In the wake of the epic alien battle in New York with the Avengers, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, is snow suffering from anxiety attacks. Stark’s eyes have been open to what kind of world he’s now in, and as such, he’s become a constant workhorse in making sure that the person most important to him, Pepper Potts, is protected. In the midst of this, the world is now facing a new threat in the form of an international terrorist called The Mandarin. Stark’s best friend, James Rhodes, has assumed a new identity as the Iron Patriot and for now remains the first line of defense against The Mandarin. In addition, Aldrich Killian, the head of a new company called AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) wants to enter into a partnership with Stark for his own mysterious means.
That’s a broad description to the premise to Iron Man 3, the first movie to follow in the wake of Marvel’s Avengers movie and so expectations are extremely high for this, maybe so high that no movie right in the wake can hope to meet them. I thought this was certainly watchable, but it’s flavor is quite a bit different from it’s predecessors in the Marvel movies. If I was looking at this as a comic book, this feels like a fill-in issue created to give the regular creative team a break, and the fill-in doesn’t quite reach what you’re used to.
And that’s exactly what it is, Jon Favreau is no longer at the helm of the film and this time it falls into the hands of co-writer and director Shane Black. Now Black is certainly no stranger to high-power action films, having written films like Lethal Weapon, The Monster Squad, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight as well as having directed and written Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead of that film. These are certainly entertaining movies, and all have a distinct flavor to them that’s been identified with Shane Black. Unfortunately for Iron Man 3, it feels more like a Shane Black movie than it does part of the Marvel series with an over-reliance on action movie cliches and dialogue that feels more written than actually spoken.
There’s a lot of comedic moments in the film, and while there’s nothing really wrong with doing that, doing it in a Marvel movie seems to me anyway to soft-pedal a lot of the threat. Everybody in the film (or most everybody anyway) seems to have the same sort of snarky flavor that just doesn’t lend themselves to taking any of what’s happening that overtly serious. There’s action movie cliches all around, with to me the most egregious being the use of the high-opera type of ending with hero versus villain and the girl in-between atop a very high structure. This cliche has been around forever, but first used in comic book films way back in Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, and used again and again since. I expect a bit better of the Marvel movies than to rely on this old chestnut.
Now to be fair, the action sequences and visual effects are really, really nice and certainly the part of the movie that still makes it very watchable. The only thing that I’m not really that thrilled with is the new design of the Iron Man armor that’s dominantly used in the film. Call me a traditionalist if you like, but I like the distinct look of the red and gold armor and this new version that’s mostly gold and chrome, just feels a little softer and ring true to the comics. It’s not the only armor used in the film and there’s a lot of versions here though that do owe to previous comic appearances and it’s a nice little easter egg for fans, but I don’t think it’s quite enough.
As far as the cast goes, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau all return reprising their parts from the prior movies. They certainly do what’s asked of them here so there’s no real complaints. The standout for me is Paltrow who actually gets to do a few action bits that are pretty entertaining.
New to this film are Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen (another scientist who works for AIM- again, there’s way more to her than just that), Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin and James Badge Dale as Savin, a bodyguard to Killian. Guy Pearce is smarm personified to a point of being cartoony, but to his credit, I think he actually excels in the action scenes that he’s in. The biggest disappointment to me though is Kingsley as The Mandarin and it’s for a couple of reasons that aren’t entirely Kingsley’s fault. Beware, I’m going to go into a couple of spoiler moments here, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph and proceed to the next. In the comics, The Mandarin is to Iron Man as say The Joker is to Batman or Lex Luthor is to Superman. The way Kingsley performs this character it doesn’t really quite have that much threat to especially with his vocal performance which sounds like it’s part Asian, part European and part Minnesotan. I don’t have any idea about why this was the chosen way to go with his voice, but it just doesn’t convey any sort of threat at all. In addition, there is a huge twist to The Mandarin here that just totally betrays the concept of the character as he’s been seen in the comics, so much so that it reduces the character to a joke and leads to another dialogue scene between Kingsley and Downey that again just deadens the movie.
I chose to see this in 3D and basically the 3D here is just OK and not at all complimentary to the film. Originally, I’ve been dodging all of the 3D versions of the Marvel movies because they’ve been added as an afterthought (at least to me), but I figured by this time maybe the film had finally been shot with 3D in mind. It’s just not the case here and if you choose to see this, then don’t even bother with it.
As with the other Marvel movies, there is an additional scene at the end of the credits and while this one doesn’t exactly look like it’s building towards anything what it does do is add a little further continuity between the movies which considering what they’ve originally sought to build here, is something that they’re going to have to stick with for these films.
As I said at the start of this, expectations are certainly high for this movie and maybe they’re so high that there might not be anyway that they could ever be met. After I saw The Avengers, I walked out of the theatre just with an incredible high and so you naturally want every Marvel movie to follow to at least come close to giving you that same feeling. Unfortunately, Iron Man 3 just doesn’t do it. Oh, I still think it’s watchable and it certainly does have it’s moments particularly with some great effects and action scenes, but it’s cliche-ridden script and jokey nature just don’t give this film any sense of threat whatsoever. I could see that with some distance, watching Iron Man 3 again might be a different and more enjoyable experience, but after this initial viewing, I don’t much have a desire to do that any time soon.