Iron Man 3

© 2013 Ray Wong

Usually when a franchise gets to the third installment, it either shows signs of fatigue (think The Terminator) or sparks of reinvention (think Star Trek). The first film of the Iron Man series was so good and the second so unexceptional that Iron Man 3 could go either way.

After saving the world from alien invasion (in The Avengers), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is suffering from a serious case of insomnia. While he can't sleep, he tinkers with his inventions, which have also become part of the military lineup called the "Iron Patriots" -- much of his chagrin but Col. Rhodes' (Don Cheadle) amusement. What keeps Stark awake at night is his imminent sense of dread, that something bad is going to happen to the love of his life Ms. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

That imminent dread appears in the form of a terrorist leader named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who wracks havoc in the world with his random bombings and assassination of powerful men, including an attempt to kidnap the President of the Unite States. At one of the bombings, Stark's trusted friend Happy (Jon Favreau) is seriously hurt. Seething with anger and frustration, Stark wages a personal war with The Mandarin.

Big mistake. The Mandarin attacks Stark and Potts at their Malibu home. Believed to have died, Stark goes on a detour to try to figure out how to defeat the Mandarin. His investigation leads him to Tennessee, and the trail of information leads him to an old flame Maya (Rebecca Hall) and her boss Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who may be working with the Mandarin in developing some kind of secret biochemical weapons.

Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers) reprises his role of Tony Stark with more maturity and thoughtfulness this time. The whole idea is that Stark is not the same person as he was when the series began. RDJ embodies that change rather nicely while still displaying his trademarked cockiness and arrogance. Still, RDJ has been playing similar characters since he resurrected his career with Iron Man (in some ways, Sherlock Holmes is just another version Tony Stark); I'd like to see him tackle something completely different because he is a very good actor.

Gwyneth Paltrow (The Avengers) has always been the lovely flower in this franchise, but here she has a bit more to do, to show off some of her fighting skills. Still, this is Tony Stark's show, and Paltrow would just have to be happy in the role of the love interest and damsel in distress much of the time. Don Cheadle (Flight) also reprises his role as Col. Rhodes. He and RDJ play off each other beautifully. One only wishes that Cheadle has more screen time instead of being a big sidekick.

Guy Pearce (Prometheus) plays an interesting villain who has a sympathetic past. Pearce does it with a lot of charm and flair, but his character is sorely underwritten that I just can't relate to him. "Obsession" and "ambition" are great, but simply not enough to be character motivation. Rebecca Hall (The Town) enjoys her role in one of her biggest movies yet, but her character is also significantly underwritten to make any true impact. The true surprise here is Ben Kingsley (Hugo) -- his performance during one of the movie's funniest twists is well worth the price of admission.

Supporting cast also includes Jon Favreau (Identity Theft) as Happy -- it must have been a relief for Favreau not to direct IM3, as he seems to have a lot more fun, here -- and James Badge Dale, best known as a cancer patient in Flight, who follows up as The Mandarin's menacing minion, Savin.

Written by director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) with Drew Pearce (Pacific Rim), the script is a huge mess of too many plot threads and characters, and non-sensible motivations and consequences. I'm not a stupid person, and I have watched a lot of movies (including the first two Iron Man films), but I can't for the life of me figure out what is going on. The plot threads move in different directions but they never really come together in cohesion. It is fragmented. The plot and character misdirection also feels pompous and self-indulgent: "Hey look how clever we are."  The threats are never urgent or real, and Stark's internal struggle is only touched on without a lot of depth.

This is by far the most cartoonish, comic book-like production of the series. Given that this is, in fact, a Marvel comic, I can understand the direction the writers and producers want to go, and I appreciate that. But the execution is something else. It is a big hot mess. I'm surprised because I thoroughly enjoyed Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang which had a great mix of humor, action, plot and character development. So far, the only thing I really like about Iron Man 3 is the humor. That, they did it right. Unfortunately, under Black's direction, the action is chaotic and murky, with too many close-ups and messy choreography. For a while I thought I was watching Transformers 4, and that is not a compliment by any stretch.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Stephanie Szostak
Director: Shane Black
Writers: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Distributor: Walt Disney
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence, brief suggestive content
Running Time: 130 minutes


Script - 6
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 9

Total - 7.1 out of 10.0 

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