(Editor’s note: We will be publishing two reviews for some of this summer’s top blockbusters. For critic Stephen Silver’s review, see here.)
Tony Stark is really stressed out.
Since the events of “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2”, Tony has been overwhelmed with anxiety due to his extremely busy schedule and it’s slowly getting worse. The thing is, that daily busy schedule does not consist of PTA meetings and Zumba classes. His chores and errands are not of the dry cleaning or grocery shopping variety.
See, Tony is a superhero. More specifically, Tony is a superhero that goes by the name of Iron Man. He hangs out with other super heroes. In fact, he is part of a super hero gang called The Avengers – which is run by a secretive organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. and consists of Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow.
The Avengers have collectively been just as busy lately, simultaneously thwarting an alien invasion and a hostile takeover by the Norse God of Mischief, Loki. These events have haunted Tony, giving him nightmares and panic attacks – which are so easily triggered, that the word New York (where the events took place) causes him to lose his shit and run and hide behind his suit of armor… uhh, quite literally, I may add.
To top it all off, Tony has recently had to say goodbye to his promiscuous, fast-paced life of leisure, as he now has a live-in girlfriend (who used to be his secretary, mind you) and has taken over his Stark’s bachelor pad/ technolab.
Yes, Tony Stark is stressed out.
And it’s about to get worse for Tony.
“Iron Man 3” – which sports a new set of villains, plus a new director in Shane Black – lets us tag along, once again, with the billionaire playboy-turned-armored warrior in his journey of redemption and self-discovery. At the core of this year’s first summer blockbuster to come out the gate, has an underlying theme about facing your demons and taking full responsibility for your actions – whether the intentions are good or that of evil.
It doesn’t hurt that the film is flawlessly filmed and action-packed. Or that the pacing is relentless and hardly gives the audience a chance to breathe, which is a good thing. Or that the humor-laden dialogue is plentiful and delivered by Robert Downey Jr. and company with impeccable timing. In fact, all of these items help with the quality of this film.
Now, back to the emotional drama…
What’s that you say? You want me to get back to all of the special effects and explosions. Okay, okay – in a minute.
This film is all about Tony Stark/Iron Man/Robert Downey Jr. I list them all together like that, because it’s almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Downey Jr. has immersed himself into this role, by… well… by, basically, being himself. He is at his best when he’s given the ability to smartass his way through a scene, which is something that he does a huge amount of in “Iron Man 3.” In fact, Downey’s smug performance gets funnier and smarmier as the film goes on.
The best example of Downey’s sense of humor shining through occurs in the second act. In between violent encounters with glowing lava soldiers (I’ll explain later), this segment of the film plays like a soul searching quest, of sorts. Tony – who somehow has wound up homeless, trekking through snowy Tennessee (snowy Tennessee? Is there such a thing?), and dragging a powerless Iron Man suit behind him – is searching for answers as to who just blew up his crib and tried to kill him and his girlfriend, Pepper Potts.
During this part of the movie, Tony crosses the path of one randomly-placed character after another, yet manages to endlessly express hilarious, sometimes heartfelt, but mostly douchebaggy (yes, that’s a word… well… if it ain’t, it oughta be) remarks to say to them. One of the more prominent examples of these characters is a scientific-minded, young lad (played by Ty Simpkins: that coma-bound kid from “Insidious”) who helps Tony get back on his feet by letting him power up his Iron Man suit in his garage. This plot point actually winds up leading up to one of Tony’s more humanitarian gestures, as he becomes sort-of like a father figure after he asks the kid where his parents are and the kid says, “My mother’s at work and my father went out for scratchers [lottery tickets] – that was six years ago.”
Is the inclusion of a child a little bit of foreshadowing? Could Tony Stark take this kid under his wing – a la Bruce Wayne and Robin? Nah, probably not. My guess was that they just needed a way for the kids in the audience to relate a little more to the film. You know, to sell more toys.
