Tuesday, May 7, 2013


It isn't until after the credits roll that we first get to read the full title of the newest installment in the ongoing Iron Man series. However, something is not quite right. Instead of the usual title followed by its numerical signifier, we are presented with the title Iron Man Three, spelled-out quite differently than all of the promotional items leading up to the film's release. Perhaps if the filmmakers had spent less time spelling-out the title and more time spelling-out the machinations of the newest Marvel film I would have enjoyed it more.

That's not to say that there isn't enjoyment to be had from Iron Man Three; at this point the well-oiled cast and filmmaking team has the characterizations of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) down to an art. The witty banter that the series is famous for is at an all-time high and everyone's favorite Tony Stark has never been so outrageous. If there is a heart to the Iron Man franchise -- be it one with shrapnel stuck in it -- Robert Downey Jr. is it. Whether the films are good or bad, he keeps everything moving forward and almost excuses any missteps along the way.

However, in Iron Man Three the missteps quickly cause the film to veer dangerously off-track as Downey struggles to course correct. It is a shame too because I found most of these missteps to be born out of some truly clever ideas. The decision to remove Tony Stark from his armor for most of the film and the direction that was taken in redesigning the villain, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), being chief among them. Both of these concepts are so wholly different from what has come before in the series that it helps the film avoid the traps associated with being the third film in a series.

Despite these clever additions, the writers continue to add new ideas and concepts before they can properly lay the groundwork to allow their best ideas to take root. In the first half of the movie the ideas of mind controlled robots, fire-breathing soldiers, the Mandarin, AIM, Extremis, Iron Patriot, and the fact that Tony is suffering from PTSD after the events of The Avengers are introduced.

When all of these elements begin to collide in the third act, I found it incredibly difficult to care or really understand the motivations of the film's characters. It isn't that I'm unfamiliar to these concepts, I've been reading Iron Man comics for the past 15 years and should be the first to recognize all of the ideas that Iron Man Three puts forward. The problem is that none of these concepts are ever given time to be explored in the world of this film so that I could assimilate them into my understanding of Tony Stark's life.

So when Tony finds himself in trouble I was unsure whether or not that was actually the case. Can he call on his mind-controlled robots to save him or not? Can Tony's chest reactor power the Iron Man suits or not? Is Tony stranded in the Tennessee wilderness with no access to an Iron Man suit or not? The film itself seems to oscillate between answers to almost all of these questions as the plot needs them. Sure the action scenes look spectacular and have all new levels of mayhem being depicted in them, but its hard to care when the consequences have never been established.

While watching, I couldn't help but think back to a key scene in Iron Man when Tony first tests out his new suit. As he rockets into the higher levels of the atmosphere, he quickly realizes that his suit is going to freeze and that he will plummet to his death if he doesn't do something quick.

It is a tense and harrowing sequence purely because we know the limitations that Tony has to work with and the consequences if he doesn't succeed -- he'll become an Iron Pancake. This sequence is an incredibly simple one and is successful for the very same reason.

Iron Man Three's villains are equally under-developed, with goals that are never clearly established and whose means of achieving them make little to no sense. Characters' allegiances change faster than I even had a chance to care enough to realize what had happened.

The addition of director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), taking over the reins from Jon Favreau, sounded like a great idea at the time; his film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang contains Robert Downey Jr.'s best and wittiest performance to date. However, Black goes overboard here and alters Downey's performance from a light, witty characterization with real, dramatic heft to a purely comical one. Downey isn’t alone and before long his entire supporting cast is spouting nonstop one-liners. This removes the very thing that made Stark so unique and such an interesting dramatic character to watch. That's not to say that I wanted to see a dark character study of a man suffering from PTSD but this sole dramatic element is only utilized to set up a joke and make a reference to the strangely absent Avengers and SHIELD.

Iron Man Three is far from being a terrible superhero film; it might just be Marvel's most interesting one. However, it overdoes every concept that it presents, has plot-holes that a helicarrier could fly through, undoes all the connective tissue of The Avengers, and both sets up and resolves plotlines that were unnecessary for both this film's and the series' future.

 It is appropriate that it is Iron Man Three that introduces Tony's mind-controlled suits. They are shiny and spectacular on the surface but completely hollow on the inside. I wonder what this might be a metaphor for?

2 / 4 Reels



  1. Good review Dan. Most of it will piss people off because of where it goes, but all is fine because the movie is fun, entertaining, and everything we expected from Stark and co.

  2. Also: child actor. An absolute death sentence for your movie. The worst.

    1. I liked that they made fun of the child/action hero team-up, but then they cast a weak child actor. It's hard to be critical of the medium and then doing it poorly...