Yes, that’s a somewhat dejected looking Tony Stark. Why the long face when his new movie has a shot at earning one billion dollars at the worldwide box office? Well, there IS something Tony can be sad about — with The Avengers 2, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and likely a few more Marvel films on the horizon, this may be the last Iron Man installment for quite some time, if not ever. When Iron Man 3 takes advantage of that fact and pulls out all the stops, not including an unnecessarily complex plot and superfluous CGI, it’s a whole ton of explosive fun.
Robert Downey Jr. has established his own brand of shtick since taking on the role of “genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” Tony Stark, and to play against type at this point would be almost unwelcome (unless it’s Tropic Thunder 2). Tony Stark lives for smart-ass jabs, quick banter, spontaneous decision-making skills and situational bravery. In re-teaming with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black, Downey Jr. easily fits his trademark Tony Stark personality into the mean-spirited yet somehow charming dark humor that Black is known for.
The villain in Iron Man 3 is the elusive terrorist leader, The Mandarin. Played with frightening conviction by the sensational Sir Ben Kingsley, The Mandarin is a significant role because he’s Iron Man‘s arch nemesis (arguably, ok?!). Many people aren’t aware of this, yet even so, the immediate impression when walking out of the theater was that the filmmakers really blew a chance at something more memorable. Kingsley captures the Mandarin’s villainous persona, which parallels many real world terrorists, but the story gets so convoluted that The Mandarin’s firepower as the ultimate foe is all-but extinguished. Meanwhile, Tony Stark is troubled. He is in the midst of a panic attack-inducing identity crisis, primarily as a result of his involvement (and new knowledge of the Universe) in New York City during the events of The Avengers film. If Iron Man 3 was able to connect this personal crisis to The Mandarin’s plot in a suitable way that enabled strong emotional heft, this movie would have been much better. As it is, fans steeped in Iron Man lore will know how this setup could’ve led to great things, but will be sorely disappointed in how it plays out.
There are a few action sequences that are absolutely thrilling to watch. The special effects are rendered beautifully and if there wasn’t such superfluous usage of CGI in the expositive non-action sequences, they would stand out even more. However, Black’s direction does do a nice job of juggling the action with comedic banter. Some scenes are dark…very dark. The movie consistently succeeds in lightening the mood very shortly after moments of disturbing violence or emotional brooding. Also, Iron Man 3 features too many darn suits and too many characters get to wear them! It’s odd that the iconic metal suits get to be worn by just about anyone that wants to. Not to say the abundance of weaponized suit usage isn’t fun most of the time, but it takes away from Tony’s personal connection to it.
The silver lining in all of this is that Iron Man 3 is still fun to watch from beginning to end (all the way to the end — including the required Marvel stinger). It’s a much better film than its predecessor and although it doesn’t feature as solid a story as in Iron Man (1), it has more replay value. It’s entertaining to watch a film that takes on a story with such an epic scope and wide tonal range. But it had a hard act to follow. The Avengers hit the bullseye. Iron Man 3 shoots just wide right.
Iron Man 3 opens in Bay Area theaters today.