A Droid Premiere – Iron Man Three (TwentyThirteen)
In two thousand and eight, an ambitious superhero series was started. Over the course of five films, four main characters (and a fair few periphery one’s) were introduced. The quality of these films varied from fairly good (Thor, Iron Man) to staggeringly bad (Iron Man Two). Somewhere along the line the series became known as “Phase One”. It all culminated in TwentyTwelve’s ‘The Avengers’, which was over-enthusiastically cupped and stroked by slobbering hordes of fanbois worldwide. I had fun with the film, but really, it wasn’t particularly good. ‘The Avengers’ went on to become the third highest grossing film of all time. Five years after the first ‘Iron Man’ hit the screens and made Robert Downey Jr a Hollywood darling, Tony Stark returns in ‘Iron Man Three’ (the credits make a point of using “three” and I’m not sure why), the first film of “Phase Two”. The conveyer belt of mediocrity continues to chug along mercilessly inflicting Marvel movies on the all too willing public.
It’s some time after The Avengers showdown in New York and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is a troubled guy. He doesn’t sleep, and has started having anxiety attacks. As such, he buries himself in his work, creating a prototype suit that he can call to him remotely (a bit like The Force). What “burying himself in his work” also does is create a filter paper thin set up for what is essentially a third act dues ex machina. But I’m getting ahead of myself. A terrorist known as Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is threatening the USA via video messages and mysterious bombs are going off around the globe.
A flashback to New Years Eve, Nineteen Ninety-Nine at the beginning of the film introduces Maya Hensen (Rebecca Hall), a scientist who has been developing gene therapy for regenerative healing (I think), and crippled scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Twelve years later, they resurface as the company Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). AIM has created the EXTREMIS virus, which indeed succeeds at regenerative healing, but also gives the person superhuman strength, speed and agility. They also burn red hot whenever they want to, and sometimes when they don’t. When your patient burns up and explodes at three thousand degrees, you might want to start tinkering with the formula. Unless, of course, if that’s your intention. So Killian is working for Mandarin, Stark tracks the source of the bombs, finds Mandarin and it all ends in an overblown barrage of special effects.
There’s an enormous twist in this film. It’s better off not knowing, and they’ve done well at keeping it hush hush, so I’ll avoid revealing it here. I will say this though. It’s blatantly clear what the twist is about thirty minutes in. Despite the obvious nature of the twist, it succeeds because of how it’s delivered. Good comedic writing and acting sell it well enough that you can forgive it for its lack of surprise. And comedic writing and acting is clearly the best thing about ‘Iron Man Three’. Littered throughout the film are the clever lines of dialogue and amusing interchanges between characters that we expect from co-writer and director Shane Black. “His Lear was the toast of Croydon.” is a great line, but one that I suspect could be wasted on many.
So ‘Iron Man Three’ (mostly) succeeds as a comedy, and therein the problems lay. Tony Stark is always on hand with a glib remark, and he so quickly seems to get himself out of trouble (with or without the suit), that it’s impossible to fear for his danger. Therefore, it simply becomes a series of scenes that show Stark succeeding against the odds. The film never pauses long enough for Downey Jr to “act”, as when, late in the film, someone important to Tony dies. The film barely gives him three seconds to react before the next slice of action. If the film can’t be bothered showing Tony caring, then it cannot expect that I care. It’s no wonder that Downey Jr has come out and said he’s ready to move on from ‘Iron Man’. He owns the role, pretty much made Marvel Studios the success it is (or at the very least, kick started it) and has benefited handsomely for it (he made fifty million dollars from The Avengers). But as a character, Tony Stark has been found wanting and neither of the sequels have created anywhere interesting for the character to go. To be brutally honest, I’m rather bored of the character, as well as the visual depiction of Iron Man. There’s only so many times I can see a CG metal suit flying around before it becomes stale. The film tries to spice things up with some different prototypes and such, but in the end it’s still Iron Man, and I’m bored of it.
Where the film really falls down is in the villain department. This has nothing to do with the acting. Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce are both quite good in their roles. The problem I had is that the EXTREMIS virus was never established properly, and the rules weren’t defined. Sometimes it’s unstable (leading to the human bombs). Why? Just because the movie says it is. How does it cause the human body to glow red hot? So hot that a man can place his hand on the Iron Man armour and melt it. At one point, a bad guy BREATHES FIRE! Of course, this is waved off with a glib remark, but I didn’t buy it. A guy just propelled a jet of fire out of his mouth. WTF? And why, if they burn so hot, do they have hair? I’d assume that would be the first thing to go.
My other problem with the villains is that I am utterly flummoxed as to their intent. The big scheme is muddled to say the least. I think it’s something about a coup, with the Vice President as a puppet President. But they go a long way to kill the President, and then just hang him up ready to be plucked up and flown away to safety. Even if they’d succeeded, I have no idea how they would benefit from it. The whole plan is a hot mess, and the twist doesn’t help because the film spends a great deal of time and effort in the first half on subterfuge. I don’t expect strict adherence to reality in an action film, but I expect at least a minute nod towards logic.
‘Iron Man Three’ also features the bane of any action film, the annoying kid character. You can see Shane Black frantically trying to work his magic and make the kid funny and likeable, but it’s all for nought. The moppet doesn’t have the comedic timing necessary (not his fault), and the film spends an inordinate amount of time with him. It grinds to a screeching halt in these middle section scenes and while it may have worked with a really talented kid in the role, it just seems like it was a bad idea. The film ends in what could easily be a sign off for the character, at least in standalone features. While the best aspects of ‘Iron Man’ (primarily Downey Jr) have made two of the three films watchable, I truly hope they end it here.
As always, there is an after credits sequence, but it’s not worth sitting through an extra ten minutes to get to. ‘Iron Man Three’ gets a completely unjustified two loony Sir Ben’s out of four. This is a very generous rounding up from the intended one point five because I’m too lazy to make a one point five rating.