Iron Man 3

May 10, 2013

By Kevin Hyde
May 9, 2013

Richard Pryor’s Superman III (1983) … Director Joel Shumaker’s cheesy Batman Forever (1995) … More recently, the bloated and boring X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) …

Third installments in superhero movie franchises tend to be glowing mounds of bright, green kryptonite. But that reliable trend seems to have ended. Most agree the curse was broken last summer with the critical and box office success of The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final entry in the imaginative and triumphant Batman reboot by director Christopher Nolan. And now we have Iron Man 3, with its huge box office opening last weekend and largely warm reception by critics.

I was curious to see where they would pick up Iron Man’s storyline after the events depicted in the wildly fun and popular superhero, super-group flick The Avengers last summer. In that movie, Iron Man, along with Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury and the other members of S.H.I.E.L.D saved the world from an invasion of alien warriors set loose on Earth through a wormhole by Thor’s petulant brother, Loki.

As Iron Man 3 begins, we learn quickly that all the demi-gods, alternative dimensions, aggressive alien monsters and so forth clearly took its toll on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the charismatic, brilliant inventor and industrialist who is also Iron Man. A self-made superhero—just a man in a tin can by his own admission—he is suffering from some serious post traumatic alien invasion disorder. He can’t sleep, and spends his hyper-active late nights making more Iron Man suits—unmanned combat Iron Men, aka drone Iron Men. This has put him on the outs with long-suffering girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). It also has made him prone to debilitating and, for him, embarrassing anxiety attacks.

With his state of mind unraveling, the rest of his personal world is destroyed when he confronts an Osama bin Laden-like international terrorist called, the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. (NOTE: Major Hollywood films are not allowed to criticize China or depict the country in any unsavory light, lest they lose lucrative distribution deals. Rest easy Mother China. The Mandarin is not Chinese. Go ahead and steal this movie with impunity.)

Soon, Stark is on a revenge trip when his former body guard, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), is injured gravely while investigating scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who has turned injured ex-soldiers into regenerated super humans. With his compound destroyed, and his Iron Man suit on the fritz, Stark must rely on his own ingenuity and skill to save the country and the people close to him.

The film was co-written and directed by Shane Black, who wrote the Lethal Weapon movies in the late-80s and previously directed Downey in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This might explain why Iron Man 3 seems more violent than the other Marvel movies. There seems to be more than a little self-acknowledgment of this when Pepper Potts observes, Oh my God, that was violent, after a nasty bit of business during the film’s climax.

But like with the previous Iron Man movies, the proceedings are carried by the buoyant personality of its star, Robert Downey Jr., who again seems to be riffing and adlibbing his way through the role with good results. Since the first Iron Man five years ago, Downey has emerged as one of the most entertaining and unlikely action stars imaginable. While this is the last Iron Man movie, we’ll be seeing more of his Tony Stark in upcoming Avengers movies. And that’s a good thing.

Of course, the computer-generated effects in Iron Man 3 are sufficiently spectacular. CGI film technology has reached a point that, if you can think it—if you can conjure an image or sequence in your imagination—it can be depicted on screen impressively and realistically. This made me think about an old interview I heard with Raymond Frederick Harryhausen, a pioneer in stop-motion animation who died this past Tuesday at age 92. He won an Oscar for the original Mighty Joe Young (1949) and created one of the most famous swordfights in film history—Jason doing battle with a group of skeletons—in Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

Now today, you see so many strange things in a 30-second commercial, Harryhausen told an interviewer in 2004. You see the most amazing things, ya know? So there is no longer the amazement of amazing things.

There is no longer the amazement of amazing things. Interesting.
What happens when we can no longer be amazed by what we see? I think we are there when it comes to movies. Let’s face it. No longer can these CGI-heavy films be carried by the wow factor generated by their effects team. Perhaps more than ever, filmmakers need to rely on good, old-fashioned storytelling—compelling themes, engaging narratives, interesting characters saying interesting things to each other.

The folks over at Marvel seem to realize that.

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Kevin Hyde

Kevin Hyde is a freelance writer who has worked as a reporter for daily and weekly newspapers, edited regional and national magazines, written on pop culture for an international newspaper as well as several local, alternative newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].