It’s a bitter pill, sitting down to watch a film that has every ingredient it needs to be something special, and what you get doesn’t live up to it. Iron Man 3 has everything it needs to work the magic. The spell just isn’t cast.
Let’s look at what the chefs at Marvel pulled out of the cupboard. Robert Downey, Jr. A solid talent, comfortable with the banter just as much as the serious stuff. Shane Black. An excellent writer who’s already established his ability to blend plot with complicated emotional baggage. For Black, who created Lethal Weapon, Tony Stark riffs on the Martin Riggs archetype: the lovable, damaged rogue. Before, it was Stark’s destructive lifestyle/career, and then it was his daddy issues. Now it’s some kind of anxiety in response to what he encountered in The Avengers. The potential threat level looms larger than he had ever imagined and he’s curse with the weight of keeping prepared.
Into this steps the Mandarin, a terrorist preying on the innocent, a villain no one seems able to defeat. Stark doesn’t like bullies. He may not stand as noble as Steve Rogers, but they believe in some of the same virtues. Stark challenges the Mandarin to a fight, and much fighting ensues. There might be some logic gaps involved with some of the tech, but it manages to work well enough.
All the problems creep in through the telling. Certain reveals strain some old clichés. No one expects comic book movies to ground themselves in reality, but they should at least reach for some semblance of it. Rich corporate geniuses aren’t the ones blowing themselves up in the real world. There are others, but it’s here that IR3 makes some of its biggest stumbles.
Much of the film’s middle deals strictly with Stark’s development. Once more, he has to battle some iteration of his inner demons. This time, there’s a kid involved. He’s a young charmer, an anchor to keep the hero grounded. He fills the roll Pepper Potts vacates this time out. Though Pepper gets a few cool moments, the absence of her influence lingers in spite of the kid’s efforts.
I don’t believe the idea that, now that the Marvel movies have entered phase two, these films have to reach higher in scope and action than previous episodes. IR3 feels like it wants to believe the same thing, but it doesn’t feel very confident about it. Some of the set pieces, particularly at the climax, get to be a bit much. Those logic gaps only increase the longer the action plays. It all looks very exciting, and one moment right at the height of the action plays pretty well, despite the fact that it really shouldn’t be happening at all.
Then there are the plot similarities to The Incredibles. Brad Bird did it better.
The heart at its center beats with all the earnestness it can muster. There’s almost an excess of Tony Stark, doing his best to ply his charms. While it might be because Downey, Jr. wanted more face time, the film at least provides some context. Tony is Iron Man — the hero is more than just a suit. It matters who wears it.
That angle should work. All the beats are there. I don’t even mind the absence of AC/DC. But watching this feels like listening to someone else cover their hits.
Robert Downey, Jr.
Written by: Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Directed by Shane Black