There are moments in Iron Man 3
when you truly realize what an incredible actor Robert Downey Jr. is even though he's plopped down in the middle of a high-budget superhero flick. While it's practically impossible to think about Downey Jr. getting any kind of Oscar consideration, the simple truth is that it's a thought that shouldn't be so easily dismissed and even if it is dismissed one simply can't imagine this film without the actor. Just like Brandon Routh failed miserably in trying to make us forget about Christopher Reeve, it's darn near unimaginable that anyone working in cinema today will be able to touch Downey Jr.'s mastery as the dueling egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Iron Man 3
starts off with a flashback to Stark in 1999 Switzerland not so subtly seducing the lovely and intelligent Maya (Rebecca Hall) while completely blowing off a guy whose mere appearance screams out mad scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Flash forward to present time and we find Stark suffering a bit of PTSD after his adventure with The Avengers in New York. While Stark/Iron Man sure isn't the first vulnerable superhero to light up the big screen, I'm not sure anyone has nailed the difficult weaving together of humility and heroism quite a masterfully as does Robert Downey Jr.
In light of the recent Boston bombings, the story that unfolds feels very much like a shared journey with Stark's humility and vulnerability at times feeling like our own. His adversary this time around, a madman of sorts who goes by the name The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), has orchestrated a series of increasingly serious bombings that kill dozens yet don't leave a trace of their explosive origins. When one of the explosions leaves Stark's right-hand man Happy (Jon Favreau) with significant wounds, Stark vows to take down The Mandarin for no good reason other that pure and simple revenge.
I'm not going to promise you that you'll love everything about Iron Man 3,
because it possesses a story that meanders wildly and, at times, it's a film that works almost solely because Robert Downey Jr. wills it to work. Every single time it seems like Co-writer/director Shane Black is headed a direction that can't possibly work somehow it all meanders its way to genuine entertainment. In fact, one of the film's best scenes is just such a scene. It finds Stark having crash landed into a wintery scene in rural Tennessee and into the path of a mischievous 'tween played perfectly by Ty Simpkins. As Harley, Simpkins avoids being overly precious and instead plays an almost perfect complement to the sincerely insincere Stark. What really should have been a throwaway scene is instead one of the true highlights of Iron Man 3.
It helps that Downey Jr. is once again surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, though Gwyneth Paltrow's action sequences are at times slo-mo to the point of laughable. Rebecca Hall is a welcome addition here as the "Is she good?" or "Is she bad?" Maya, while Ben Kingsley is a delight as always. As someone who has long admired the work of both Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce, it's a complete joy to see them both appearing in a film that's destined for box-office success.
This is not to say that everything is perfect with Iron Man 3,
and a lot of the film's problems fall back to a script desperately in need of some tightening up. Co-penned by Shane Black and Drew Pearce, Iron Man 3
never seems quite as comfortable with Stark's vulnerability as is Downey Jr. It's as if Downey Jr. actually knows what Black/Pearce were trying to accomplish with their script, but they never quite managed to get the actual script to gel in the same way. It also feels like we're at times getting a lecture that "Things aren't always what they seem," a lecture itself that fits right into the recent Boston bombings. Yet, in trying to sell the point we end up with some conflicted morality lessons where a proven to be corrupt President is rescued while a power seeking Vice-President is somehow deemed worthy of arrest. There's also more than one occasion where Stark pledges his loyalty to his beloved Pepper only to immediately, and I mean immediately, contradict himself.
But, let's be honest. You're not going to go see Iron Man 3
for its moral lessons or global politics. You're going to be entertained and, even if the meandering plot drives you crazy, it's hard to imagine you won't leave the film at least being modestly entertained and mumbling to yourself "It's way better than Iron Man 2."
Oh, and it IS way better than Iron man 2
and finally serves as justification for having replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle.
Stark's smartass comments work wondrously, the action sequences are perhaps excessive yet well choreographed, the humor is intact and, refreshingly, Downey Jr. really shows us what's so super about this ironclad superhero.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic