Monday, May 13, 2013

A Frank Review of "Iron Man 3" (2013)

The Short Version? Lethal Weapon Mark VI
What Is It? Super-Hero Flick.
Who Is In It? The American Sherlock Holmes, Marty Kaan, Mahatma Gandhi, Peter Weyland and Holly Holliday
Should I See It? Maybe

Following up on both the previous installments and Marvel's The Avengers, Tony Stark is trying to get on with domestic life alongside Pepper Potts while suffering through panic attacks related to the alien invasion of New York. An international terrorist known only as The Mandarin runs afoul of Iron Man, and then things get a bit twisted up.

Iron Man 3 is clearly the worst film of the series to date. That doesn't make it a bad movie, as evidenced by the near-universally orgasmic reviews I've read. It's just not as good as you've heard, and I think once the afterglow wears off, folks will find that it's quite a bit less than its predecessors in the staying power department.

I've been a fan of Robert Downey Jr. for decades, but there was a ten year span or so there where a season on Ally McBeal would be considered a period highlight. 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a career game changer, in which Downey was not only at his best, but co-star Val Kilmer and writer/director Shane Black were right there with them. Downey continued rebuilding, and landing the lead in Iron Man was the result. In the five years since, we've seen a lot of the guy, but his schtick has devolved through public repetition into the sort of self-satisfied lazy smugness that recalls early '90s Eddie Murphy. Seemingly in response to this, Iron Man 3 tries to take Downey back to the scrappy down-on-his-luck hooligan Harry Lockhart with Shane Black in tow. What it does instead is recall a modern masterpiece during more pedestrian fare where the needs of keeping Robert Downey Jr. happy are now paramount, rather than his ability to serve the role of Tony Stark.

Jon Favreau faced an awful lot of undue criticism for his second directorial turn on Iron Man, and when he was denied The Avengers, he quit the franchise to do Cowboys & Aliens. Favreau seems to have been eating his feelings since, with a visible bloat as he offers a guest turn in a series he used to run. He has even less screen time in his ongoing cameos as bodyguard Happy Hogan than before, and despite seeming to be intended to serve as a motivating factor for Tony in the new film, I'd forgotten all about the character until the film's coda. Pepper Potts was similarly sidelined, turning up in a few early scenes and then dropping out for most of the flick until the big resolution. The presence I did miss throughout the film was Jon Favreau as the director, and one of my first complaints about replacement Shane Black was the obligatory early nods then dispatching of the characters Favreau found necessary in his films.

Ben Kingsley is a gas as the Mandarin for his relatively slight screen time, but his development seemed driven more by an avoidance of the complications Fu Manchu with power rings presented than true innovation. Guy Pearce has two notes as Aldrich Killian, but no power chords. I saw potential in Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, vaguely recalling Madeleine Stowe in her glory days, but the role deflates rapidly. James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak chew some mean scenery, but they're just muscle. When Ty Simpkins as the adorable boy helper outshines William Sadler and Miguel Ferrer, you've wasted their talents on throwaway parts.

Gone is the cock rock of AC/DC and the punk tunes that helped define Tony Stark, replaced by forgettable tracks and score. No ostentatious displays of wealth and power. No shameless flirtation with gorgeous ladies. Forget about convincing technobabble once you apply anime logic to the Iron Man armor or have Tony Stark bypasses Radio Shack for Home Depot while in dire straits for equipment needs. There's now a kid sidekick, and the genius that invented an arc reactor out of scraps in a cave decides to become a hoodie ninja with gadgets Data from Goonies would have smirked at. The lead character offers omniscient narration that's pointless until the stinger. The one established character with a meaningful presence is Colonel James Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard in the role. Rhodey is essential to recreating the black/white buddy cop aesthetic of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, all written by Shane Black. In fact, the whole movie feels like a greatest hits collection of Black's other movie moments. Of course there's a torture scene. Of course it's set during Christmas. Of course the finale takes place on an abandoned oil platform at night, which is totally different than the abandoned dock yard in Lethal Weapon 2. Again, I'm a fan, but that makes the constant regurgitation that much more tiresome.

Listen, I'm not a pseudonym for Armond White. There's plenty of dumb fun to be had with this roller coaster, and the over-the-top action is very much of the flavor one would hope from a comic book adaptation. The story logic is appalling, but there's kicks to be had with your brain switch in the "off" position. I'd probably be more positive if this was a spin-off War Machine movie, but as the seemingly final installment of an unplanned trilogy? Not so much. It feels set apart from the first two movies, and rushes through massive aspects of closure at the end in a jarring yet perfunctory fashion. For all it gets right, overall the film feels wrong as a sequel to the Favreau efforts. Ultimately, what it serves to prove is that perhaps the franchise not only could survive the departure of the increasingly expensive Robert Downey Jr., but perhaps should at this point, since much of his spirit and that of the enterprise has left the building.

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