by Bob Garver
May 6, 2013.“Iron Man” is probably the most lucrative superhero franchise in Hollywood. Nolan’s “Batman” series is sadly done, the “Spider-Man” reboot was hardly Marvel-ous, and I’m not convinced that Zack “Sucker Punch” Snyder can sell this generation on Superman in the upcoming “Man of Steel”. The real powerhouse is of course “The Avengers”, the unprecedented convergence of superhero franchises that managed to rule the box office in an extremely competitive 2012.
But as much as that film emphasized teamwork, there was little doubt that the most popular member of the team, and the one most capable of carrying the first follow-up film, was Iron Man. The new film sees Iron Man aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) affected by self-doubt. He barely got out of “The Avengers” alive and he’s wondering how much longer he can keep up his lifestyle. He hides in his basement under the guise of updating the Iron Man technology, hoping that the people he cares about most will spare him from the challenges of life. This includes his ever-loyal girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), high-ranking colonel friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and hapless bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau, abdicating the director’s chair for Shane Black).
What Tony doesn’t understand is that these people can’t just leave him alone because they care about him too much. It’s an attack on Happy that tells Stark that the world once again needs Iron Man. The threat in “Iron Man 3” is complicated, and even harder to describe without spoilers. The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) is an international terrorist who carries out impersonal attacks to send a message to the President. Sir Ben plays him with a voice that some have favorably compared to Richard Nixon. I say it’s more of a dopey Walter Cronkite. Kingsley is a highly respectable actor who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty on occasion. I knew he was capable of taking Mandarin in any number of directions, but I never would have suspected the one the film chooses for him. The Kingsley character’s true nature makes for the single most memorable aspect of the film.
The other villain is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) a sleazy scientist spurned socially in the past by both Tony and Pepper. Killian has created a drug that allows people to recover from injuries (including severed limbs) in seconds, but it makes their brains malleable. The film fails to explain how he controls his subjects’ thoughts (does he somehow program instructions into the initial dose or give them instructions as they go along?) or exactly what it takes to kill one of them (at one point Tony says, “Recover from that!” and I don’t really see why they can’t). But the drug makes people’s eyes glow with fire, so I’ll let it slide.
The action is typical superhero stuff – lots of fighting and explosions. The only interesting sequence is a midair rescue where Iron Man doesn’t have enough strength to save a whole group of falling people and has to get creative. The dialogue is typical of the franchise – mostly Tony cracking wise while the world around him is desperate. It’s hard to believe that Tony Stark has led so many films to blockbuster status while acting like a complete jerk. The film throws in a timewasting trip to Tennessee and you’ve got yourself a mildly disappointing superhero movie.
I like the increased intensity in “Iron Man 3”. There was something unimpressive about the last two movies having greedy villains who didn’t really want to hurt anyone besides Tony. The new villain wants to take over the country, and it’s nice to see Iron Man get involved in a fight bigger than himself. But Tony Stark is still selfish and unlikeable, and whatever lessons in humility he learns here will have faded by the time they make “Iron Man 4” or “The Avengers 2”.
Two Stars out of Five.
“Iron Man 3” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. Its running time is 130 minutes.