Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3
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Shane Black, who cut his teeth on “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and other action films that crash and burn, were the perfect person to hire for “Iron Man 3.” That’s not just because he had previously worked with the star of this franchise Robert Downey Jr. on 2005’s “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.” The new film isn’t very good but it is never boring due to its incredibly abrupt changes in mood. It seems like it cares about what happens one minute before looking at anyone who could care at all in the next.

Given that all Iron Man movies are more comedies than drama (with overlapping dialogue often sounding improvised), having a franchise which seemed close to exhaustion make us laugh was just right – besides they even winked at the audience as if Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made an appearance together in their likable Road series. This is one of those films where seconds after a protagonist curses a foe for attacking his friend, you may witness Tony Stark dressed up as Iron Man literally tottering down long flights of stairs resembling a drunken drag queen wearing high heels. “You’re nothing without your armor” sneers a female assassin at Tony. “That would be only enough for my personal memoirs,” he says.

But Iron Man 3 is much harder-edged than any old Hope-Crosby film, especially when Tony goes head-to-head with an Osama bin Laden-ish terrorist-sage called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). In fact, its violence pushes the PG-13 rating past its limits: lethal (although mostly bloodless) gunplay, moments of gratuitous cruelty that would be shocking if this wasn’t essentially a cartoon fantasy where pain has no consequences and physics doesn’t apply. (Tony also survives superhuman falls and body slams that would turn real people into paste; again, though, this all makes sense within the context of the dream-like film.)

The story brings back most of the regulars, from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (CEO of Stark Enterprises and Tony’s girlfriend), Don Cheadle as “Rhodey” Rhodes or War Machine (now renamed Iron Patriot and conscripted into America’s never-ending war on terrorism) to Jon Favreau Happy Hogan who still plays Big Brother to his quipping boss. There are new gadgets, including a segmented “prehensile” Iron Man suit whose pieces fly through the air, connect with his arms and torso piece-by-piece under control via receptors implanted in Tony’s body. It involves a love triangle – rather tension triangle – that also includes Maya Hansen, a self-professed botanist (Rebecca Hall).

Surprisingly, there is no mystery but once again any sentient moviegoer will know how all the pieces fit together: Who is the Mandarin? What does he have to do with the dashing, charismatic entrepreneur-scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who wants to sell Stark Industries a metabolizing substance called Extremis, which can create new limbs and heal sick bodies, but has certain, er, side effects? How does Maya fit into all of this? Can the combined forces of the U.S. military and Stark Industries stop the Mandarin from bombing us into oblivion? Or if that fails at least they could stop him from simultaneously interrupting every broadcast in North America with his sermons on the moral failures of military-industrial capitalism? (His sentiments are warmed-over Noam Chomsky, but they’re brilliantly edited, with flash-cuts of terrorists training and stuff blowing up. Unlike bin Laden, the Mandarin knows it’s not enough to stand in front of a camera and rant; the images need to sizzle, baby!)

In Black’s script for Iron Man 3 , Tony’s adversaries look visually fresh even though Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce have given them characters to play except for two exceptions. They pass as regular people but can morph and re-form like T-1000 in “Terminator 2”, their core substance looking more like molten lava than molten steel and their eyes glowing a hellish crimson. During a fight with former Army-colonel-turned-Mandarin-henchman Eric Savin (James Badge Dale), Tony mocks him by calling him “Westworld.”

Downey is as unromantic as ever – he’s basically young Bob Hope with biceps – except that some shots make him look oddly like pumped-up Kevin Smith. And I was distracted by this fact which made me feel uneasy. Cheadle has an easygoing authority as his best friend and partner in biomechanical heroics, and matches Downey quip-for-quip and gunshot-for-gunshot. He could easily carry his own comic book picture, but I’m not convinced that would be a great use of his talents if it were as inconsequential as most Marvel projects. Paltrow is onscreen tough and endearing though she’s not there often.

As the Osama bin Laden-like villain the Mandarin, Ben Kingsley steals the movie—I wish I could explain how without ruining a fantastic surprise. Guy Pearce’s bare torso during a fight scene steals it right back. It looks like he must have spent six hours a day at the gym for months to look that ripped; you could grate lettuce on his abs. The compositions and editing are industry-standard, mostly loose and chaotic, however if you see this movie in 3D (actually post-converted 3D), you may find it difficult to follow exactly what’s happening in dark scenes because those glasses dim the image so much.

But this movie does have a terrific skydiving sequence about two-thirds of the way through that’s among the greatest aerial set pieces in cinematic history; I can’t remember any one beautiful shot, though, and it’s been a few days after I saw it. But how it came to be included in this film is beyond me because most of its action scenes are not so much directed as covered, and their themes are put together with such reckless abandon. The first part was politically cynical while “Iron Man 3” goes even further with this idea by suggesting politicians and arms dealers manufacture international crises for power grabbing reasons; however, no detailed assessment of this idea is done because it would alienate viewers easily turned off by too much political discourse. This is bog-standard comic book fare where heroes are good apples gone bad and villains are bad ones all along as Black takes enormous joy in blowing up things and killing people.

Gorgeous cars, extravagant parties, strip-club style booty shaking: that’s Hollywood alpha-male sleaze that lurked just below the surface of the first two Iron Man films; “Iron Man 3” brings those same traits into focus. It only makes his already toned creative muscles into bloated monstrosities like bro steroids for Black’s grinning machismo. It took him long enough to make an “Entourage” version out of Iron Man. We expect there to be more than two people in the bed whenever one character enters another character’s bedroom. One major character has a serious drug habit and there is also an undertone of addiction between Extremis users and their masters.

The story belongs entirely to Tony Stark and Rhodey, while Pepper spends most parts of the film being pinned inside what seems to have been a malfunctioned Nautilus machine but at least she banters with Tony before that happens. Although Maya doesn’t really do anything except guilt over her association with he who must not be named, she does have a surprisingly tender conversation with Pepper about wrong directions. In this film, which is clearly valuable, the destruction of Tony Stark’s clifftop home by a helicopter attack — an event advertised in trailers — is as if someone had slashed the Mona Lisa; it feels like an obscenity within its own moral universe. Swankiest bachelor pad ever.

. Shifting his weight to make one or the other end rise or fall, his stories straddle that midpoint on the kidding/not kidding scale like a little kid on a seesaw at recess.

Black’s journey is rife with self-aware humor regarding the genre and the rules it adheres to, as if he were a mentally incompetent brother to Bertolt Brecht. His screenplays are no different from any other commercial movie script, and they tend to treat these conventions with contempt. In his 1991 film ‘The Last Boy Scout’, Black asks in the script “Remember Jimmy’s friend Henry who we met briefly at the opening of the film? He then adds this comment “Of course you do, you’re a highly paid script reader or development person.”

In one short subplot, Tony teams up with a child without a father; however, this does not lead to any sentimentality about Daddy Issues because Tony is not like that. Downey Jr narrates both the beginning and end of Iron Man 3.

I really wish that black had gone whole hog on doing that for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – having him narrate everything including these throwaway lines where he’s talking directly into camera: “And hey… you know what I’m going to invent next? An Incredible Hulk signal. Would make for like twenty minutes worth of movie.”

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