan3thumbAfter the spectacular extravaganza of The Avengers, it’s perhaps inevitable that any subsequent individual superhero entry feels like a step back (that hasn’t stopped Thor 2 and Captain America 2 from being on the horizon as well). Iron Man 3 not trying to equal that level of big-scale action and special effects is probably a good move, but it has issues of its own that have nothing to do with comparisons to The Avengers. Like Iron Man 2, it has too much downtime in between the action, but at least in Iron Man 2, we had a steady supply of snappy one-liners to keep things moving. The tone here is slightly darker (emphasis on slightly; this is no The Dark Knight), and Tony is comparatively subdued. There is a lengthy detour with Tony wandering around a small Tennessee town in the company of a generically whip-smart, plucky boy genius sidekick (Ty Simpkins) who eats up entirely too much screentime. There is a scene here that seems briefly as if the filmmakers might have dared to go down The Dark Knight road and actually eliminated the hero’s love interest, before quickly not only chickening out, but cheating to do it.  Tony’s PTSD (?) feels like a thinly-developed and vaguely-explained plot point that should have been either expanded on or left out.  Coming on the heels of seeing The Avengers assembled and fighting side-by-side, it strains credibility that none of the destruction wrought by The Mandarin would bring S.H.I.E.L.D. (given one brief throwaway mention) or any of the other Avengers into the action, even when SPOILER WARNING Tony is presumed dead after his house goes down in fiery ruin. There’s not even the Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury cameo that’s become ubiquitous in these movies. On the plus side, there are more standout action sequences than either Iron Man or Iron Man 2, including Tony’s mansion under attack by helicopter gunships, a nifty midair rescue from Air Force One, and the climactic brew-ha. Tony himself spends the least time in the suit of any installment, but there’s a whole fleet of remotely-controlled unmanned Iron Mans to compensate. There’s a plot twist involving misdirection about who’s really the lead villain that will be controversial to fans of the comics. In my opinion, it works in the context of the film, and comes with a level of wit and social commentary, although we’ve already had similar twists in the first Iron Man, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight RisesSpeaking of social commentary, Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin looks disturbingly like Osama bin Laden, too much so for me to buy it’s anything but deliberate.  Shane Black replacing Jon Favreau in the director’s chair comes smoothly, with nothing obvious onscreen to highlight the switch.

Robert Downey Jr. varies his performance slightly this time around, going a little lighter on the flippant quipping and a little heavier on the emotion and vulnerability. Of course, since this series’ tone never gets anywhere near as dark as where Nolan’s Batman trilogy dared to go, there’s a limit to how serious Downey or Tony ever gets. Gwyneth Paltrow gets into the action more than usual, even donning the armor at one point. Don Cheadle is underused, not having much to do until the climactic action extravaganza, where he serves his purpose as Tony’s sidekick. Guy Pearce is what you’d expect from him, mixing oily charm with villainous scenery-chewing, though as a character, Killian’s motivation is weak even by comic book villain standards.  Without giving too much about his role away, Ben Kingsley steals some scenes, though not quite in the way one might expect. Rebecca Hall is mostly wasted, and Maya Hansen seems a rather superfluous character (reportedly she was originally intended to be the villain, but the studio replaced her with Pearce, leaving Hall feeling like a half-baked remnant of an abandoned plot direction who needed to be either expanded or removed altogether).  James Badge Dale (a low-profile character actor having a busy year with supporting roles in this, World War Z, and The Lone Ranger) is the henchman whose comeuppance serves as appetizer to the climactic brew-ha.  Jon Favreau, relieved of his directing duties, spends most of the movie in a coma, there are small roles for William Sadler and Miguel Ferrer as the President and Vice President, and Paul Bettany again provides the voice of Tony’s personal computer Jarvis (talk about collecting an easy recurring paycheck).

Robert Downey Jr. has claimed in interviews that this will be his final solo outing as Iron Man (not counting the upcoming Avengers 2). Whether this will pan out remains to be seen (Downey as Tony is enormously popular and surely Marvel would be reluctant to let him go without a fight), but it may be for the best if Iron Man—and the other Avengers, for that matter—appear from now on only as an assembled team. In any event, Iron Man 3 is adequate comic book movie action escapism to make for a summer diversion, but when all the flashy action is over, it doesn’t linger strongly in the memory.

* * 1/2