Iron Man 3

ironman3 02Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Don Cheadle
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)

Iron Man 3 is a bit of a disappointment. It’s a long slog, a disjointed blur that never entirely gels. It’s a series of events, bits, that doesn’t feel like a coherent, well-paced movie, largely because it isn’t.

Of course, Robert Downey Jr. is entertaining as cinema’s jerkiest, most sarcastic superhero, but four movies in (counting last summer’s modest art film, The Avengers), the smug strutting perhaps wears a little thin. Shane Black directs—and cowrites—a story that moves from action sequence to smart-ass zinger to action sequence relentlessly, but without much pizazz or inventiveness. The final action sequence has one dominant feature that we haven’t seen in an Iron Man outing so far, and Black and Co. run it into the ground. The dark, murky sequence, like the whole film, just goes on too long. At two hours, seven minutes, the film is maybe forty minutes longer than its story merits.

The real shame is that there’s some attempt here to give the film some depth. Downey’s character is going through a rough emotional patch after the finale to The Avengers, in which he flew a nuclear missile through a wormhole to attack an invading army that was doing a great job of destroying Manhattan. He’s got undiagnosed PTSD, somewhat poorly presented as a series of panic attacks, and that’s refreshing. Your average six-month stretch of Marvel Comics will destroy New York about two and a half times, never with consequence,ironman3 03 but the greater realism of cinema perhaps demands more thought to such epic destruction and events of cosmic import.

Additionally, Downey’s relationship with rom-com foil Gwyneth Paltrow has advanced beyond the status quo of the first two films, his main motivation in facing the villain is deeply personal, and the film builds to an effort on the hero’s part to grow up and be a better man. Yet it’s all so slapdash in execution that none of it sticks, any more than the high-speed special effects, or the totally superfluous and disappointing 3D, have any impact.

Still, the film delivers much of what the Iron Man brand has been promising, and is arguably better than the second film in the trilogy. It has a really nice idea, which is to get Downey out of his armor as much as possible. But it runs way too long with the concept, so the film is often less Iron Man and more gadget-era James Bond. Whatever you call the ability to calibrate an idea and an audience’s appetite for “enough,” that thing is broken in this movie.

The story does have a few very nice twists, particularly from Ben Kingsley, who plays global terrorist known as The Mandarin. (The original comic-book Mandarin was a direct Fu Manchu ripoff that would almost certainly be offensive today. The movie updates the character into a global terrorist with a multicultural persona—Kingsley is never meant to be taken as Chinese, or connected to China—and deftly dodges potential tastelessness.

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One wishes more had been done with the villains, and with Rebecca Hall’s character (a top scientist who had a one-night stand with Downey), and especially Don Cheadle. Cheadle’s a world-class actor, but the filmmakers draw no brilliance from him, and don’t come near to challenging Kingsley or Downey. (Also, Cheadle’s character is an Iron Man in his own right, who never really gets to use his own armor. Were the filmmakers afraid of upstaging Downey?)

In sum, the filmmakers have a lot of half-baked ideas but not enough heart, or real interest, to truly exploit them.