Iron Man 3
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black (screenplay), Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Larry Lieber (comic book)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce
Gone are the good old days, when a libertarian billionaire could save America (and its pathetic government) on his own. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is an anxiety-prone mess in the aftermath of the apocalyptic showdown in last summer’s The Avengers. It rarely connects on an emotional level, but this latest installment’s grandiose showdowns and operatic villains take Iron Man in darker and more interesting places, if nowhere nearly as interesting as that other billionaire superhero.
Director Shane Black tries admirably to spin this third installment into something that jabs at media image and terrorism, but it is ultimately overshadowed by predictability. Its central villains, a nerd-turned-vengeful-scientist (Guy Pearce) and a baritone, bearded extremist (Ben Kingsley) become comical by the end, the latter intentionally and the former because of overacting and bad CGI.
Iron Man 3’s story is largely propelled by those two villains, whose intentions mostly revolve around killing a lot of people by weaponizing a brain enhancement medication that can heal instantaneously but also make its user combust spontaneously. Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is out for revenge against Tony Stark, who, as we see in flashback in the beginning of the movie, ignored the opportunity to invest in his genius in the ’90s because he was busy being a playboy and Killian was a long-haired goofball.
Downey Jr. brings nothing new to Stark except those tacked-on bursts of anxiety. That isn’t to say he’s bad in the role by any means, it’s just that after seeing him star in four movies as Stark, he’s still annoyingly out of reach. The same can’t be said of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in this movie, who finally gets a chance to be more than an intellectual damsel in distress. Unfortunately, when she finally gets to flex her muscles and save the day (for once), the special effects make it more laughable than empowering.
This gets at the central problem with Iron Man 3: it just seems like either nobody is trying, or they aren’t allowed to try. Marvel is now a Disney mega franchise, which wasn’t the case when the first Iron Man came out in 2008. Looking at those Disney/Marvel releases as a whole, it’s easy to detect how safe the movies versions are. There is a man destined for greatness, there are women who assist him and need rescuing and other men, usually foreign, who oppose him.
Sure, these movies create new universes with each superhero, but these are all also universes where the game is rigged and the rules fixed. There’s no room for spontaneity because every character has an assigned role and a predictable thread to follow. The delusion of any sort of humanity is never allowed to interfere with that narrative, which must arrive at big action set pieces about halfway through and at the end, leaving room for a denouement that sets up the next entry. Iron Man 3 may have more spectacle and energy than most of its Marvel counterparts, but like them it also ultimately feels more like a cheap network drama like Grey’s Anatomy (with tie-in shows!) than a movie.