Movie Review: Iron Man 3
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
At assembly-line comic books companies such as Marvel, DC or Archie, writer, penciller, inker and colorist are often separate jobs. Folks will work an ongoing title for several years, about one issue a month.
Now and then, a writer will miss a deadline or want time off. Then a different writer comes in for that month and pens a “fill-in” issue. Said issue may vaguely fit into the previous work well, pay mere lip service to it or be a generic-enough adventure to stand on its own.
“Iron Man 3,” directed by Shane Black, feels like a fill-in issue. This isn’t to say it is bad or even fails on its own terms.
In fact, if you have no investment in the larger Marvel movie universe, it could very well stand as the most accessible, easy-to-enjoy Iron Man movie. It is the Iron Man movie the most like, well, “Lethal Weapon,” the game-changing cop movie Black is most famous for writing.
But anyone expecting “Avengers 1.5” or cameos from Thor or Captain America is going to be expressing displeasure on the Internet in record time.
We start in 1999. A pre-Iron Man Stark is at a tech conference in Bern, Switzerland, where he hooks up with hot botanist Maya Hansen (British actress Rebecca Hall) and blows off nerdy scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce and you can be sure he won’t be nerdy for long). Killian wants to start his own research firm, Advanced Idea Mechanics (or AIM, a longtime comic-book baddie). Hansen is convinced her “genetic hack,” Extremis, will change the world. Stark just wants a good time, per usual.
Cut to a decade-plus later. Somewhere in his palatial Los Angeles home, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., still born to play this dude), is obsessively building Iron Man suits while his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) runs the company. Stark is also cracking up, prone to panic attacks brought on by his near-death experience in “Avengers.”
Meanwhile, Killian has slicked up, put on a suit and started doing creepy things with DNA; James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has rebranded his War Machine armor as Iron Patriot; and a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, sporting one of the weirdest accents in movie history) is hijacking the airwaves and blowing people up.
After one such attack cuts a little too close to home, Stark starts putting the pieces together, unpacking a techno-mystery that takes him everywhere from small-town Tennessee to, uh, exotic Miami.
“Iron Man 3” is, in many ways, a weirder movie than you might expect, ignoring the almost cosmic superhero slickness of “The Avengers” for a more generic actioner vibe, moving from wild stunts one moment to small-ball comedy breaths the next, slave to the tics of its director.
Like many of Black’s movies, it’s set at Christmas, which reads incredibly strangely in May. As with Black’s “Last Action Hero,” Stark teams up with a pre-teen. And the occasional scripting misfire adds to the odd feel: No Southern child has ever said, “Are you going mental?” (Maybe we can thank British co-writer Drew Pearce for that head-scratcher.)
There’s decent stuff about the nature of post traumatic stress (few people have looked better losing it on screen than Downey, he’s been great at that stuff since “Less Than Zero”), but the wounded warrior subplot feels like an afterthought, and Black is clearly less comfortable with the tights-’n’-fights thing than previous Marvel superhero directors.
Sure, there’s a fair amount of armored combat and super-powered antics, but they come off as oddly grudging. It’s as if “Iron Man 3” does everything it can to get Tony and Rhodey out of the suits and running around with guns, the sort of thing Black knows cold.
The superhero-as-summer-tentpole trend has been with us for a decade-plus now, and there’s little evidence it’s going anywhere. But “Iron Man 3” might work better for folks looking for perfectly solid popcorn fare than those looking for another essential chapter in Marvel’s movie mythology. That’s how fill-in issues work.