Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3 is a Tonally Challenged, Confused, and Barely Average Movie

Iron Man 3 is a disappointment. It is a movie that feels as though it was assembled by committee, and crafted as a result of input from sneak previews and early screenings. The result is a less than satisfying outing which is unsure of its tone and narrative direction.

Iron Man 3 has a great amount of pressure put upon it following the triumphant Avengers film. As the first movie in "phase two" of what has been (mostly) a successful series of film projects by Marvel Entertainment, it is a bellwether for what is to come in the near future as the studio builds to Avengers 2. While Iron Man 3 is not a disaster, it is far from the great accomplishment that was the first Iron Man movie.

Robert Downey Jr. remains a perfect fit for the leading man in the Iron Man franchise. His first outing as Tony Stark was a revelation. There are few actors who are such a perfect match for a character as is Robert Downey Jr. for the alcoholic, conflicted, flawed, and mercurial Tony Stark. As such, the original Iron Man was a joyous, fun, and self-aware film that exemplified the best of what a comic book movie should be. In contrast, Iron Man 3 feels tedious, bloated, and forced.

The plot of Iron Man 3 mates the great character "The Mandarin" from the comic book series together with the very popular Extremis storyline.

The narrative of Iron Man 3 is centered upon deconstructing Tony Stark in an effort to remind us that his armor is both a blessing and a curse. He is a broken and vulnerable genius who can wrap himself in armor as a way of avoiding his own demons and anxieties. Yet, Stark is just a man. He has no "superpowers" beyond his intellect and money.

Expertly supported by the other cast members, most notably Stark's girlfriend played by Gwnyth Paltrow, and the child actor Harley Keener, the audience is reminded that Stark is a genius who while separated from his technology, remains a formidable foe and a hero of the first order. The great actors in Iron Man 3 deliver workman-like performances. But, they are trapped by a script that is scattered and unsure of itself.

The disservice done to Ben Kingsley exemplifies the broader challenges of Iron Man 3's plot, and the overall disappointment of the movie. He plays The Mandarin, a criminal mastermind and international terrorist. Kingsley is easily able to rival Downey's charisma, energy, and ability to draw the audience into the story. Moreover, in addition to its many other loving winks to fans of the comic book, Iron Man 3 offers several loving embraces to the audience about the coup that is having Ben Kingsley as the (apparent) major antagonist in a comic book movie.

Rather than leverage The Mandarin and Kingsley, Iron Man 3's writers chose to marginalize him. There is hope that The Mandarin's character will return-and that his "theatrical" role will be revealed as something much more substantial--but how that observation and hope must be implied and speculated upon, is one more indication of how flaccid Iron Man 3's script is.

The Mandarin is a gag, a running joke, and a failed effort at cinematic slight of hand as the plot offers up its big reveal at the midway point. Ben Kingsley deserves to be treated much better. And just as Iron Man 2 chose to marginalize Mickey Rourke, the most recent sequel does the same with Ben Kingsley. Ultimately, iconic actors are pushed aside in lieu of peripheral plot developments, and other characters, who while adequate, are uninteresting and far less compelling.

Iron Man 3 features some fun action set pieces. The special effects are also excellent. There is a great movie somewhere in Iron Man 3's bloated carcass of mixed tone and poor choices by the movie's writers and directors. Instead of sticking with a compelling story that would have consisted of Tony Stark, now broken and stripped down, fighting Kingsley's The Mandarin (while the former finds himself again and inevitably triumphs) the movie takes a novelty (the introduction of A.I.M. and the Extremis technology) for comic book fans, and makes it into the centerpiece of the plot.

Both causal viewers, as well as followers of the Iron Man comic book series, are done a disservice by those decisions.

The Marvel movies are a juggernaut with a license to print money. Iron Man 3, and to a lesser degree, its predecessor, are subpar to average films.

Less can be more. Going forward, the challenge for Marvel is to make sure that its movies are distillations of the best and most compelling aspects of their characters, and the huge, rich, and wondrous universe they inhabit. Billions of dollars in ticket sales can become fools gold if taken for granted. Marvel would be wise to not forget how general audiences--and comic books fans--can be quite fickle about their beloved superheroes.


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Buddy H said...

Waiting patiently for Man Of Steel.

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chauncey devega said...

Me too. That is either going to be a 4 star classic or a huge miss.

Miles_Ellison said...

If people insist on supporting crap, more of it will get made. These films will stop making money when the next fad comes along. The audience is fickle, not discerning.

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Shady Grady said...

Excellent. I felt pretty much the same way.

Wavenstein said...

How do you get extremis and the mandarin as wrong as this film did? And Shane Black's christmas obsession is becoming distracting

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chauncey devega said...

What else did you like or not?

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sotos said...

Actually the action part is what bothered me the most.I think iron man's suit is the true expression of tony stark creativity, imagination, scientific skillfulness and talent.By degrading the armor,the way the director did, to emphasize the physical abilities of the protagonist, made the movie feel less of an iron man and more of a common action film which i wouldnt bother see it at cinemas.

Shady Grady said...

I liked the special effects and the ironic/sarcastic interplay between Stark and the kid. But after I went to the theater and watched the movie I realized I could have just waited for DVD. I disliked the reduction of the Mandarin. It made no sense for Stark to openly challenge his enemies and then be surprised when they came at him. Tired of the old trope "the ex-girlfriend who hates you but when the chips are down she's on your side".

It's been my experience that ex's are ex's for a reason. Iron Man suits that are supposedly coded only to Stark but then can be used for Pepper when convenient. And if the bad guys could hijack the Iron Patriot suit why not the Iron Man suits..

And so on...

Magda Kamenev said...

I have a question: if Sir Ben Kingsley's character had been named something entirely new, would the plot and its twist work better for you?

Except for early Spider-Man forays, I've never much been into Marvel Comics (and as for DC, I prefer Vertigo). Except for Civil War, I've not read Iron Man, but I loved the 1st movie, liked the 2nd. Having an Osama bin Laden-like figure wage a campaign of terror, only to be the straw man of someone even richer and crazier? I liked. And having never seen Sir Ben do comedy before ... Wow. Blew me away.

Mind you, it feels like something was missing from the movie ... some notes struck false.But since I didn't know about the Mandarin before walking in, I didn't have an expectations. Could Black have avoided some of this by simply renaming the character?

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