That brings up one of the issues that I’ve always had with the “Iron Man” franchise.
It’s not the character of Iron Man that I have issues with or Tony Stark, for that
matter. I happen to like the suit and I like the casting of the guy who’s in the suit. I’m partial to the cinematic design that they concocted for all of the different variations of the Iron Man costume. I even like the design of the Iron Patriot/ War Machine. Although, I have to admit, I thought Terrence Howard was waaaay better than Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes. I just can’t stop picturing Cheadle as cowboy porn star Buck Swope from “Boogie Nights” long enough for me to buy into him being an action star. That being said, Cheadle does do an admirable job on the comedic level next to Downey Jr. I have to be honest though, Terrence Howard as Iron Patriot would have kicked so much ass.
Back to the main issue I have with the franchise. It’s the villains – or lack thereof. See, in the DC universe – Batman has The Joker and The Penguin and The Riddler and Catwoman and Two-Face, etc. etc. etc. Superman has Lex Luthor and Bizarro and Doomsday and even Mr. Mxylplyx.
In the Marvel universe – X-Men have Magneto, Juggernaut, Sabertooth and countless others. Spider-Man has Green Goblin, Venom, Doctor Octopus, Electro, Sandman, etc, etc.
What I’m getting to is this – Iron Man has the same problem as Thor, Captain America, The Hulk and the rest of the heroes in The Avengers. There just aren’t enough villains that would be recognizable to the average household that DOESN’T spend all of their free time reading graphic novels, watching cartoons, and/or playing video games.
Despite featuring villains like Jeff Bridges[?!] as Obadiah Stane in part 1 and Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash in part 2, ‘Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” obtained a great deal of critical and box office success. “Iron Man 3” features two – count ‘em – two villains : Aldrich Killian (played with snake-like charisma by Guy Pearce) and The Mandarin – who I actually had heard of before (surprise, surprise) and I will talk about in greater detail in a moment.
But first, we’ll start at the beginning of the film, where we’re transported back to 1999 (thanks to a soundtrack featuring that annoying Eiffel 65 song that goes, “I’m blue, dab-a-dee, dab-a-dye, dab-a-dee, dab-a-dye….” – remember that piece of crap song?). Boozing womanizer Tony is escorting his cute scientist friend, Maya Hansen (played by an underutilized Rebecca Hall), up to his hotel room, when a creepy, snaggle-toothed, cane-toting scientist guy bum rushes them and explains “what big fans he is of their work.” After sufficiently bothering them enough, he hands both of them a business card – which features the company name of “AIM” on it.
Creepy dude is now set to depart, after putting up with an elevator ride full of Stark wisecracks. However, Tony – ever the prankster – thought it would be funny to get the creepy dude’s hopes up by telling him to head to the roof in 10 minutes, because Tony wants to do business with him.
Long story short – Creepy dude goes to the roof, creepy dude waits and waits and waits, alas, Tony never shows up. Instead, Tony gets to know Maya a little bit better, if you catch my meaning. He also gets to know her work better, which consists of living organisms re-growing destroyed and/or deformed appendages. This is shown through a plant spontaneously combusting after it re-grows a stem and leaf that were ripped off in a comedic fit by Tony’s bodyguard, Happy (played by returning actor Jon Favreau – who also directed “Iron Man 1 & 2,” but not “Part 3”). This explosion is important. Remember this explosion, as this spontaneous combustion angle comes back into the plot later on in the film.
Fast Forward to the present day: Tony is that ball of frayed nerves and sarcastic quips I told you about earlier – relegated to a hermetic existence in his machine shop/man cave, while he “tinkers” with dozens of nifty ideas and Iron Man prototype suits. See, he is a self-proclaimed “tinkerer” and his “hobby” leaves no room for Pepper (who is now running the day-to-day operations at Stark Industries) or his sanity, for that matter. He keeps reliving that moment where his suit freezes up and he plummets to Earth. Holy Xanax, Batman! Tony Stark is having honest-to-goodness panic attacks.
