Robert Downey Jr. is, without argument, one of the finest actors working today in Hollywood. He may have fallen completely from grace for a period with on-again, off-again substance abuse issues, but his resurgence, beginning in 2005, has made him a household name. He’s not only a stellar actor, but also a surefire bankable box office star. He brings charisma, wittiness, intensity, and his trademark cheery sarcasm – delivered with absolute pinpoint precision – to every character he portrays and, as expected, he carries IRON MAN 3 with his gift.
That’s not to slight the other actors in IRON MAN 3. There are other big names in the latest Tony Stark saga – Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as War Machine, aka Iron Patriot, aka Rhodey Rhodes, Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian – and they are all solid, but this is a movie built around the wonderment that is Robert Downey Jr. These other folks are nothing more than faces, with the exception of Kingsley’s Mandarin, and somewhat forgettable. Nothing, as of yet, has matched the menace and tenacity of Jeff Bridges’ villain in IRON MAN back in 2008.
IRON MAN 3 picks up shortly after the alien wormhole extravaganza that went down in New York City in 2012’s THE AVENGERS. This time around Jon Favreau, the director of IRON MAN and IRON MAN 2, returns only as Tony Stark’s chauffer/bodyguard, Happy Hogan. Directing duties for this third outing fall to Shane Black, who previously worked with Downey in 2005 with KISS KISS BANG BANG. Black hasn’t been behind the camera but twice, however his screenwriting credits look like an ode to 80s and early 90s action-movie nirvana, with LETHAL WEAPON and THE LAST BOY SCOUT as the standout flicks. It’s safe to say Black likes action and likes to blow stuff up and IRON MAN 3 has loads of both. Anyone worried about the absence of Favreau can calm their nerdy heart; Black matches Favreau beat-for-beat, even with the flashy title sequences.
It’s not precisely clear how much time has passed since Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey) delivered the meant-for-Manhattan nuke into the crotchal region of the evil Chitauri somewhere in outer space in THE AVENGERS, but when the movie opens, Stark is back in California, tinkering in his hi-tech workshop and suffering through bouts of, we assume, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For some reason, which is never fully explained, when Stark reflects on the events in New York City, he gets the heebie jeebbies and stays up late adding to his Iron Man arsenal. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) doesn’t think this is healthy or cool, and allthewhile a brutal and enigmatic terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has surfaced and is laying siege to the United States both home and abroad. When Happy is wounded and sent into a coma via one of The Mandarin’s attacks, Stark challenges the terrorist to a fight and chaos ensues from that point to the film’s explosive – literally – finale.
IRON MAN 3 begins with Stark recalling some New Year’s Eve events from 1999 that introduce new characters, namely Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), but I won’t delve too deeply about them so as to avoid any possible spoilers. I will say this: Tony Stark spends far less time in the Iron Man armor in this third outing, as the movie tries to focus on his fears, his anxiety and his vulnerability. Other than a few moments of Stark telling us he’s having an anxiety attack, the film doesn’t ever explain why or what is causing his issues. We’re told New York is the cause, but that’s it, it’s glossed over, and in case I missed something, Stark seemed pretty relaxed eating his shawarma after The Avengers defeated Loki last summer. Speaking of which, why didn’t Mr. Stark just call up some of his Avenger pals when The Mandarin showed up? Why didn’t the whole group just get together and put an end to his malevolent ways pronto? Doesn’t make sense.
Actually, it does make sense – because then audiences wouldn’t get IRON MAN 3, which, despite it’s flaws, is still a slick, fun and entertaining superhero movie. It’s no better or worse than IRON MAN or IRON MAN 2. With that said, I sense we’re at an impasse with Tony Stark, and maybe superhero movies in general. Most superhero movies follow the same troubled-soul formula, so where do we go from here, especially after three movies? What villain waits in the wings? What issues can cause our hero to teeter on the edge of sanity? Does it matter? As long as Marvel keeps raking in the bucks, Disney will push for more sequels and more obscure comic book characters from Marvel’s universe to take the stage. This isn’t a complaint, mind you, just a prediction of saturation.
*Sidenote: Remember in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, how every reference to the World Trade Center was pulled from Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN (and other movies?). Some thought it was too reactionary, as if being sensitive means the terrorists win, but I wondered the same thing during IRON MAN 3 during a particularly unsettling scene where a bomb goes off in Los Angeles, leaving people dead, broken and bloody. I thought with the recent events in Boston that particular scene was highly unnerving and hit close to home.
*Sidenote II: 3D sucks. Bad. Do NOT see this in 3D. Shame on you Hollywood.