Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Rust Is Starting to Show


IRON MAN 3

One of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking is that "Part Three will either be a disaster or the harbinger of a greater disaster".  I provide as evidence The Godfather Part III and Spider-Man 3 as proof of the first, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman & Robin for the latter.  The only Part III to escape this (so far) has been Toy Story 3Iron Man 3 is not a disaster on the level of Spidey's fiasco, but since we have not had an Iron Man 4 it remains to be seen whether the long, sad Golden Rule will apply.  Iron Man 3 was a misfire for me: while Robert Downey, Jr. still owns the part of Tony Stark and his alter ego, somewhere along the way it all started getting too big and too broad even for the franchise that revels in its own self of self-awareness.  Not having read comic books I am no expert on how Iron Man 3 stays within already established stories.  HOWEVER, as a film Iron Man 3 is a bit chaotic, throwing so much at me that I really wish it would end.

We start in flashback (via voice-over, and longtime readers know how I feel about voice-overs)  to New Year's Eve, 1999.  Tony Stark is doing what he does best: showing off his genius and picking up beautiful women.  He manages to find brilliant scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a botanist who has found a way to restore life to plants.  Tony is too involved in getting both Maya's formula and body that he blows off nebbish scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).  At Tony's side is his loyal guard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). 

We now go 2013.  Tony Stark is still feeling some aftereffects of the events of The Avengers (which are referenced in the film from time to time).  While he continues tinkering with his Iron Man suit, Stark Enterprises is being run by his Girl Friday/girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Happy is now the hyper-efficient Head of Security (one that drives everyone crazy with his over-eagerness) and Killian has turned into a super-hot industrialist himself.  He tries to interest Pepper in Extremis (which can upgrade the mind or something like that).  Pepper declines, sensing that it can be weaponized, something she is steering Stark Industries away from.

The world might need more weapons, for a vaguely Middle Eastern/Islamic terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been committing violent acts against America as a way of striking against President Ellis (William Sadler).  The Mandarin enjoys taunting Ellis, so the government has Colonel Rhodes/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), formerly known as War Machine, to fight for us.  However, after a Mandarin attack at the Chinese Theater nearly kills Happy, Tony decides to take the Mandarin on personally.

Perhaps that is not the smartest move, to give an international terrorist your home address (although I wonder, given how large Tony lives, why would his home address be a secret).  Just as Maya returns to Stark's life, pointing out he had in a drunken one-night stand fourteen years ago helped shape the formula that Extremis is, the Stark mansion is attacked.  Pepper and Maya are almost killed, and while Tony is able to get into the Iron Man suit, loyal computer Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany) sweeps him to the coordinates Tony had earlier asked for: Tennessee.

Here, an injured Tony gets help from child Harley (Ty Simpkins), who is a bit of a brain himself.  Stark is able to track down The Mandarin, but at this juncture to say more would be to reveal a twist involving this character that to be frank I thought idiotic.  Eventually, after a long time, we find the real power behind the Mandarin, an epic battle (and I MEAN epic) and victory for Tony Stark. 

In the closing scene, we find the reason for the voice-over: Tony has been using this as a 'therapy' session with a particular doctor, a Doctor Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). 

Iron Man 3 has at least two strikes against it: first it is at two hours and ten minutes rather long for its story, going in odd tangents and moments of illogical humor (the idea that Iron Patriot would take a call from Stark that interrupts his assault on a terrorist cave AND that they would not only all understand English but find his password hilarious is itself unfunny).  The second strike is what screenwriters Drew Pearce and director Shane Black did with the character of The Mandarin. 

Now, one can take this twist one of two ways: either a clever send-up of 'the master villain' or something so far out of left field that I honestly wondered whether anyone was taking any of this seriously.  You have this villain, this man who plays at killing people in rather horrifying ways, only to find that is all an act?  Even worse, that the actor is so clearly out of it he truly believes it is all unreal?

I'll be honest: when we got the Big Reveal with The Mandarin, I lost interest.  Having the extended action scene at the Port of Los Angeles where the actual villain (one guess as to who it could be now) appeared to never die (exactly how many times did he pop up?) was both boring and overwhelming me. 

There are good things in Iron Man 3, don't get me wrong.  Kingsley was a riot who clearly reveled in hamming it up, which was appropriate for the part.  Throughout his performance, either menacing or mirthful, he was excellent.  Downey, Jr. is still the quintessential Tony Stark, and in his scenes with Simpkins he allows Stark to be his true self: thoroughly unsentimental and unapologetic about it.  In other films, the 'cute kid' would have pulled at the lead's heartstrings, but Downey as Stark was having none of it.  He's still self-centered and immune to overt calls to be fatherly. 

I did also think well of Pearce's performance, particularly in the opening when he's the insecure Killian.  It would have been nicer to see more of the suave Killian given that Guy Pearce transformed himself into a rival to Stark in more ways than one.

However, for me, Iron Man 3 was a bit long and overblown for me to consider it as good as the first two.  No, it isn't a disaster, but if it keeps going the way it has, any Iron Man 4 may yet fall to that Golden Rule of Filmmaking...




DECISION: C-

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