Oh, it gets worse for Tony. It gets much worse. It seems that the creepy weirdo he left on the roof in 1999 has gotten his act together and turned into a suave Guy Pearce look-a-like. It turned out to be Aldrich Killian in the elevator all those years ago and now he’s rich and successful and has eyes for Pepper, as evident by his frisky presentation at Stark Industries for her, regarding the newest project from his now off-the-ground AIM company – Extremis.
Extremis is suspiciously like Maya’s exploding plant from 1999, but instead of leaves and stems, it’s now arms and legs of battle-wounded American soldiers. Oh, did I mention Maya is now conveniently working in an Extremis think-tank for Killian and AIM? No? Well, she is… and it eventually complicates things further for Tony and Pepper’s relationship (in more ways than one), but that’s not important right now.
So, if you’re still with me… Tony has the events from the first two films (although, to him they’re not films – they’re just real life, but I digress), the New York/Avengers/ alien wormhole mishap, and now some rich dude named Killian (who he hasn’t recognized….yet) is putting the moves on his girlfriend. Life is terrible for Tony, right? Can’t get worse, right?
Hold up, I almost forgot the best part – The Mandarin.
Ah yes, The Mandarin. This character is, hands-down, the absolute best part of the film. Not only does it create a credible (and recognizable from the comic book) threat for Tony, but the role has so many layers to it – literally and figuratively. Ben Kingsley has a blast (pun intended) playing this role – which, under the circumstances of the last few weeks in Boston, really hits home for the American public.
The Mandarin (who is powered by alien technology in the comic book) is a cross between Bin Laden and Cobra Commander in this version of story. He goes on TV, taking over EVERY channel, and forces the American public to endure one act of terrorism after another as he spews propaganda about the slaughter of Native Americans and the false, Chinese origin of fortune cookies. These disturbing videos and their messages of hatred and anti-American sentiment are actually pretty creepy, as is the voice of The Mandarin – which Kingsley portrays as some kind of weird, serial killer-esque, American accent.
After Mann’s Chinese Theater goes kaboom – courtesy of The Mandarin (But how? Hmmmm… interesting) – the media comes after Tony and wants answers as to The Mandarin’s true identity and when/if Iron Man is going to go after him. Again, stress takes over Tony, and in a fit of rage, he ends giving out his home address and dares The Mandarin to come “get him.” Not a smart move by Tony. Guess who’s coming over to Iron Man’s crib? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not MTV.
Now, I must cease with the plot analysis for fear of spoiling too much for you guys. I’ll just leave you with these final thoughts before you go see “Iron Man 3.”
Robert Downey Jr. has never been funnier. Director Shane Black (this dude used to act and played Hawkins in “Predator” – just thought you’d like to know) takes the franchise to new heights of entertainment value and pure enjoyment. No joke, my mouth was agape with giddiness during the entire movie. Sorry Jon Favreau, just like your character during this movie – your presence was not missed.
And the ending scene – a set piece featuring an exploding and melting oil tanker – in which Killian exacts his revenge on Tony for dissing him back in 1999 is a truly stunning triumph within the action genre. Too much, you say? Trust me, it’s awesome. You’ll see.
Also, I guarantee, when you leave the theater and you’re on your way home, that Ben Kingsley in the role of The Mandarin will be your favorite part of “Iron Man 3” – in some form or another. When I tell you he steals the show, just know that I mean every word of it.
Speaking of leaving the theater, do yourself a favor, don’t leave until the movie’s totally over. THERE IS A STINGER AFTER THE CREDITS. Just thought I’d put it in “all-caps” for that overkill factor. I won’t say what it is, but just know that it’s there.
So, I say hooray for the first of many summer blockbusters and three cheers for the man in the giant tin can.
I’m sure when Tony Stark sees the numbers from the first week’s box office receipts (plus the overseas numbers), he’ll be a little less stressed.
That is, until Kirk and Spock show up on May 16.