The Hot Mess Protocol (Chaotica in Extremis)
One still finds it incredible, if not amazing, that the most popular film-series in the Marvel Universe* continues to be "Iron Man." Don't get me wrong. Tony Stark's character is an important one in the pulps (are they still using pulp paper?), but relatively minor next to Captain America, Spider-man, The Fantastic Four or The Hulk. Now, Cap and Spidey're doing fine in the flickers, but the others, not so much. And the "Iron Man" series is the lynch-pin for the "Avengers" movies Marvel is creating as major events in the film-calendar.
The secret to its success seems to be, single-handedly, the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire-tech Tony Stark, a move that was initially resisted by Marvel. But Downey's refusal to stick to text, traditional acting rhythms, and mercurial energy makes even the most generic of roles a circus act, balancing on a tight-wire, never being predictable and finding interesting ways, by body and soul, to entertain, even when cocooned in a tin can. He's the best special effect in the "Iron Man" series, and dominated and energized the other characters in Joss Whedon's first "Avengers" movie.
Now, out of the factory comes "Iron Man Three" (as it is presented in the titles), the third film where most film series (post-Star Wars, and excepting the films that choose to bifurcate their last chapters) seem to stop, usually because either star-salaries and their negotiations are unsustainable, a logical character arc is achieved, or the film-makers have run out of ideas, or audiences, of interest. Three seems to be a good stopping point for super-hero movies, too. Face it, by the third movie, it's all about the toys and the merchandising. In this one, there's a veritable garage of Iron Man suits in enough variations that they'll be clogging toy store-shelves in a week (and bargain bins in six months). That's not the reason to see the movie, though, as each suit has little to no screen-time, with no explanation of what they are or what makes them special in any way.
This one is a movie version of the comics' "Extremis" storyline, originally written by Warren Ellis, but changed significantly and inserting one of Gear-head's major villains, the Mandarin—(as portrayed by Ben Kingsley) but not in a way that will impress comics fans, although general audiences might find the use amusing and apt for the times. Tony Stark is having issues with PTSD from his encounter with "Gods, aliens, and wormholes" in the Avengers movie** Stark Industries (and it's CEO, Pepper Potts—Gwyneth Paltrow, once again) is being schmoozed by the creepy head of AIM, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), while Tony, sleep-deprived by nightmares, vows to deal with Mandarin-orchestrated terror attacks that have become personal—Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan is left in a coma after an attack on one of America's great industrial centers, Grauman's Chinese Theater, by creepily glowing human bombs. Tony calls out the Mandarin, inciting an attack on his Malibu cliff-house, leaving him presumed dead and without resources, hiding out in Tennessee. If all this isn't complicated enough, Col. James Rhodes, the "Iron Patriot," (Don Cheadle) goes after the Mandarin himself at the behest of the government, and is captured, making his combat suit a threat, as well.
That's the plot—colluding and combusting—and Tony must rely less on his established mechanical persona than his own wits and ingenuity. Would that the filmmakers were, as well.
Favreau, who oversaw the first two movies, executive-produced this one. The writer-director of this mess is Shane Black, who collaborated with Downey in the not-bad movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and he makes the first two efforts seem brilliant by comparison. Oh, the charm of Downey is still there—there's one particular scene between him, Paltrow and Rebecca Hall in a three-way snark-argument that's particularly nice—and concerted efforts have been made to keep him out of the suit and his own man throughout most of film. But the movie's gears seize up every time a big action kerfluffle begins, and the only rhyme or reason for shot placements seems to be to keep the multiple cameras recording the events out of line of sight with each other. The editing suffers from some odd inserts in the middle of the action that merely confuses, rather than informs what is going on.***
And, it seems a little obvious to accuse an "Iron Man" movie of a deus ex machina overdose, but this one suffers greatly from it and finally breaks down in a denouement that polishes and shines everything in a nice little package and makes you wonder "that easy, huh?" This film could have used a little Geritol, frankly, feels a little like spinning its wheels, all the while you hear a lot of grinding in the works. The film proudly states that "Tony Stark will return." Oh. Wow. Can't wait.
Iron Man 3 is a Rental
Tony Strak kinda, you, know, uh, explains it all for you.
* © Disney Corp.
** In that movie, which is only referenced as "New York," Iron Man must fly a Big Exploding Thing into a wormhole connecting Asgard's multi-verse realm to deal with an Earth-threatening happenstance. In that other dimension, his suit gives out and he falls unconscious to Earth where he is caught by Dr. Bruce Banner's Hulk, without any of the neck-snapping consequences incurred by girl-friends of Spider-man.
*** Chris Nolan's "Batman" films have gotten flack for that, but Nolan's story-telling sense usually gets him through rough patches and "wait-a-minute" moments that this "Iron Man" entry immediately brings to mind.