By Lon Harris
“Iron Man 3” is easily better than the deathly dull, plodding “Iron Man 2,” but I still didn’t LOVE it. A disappointment considering my general affinity for the work of co-writer/director Shane Black. Don’t get me wrong – there are some signature Black touches, particularly the droll, self-aware Robert Downey Jr. voice-over narration that’s a direct callback to the ingenious “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”
In general, the film works best as a comedy. To give away the film’s Big Joke would be lame for anyone who hasn’t caught it yet, but I can talk about the rather brilliant rapport between Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and a young fan from Tennessee who becomes essentially his partner-in-crime during the film’s midsection. This young actor, Ty Simpkins, is a real find; he genuinely holds his own alongside RDJ.
But this is, in a lot of ways, the Comic Adventures of Tony Stark more than an actual IRON MAN movie.
Black has rendered Stark so awkward and bumbling, he’s basically a different character than the one we’ve come to know from the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We sense the Tony Stark of “The Avengers” could basically dispatch these problems in an afternoon.
I mean, I know the appeal of these Marvel heroes is that they are vulnerable and relateable, but does Stark have to be such a – to use his own unfortunate phrase – “hot mess” from beginning to end here? He’s seemingly incapable of inventing a device that works properly, he takes an hour to solve a mystery that’s easily telescoped for the audience in the film’s first 10 minutes, he’s having anxiety attacks. Hell, the guy barely wears his Iron Man suit during the course of the entire movie. It’s always hanging half-off, with low power, restrained by a 20 ton concrete block.
It’s as if Black found the character quite simply over-powered. Rather than come up with adversaries that would truly challenge an army of Iron Men, he chose to constantly come up with reasons for the suit not to work. It becomes a tiresome device: 1 joke about Tony miscalculating something, leading to disaster, can be funny. 12 jokes about it violates something essential about the character. He doesn’t fuck up all the time. He’s a super-genius.
Stark can maybe be forgiven for not figuring out all the details of the Mandarin’s sinister plot though… because they make absolutely no sense. This has become something of a running theme in recent action/superhero blockbusters – evil plans presented as fiendishly intricate that don’t seem to follow any kind of consistent logic. (I’m reminded specifically of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Skyfall,” two above-average films that would have been even better if they made any goddamn sense.)
Here, the villain’s main actions end up basically having no motive. When the film was over, I still was not quite sure what The Mandarin had hoped to gain, or what was meant to be the final outcome of all this killing. It’s a bit unsatisfying, to say the least.
So, all in all, I’d say this is far better than the loathsome “Iron Man 2” but not as essential a take on the character as the terrific first “Iron Man,” still the finest of the Marvel Studios adventures. I’d also say “Avengers” and “Captain America” are probably superior to this as well. It’s on a par with, say, “Thor.”