“You forgot to DVR Mad Men?”
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why a May Marvel release was set during Christmas, but that’s because I’d forgotten that Iron Man 3 was directed and co-written by Lethal Weapon screenwriter and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang writer/director Shane Black who favors the holiday as a setting for his action/comedy shenanigans. The other clue is that it’s got a reasonable amount of humor and an agreeable swagger that’s always self-effacing enough to ultimately call bullshit on its own macho-ness before it becomes ridiculous. Throw in a few narrative twists that threaten to breathe life into an increasingly stale superhero exercise and you’ve got a summer entertainment that isn’t as much fun as the equally ridiculous The Avengers, but is an improvement on the first two mostly dull Iron Man films and another nice antidote to the oppressively self-serious Dark Knight series.
Yes, Tony Stark has his demons, but unlike Bruce Wayne, he at least realizes how much fun it is to be a super-rich superhero asshole. Iron Man is honest about that, even while it asks us to ultimately forgive him and love him. That last part works because Robert Downey Jr. makes it work. Downey, by the way, showed a comic flare for cruelty to children in Todd Phillips’ otherwise laugh-free Due Date and he and Black run with that in Iron Man 3. No, Stark doesn’t slug any little brats in the stomach, but there’s an extended subplot with a little orphan kid that, in the wrong hands, could’ve gotten treacly and annoying quickly, but instead its the source of a lot of quick laughs even while predictably ending up an example of Stark’s eventual coming back to earth.
As for the plot… well, I finally learned last year that maybe it’s better with these things if you don’t sweat the details too much and just go along for the hopefully entertaining ride. I still don’t know exactly what the hell The Avengers was about or why aliens were coming through a wormhole over New York and I don’t really care because it was handled with plenty of charm and lots of humor. Iron Man 3 seems equally nonsensical (if a bit less world-threateningly grandiose) on the surface and, while it lacks the benefit of an entertaining ensemble, it still has plenty of attitude to save the day.
This time, the world is menaced Iron Man’s long-time comic book nemesis, the super villain known as The Mandarin. As entertainingly played by Ben Kingsley, he’s more of a Bin Laden type with an American accent than what little I remember of him from the comic books. Anyway, for whatever reason he seems hell bent on blowing stuff up in order to teach egotistical America some sort of lesson. This becomes a problem for Tony when his pal/head of security Happy Hogan played by Jon Favreau who once again proves more an asset in front of the camera than behind it. Meanwhile, Guy Pearce is Aldrich Killiana scientist once snubbed by Stark Industries who is working on a regeneration serum that will heal wounds and re-grow limbs. Got all that? Great. Whatever. The important thing is that it’s an excuse for mayhem while Stark copes with the events of The Avengers while also holding together his relationship with Pepper Potts once more played by Gwyneth Paltrow.
What’s interesting about any of this is where (I assume) it diverges from the Iron Man mythology laid out in the comic book stories. I could be wrong, but it seems like Black rather brazenly tosses out what I thought I knew about it and goes his own entertaining way in terms of how all the different villains in this story fit together. It doesn’t revolutionize the super hero movie or anything, but it was (for me) a surprising change from the usual and a fun wrinkle to the typical villain dynamic. If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d bet all of Iron Man‘s secrets have been known and parsed and picked over for the last year, but it was all news to me and it was all welcome.
One of the benefits of this being the third trip to the well for this character is that we’re spared yet another dull superhero origin story. We already know who Stark is so it’s just a matter of introducing us to his suit’s new tricks (which inevitably come into play later) and establishing who the villains and their motives are. The latter is done mostly on the fly. Even so, Iron Man 3 stretches its welcome to around two hours which feels excessive, yet I’ll admit at least I never had to look at my watch. How’s that for a poster pull-quote?
With Marvel/Disney alone coming at us 2 or 3 times a year with superheroes not to mention the Marvel characters who have leaked out to other studios plus the various hits and misses coming from the disjointed DC Universe, it’s gotten to the point where a superhero movie really needs to be justify its existence as more than a moneymaking franchise opportunity. I’m not sure Iron Man 3 quite does that, but it was inevitable anyway and Shane Black manages to put enough of his own personal stamp on the form to at least keep it entertaining. As the first summer movie out of the gate, that’s enough for me.
As a side note, Iron Man 3 holds the title credits for the end of the film and it’s too bad because they’re kind of cool. There’s a funky ’70s action movie quality to them and, as enjoyable as what had come before was, I sort of wish the rest of the movie had been a lot more like those credits. Oh, and yes, Marvel includes the by-now totally expected post-credits bit and if you’re still sticking around for those then you’ll probably get exactly what you’re hoping for. If you’ve learned to skip them however, feel free heading to your car before the lights come up with the peace of mind that you’re not missing anything important. Of course, that assumes Marvel doesn’t add anything between the press screening and opening day which has been known to happen. So, nevermind. If you care, you’re on your own.
Filed under: Review