REVIEW: A Second Opinion on 'Iron Man 3'
In a rare occurrence, the final act in the Iron Man trilogy is better than its predecessor, though it does fall well short of the first film. Iron Man 3 falls victim to the same problem that all superhero movies, particularly ones produced by Marvel, have suffered from. These films are no longer superhero films, but action films with superheroes in them.
Iron Man 3 pits genius billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) against a mysterious evil called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Iron Man’s archenemy in the comics, and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a rival scientist from the fictional Advanced Idea Mechanics.
Hmm… where have I seen this plot before? Could it be Iron Man 2, where Tony Stark has to fend off Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and a business rival in Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Hammer Industries? Or maybe the first Iron Man, in which Stark has to defeat Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) and his attempts to take over Stark Industries?
Generally speaking, there’s nothing original about Iron Man 3. The film suffers from having too many key characters, making most of them forgettable. (Anyone remember a single line uttered by Rebecca Hall or James Badge Dale? Exactly.) In fact, it’s mostly the minor characters, including precocious 10-year-old Harley (Ty Simpkins) and Stark’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who steal the show.
Even the final battle scene on an oil rig is unspectacular, a mess of flying metal suits, explosions and convenient appearances by Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to save Stark when the titular hero is in trouble, which must’ve been taken from Catwoman’s handy guidebook “How to Make Inexplicable Appearances and Save the Film’s Protagonist (and Potentially Getting Your Own Spin-Off).”
There were many reasons Iron Man 2 fell short, in no part because it had some awful villains. Ivan Vanko, portrayed with a twitch-inducing Russian accent by Rourke in a BDSM getup and orange jumpsuit, just wasn’t very threatening. Justin Hammer was portrayed wonderfully by Rockwell, but sorely underused. Iron Man 3 suffers from a similar problem.
I completely hated Shane Black’s characterization of the Mandarin. In the comics, the Mandarin is Iron Man’s archrival, a skilled martial artist and scientific genius who draws power from ten rings he wears on his fingers. (This is alluded to in the film with the Mandarin’s mark and the close ups of his fingers wearing the rings, though their significance is never revealed).
The Mandarin was supposed to be the primary villain in Iron Man, but for story and budget reasons was never included. It would’ve made for a fantastic premise, a behind the scenes villain who wouldn’t be seen until the film’s final act, much like Moriarty’s grand appearance in the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock.
What’s the point of building up the Mandarin if you’re going to just toss him aside? Spoiler alert – in Iron Man 3, the Mandarin is nothing but a cheap decoy masterminded by Killian to distract Tony Stark. The Mandarin is, in fact, Trevor Slattery, a horribly misguided and dimwitted British method actor who becomes an unknowing victim of Killian’s plot. Heck, could you imagine what would happen if the Joker was “just a decoy”? What if Magneto was “just a decoy”? What if General Zod was “just a decoy”? Heck, maybe the true villain in the upcoming The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman isn’t the Silver Samurai, but Javert in disguise!
There’s simply no tension in this film, from the Mandarin’s anti-climactic appearance (both as the “terrorist” and Slattery) to the awkward Stark-Potts-Killian-Hogan love square. It’s too bad that Marvel has sold out its characters and their rich histories to make some money, but hey, it’s business, right? As long as bad films keep making money, studios will continue to make bad films.
I guess this role is particularly fitting for Ben Kingsley, who hasn’t put in a good performance since 2008’s Elegy and 2003’s House of Sand and Fog. Perhaps Kingsley should be spared from some of the blame, but as I alluded to previously, what’s the point of a superhero film if the characters these films are based on aren’t given the proper treatment? These characters become nothing more than convenient vehicles for giant set pieces, outrageous budgets and a whole mess of explosions littered with Joss Whedon-inspired one-liners.
Pros: Robert Downey, Jr.; Harley; Happy Hogan; Audi; the film soundtrack
Cons: the first appearance of Killian, who takes the deranged scientist thing a little too far; Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin; the entire cast minus Downey, Jr. and Paltrow; contrived storyline; anticlimactic final battle; awful villains; and the inexplicable need for protagonists to just throw valuable items into the ocean, like Stark’s electromagnet or Rose’s “Heart of the Ocean” blue diamond necklace.
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