Iron Man 3 Exists

Some days, like today, it seems totally pointless to try to say anything substantive about a film like Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 3 posterThe world is a vastly complex place. Over an almost indistinguishably small portion of it, colors, light, and sound unspool in such a way so that humans with working sensory organs can observe and join in the common fantasy of Robert Downey Jr. continuing the anti-heroic escapades of Iron Man.

Of what importance is this? Well, you’re reading and I’m writing, so I suppose the only coherent answer is, “some.” I am reminded of the great Harlan Ellison’s review of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in which he writes “Both the most and the least a responsible film critic can say is that the third Star Trek movie is out, and Trek fans will love it.”

I find myself in much the same position here. Not because I didn’t enjoy Iron Man 3, or because Iron Man 3 wasn’t good (it was), or because there isn’t a lot to enjoy in the script, the performances, and the set pieces, but because the minutia of these things is less important to investigate than which of three dipping sauces you’ll opt to dunk your fries in.

I suppose I am in a philosophically dark mood. I will try to hoist my pantaloons though and share, if not what I should, than at least what I can.

Iron Man 3 armor

Let’s put on those red shoes and dance the blues.

You are aware of Iron Man or god knows what you’ve been doing with your life. Teaching children English, perhaps? In this third installment of the well-received saga, familiar characters behave in comfortingly familiar ways, and yet they grow in ways that are unexpected and occasionally refreshing. Robert Downey Jr. is among the current Hollywood pantheon’s greats when it comes to performing snappy patter and he finds a deft doubles partner in Shane Black. If what you seek is a chance to snap a Z and say sotto voce (as you’re in the theater) “oh no you didn’t”, then yes, he does and he did in Iron Man 3.

We’re not talking leaden, Schwarzenegger word droppings like, “I’ll be back,” but lines of dialogue that are exfoliatingly sharp. This is surprising and occasionally even shocking, particularly in a piece of mass-market entertainment.


He started it

The bulk of the film is bits of computer effects swirling violently around other bits of computer effects, like a Jackson Pollack painting strapped to the nose of a V-2 rocket aimed at your uvula. You either have an appreciation for such things or your don’t. I most often find an overwhelming amount of CGI to approach zero on the axis of meaning. That is the case in this film. I do not recall feeling especially moved or unmoved by any particular computer generated action sequence in Iron Man 3; they simply were.

Although the college girls behind us gasped mightily whenever anything on screen moved, or spoke, or changed hue. Some found this irritating but it only made me miss the days when I could get so emotionally engaged in pure fantasy. As it is, in my dark philosophical mood, I remained distant but amiable towards the projected events.

Iron Patriot / War Machine Don Cheadle

Every time I shake my booty I’m waving the flag

The most and the least a guy can say is that Iron Man 3 will satisfy those that saw the first two and wanted a third. Asking whether it is better or worse than the others is like asking if the water is any wetter over by where you live.

Does it matter? This water is plenty wet.

I found a lot to enjoy in the production and more to reluctantly accept as standard, like the requirement to sit through 12 minutes of third-unit production driver credits and a listing of the staff of Marvel Studios to see a post-credits tag. Whose idea was this gimmick, anyway? Can we shoot him or her? What is the point?

Certainly producers don’t think anyone who doesn’t personally know someone in the lower 9/10ths of the credits scrawl is doing anything but looking for funny names to mock? And those that know they know someone included already know they’re included. Can’t we just say, “A whole lot of talented people worked on this production. For their paid assistance, we are grateful. Please find a list of everyone involved online at your convenience” and leave it at that? Who would suffer?

For the love of humanity, people, enough is enough. We aren’t molly-coddled 1st graders. Everyone doesn’t need an award for participation: that’s called your fucking salary.

Mandarin Ben Kingsley Iron Man 3

I call this look Green Steel

As to the specifics of the plot of Iron Man 3, I do think Shane Black did an admirable job of blending novelty with the unalterable pillars of the genre. I could tell you what the premise of the film is and how elements of it worked while others did not, but you don’t want to know. Either you’ve been reading the blogs and the press and the comic books and know all about the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, having a grand time) and Guy Pierce, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jon Favereau, and Don Cheadle, and the undersold Paul Bettany (as Jarvis), or you’ll find out.

There are many on the internets who will discuss the intricacies of Blacks’ writing style with you. They are right and just to do so.

As for me, this is all I find I can say: Iron Man 3 is a job well done for a job that may not have needed doing.

In the beginning of the film, Tony Stark says something along the lines of “I don’t know what I should do; I just know what I can do.” That pretty much sums it up. Should you go see Iron Man 3? I don’t know. I just know that you can.

12 responses on “Iron Man 3 Exists

  1. Nice write-up. I had slight different take on the film…

    Aside from my attachment to RDJ as an actor, I found the 2nd installment to be pretty mediocre, though I still enjoyed it as a ‘popcorn’ flick. The first half of Iron Man 1 was probably the height of this franchise because of the sheer novelty of the character being revealed to us in the way that Stark is an ‘everyman’ superhero (‘everyman’ in the sense that there is no X-Men/Hulk/SpiderMan inhuman gene mutation thing) than the rest of the Marvel franchise films foist upon their audiences. However, I even found the tail-end action sequences of Iron Man 1 decidedly dull and typical of using so much CGI and explosions that it actually becomes tiresome.

    However, with this film Stark spent far more time ‘out of the suit’ and engaging in more John McClane style action-hero stuff. The result of which made the final CGI-gasm more balanced with the rest of the film without becoming tiresome. In that sense, and many other ways that you cited above, this is actually the best made/directed film of the franchise.

    Well…that’s my $.02. Great review and thanks for sharing Mr. Evil Genius!

    • you are sure welcome, sean.

      i agree with what you say about 1 & 2.

      this one, yes, he’s out of the suit, but even out of the suit… he’s still acting like he’s in the suit. and then he’s jumping in and out of suits like a schizophrenic on halloween. i didn’t find his McClane action hero stuff convincing or realistic or even in character. Tony Stark isn’t the type to run into a nest of baddies without some real protection. it was cute, but… whatever. i hate all the giant finale action sequences in all of these films. it’s always a bunch of hooey. although i did like the role reversal stuff at the end of this one.

      is this one the best? i guess i stand by my review: it’s plenty wet.

  2. “In the beginning of the film, Tony Stark says something along the lines of “I don’t know what I should do; I just know what I can do.” That pretty much sums it up.”

    Well, technically, it was James T. Kirk who said this, and it was slightly before the beginning of the film, during the trailer to Star Trek: Into Darkness. But it’s a universal message.

    I went to see this last night with some friends and accidentally wore my Batman t-shirt and got mocked by the popcorn lady. Whereupon I had reason to reflect that Batman and Iron Man are basically the same dude, but that I’d much rather spend a forgettable two and a half hours with Tony Stark than Bruce Wayne. Especially the depressing, gimpy, mumbling Christian Bale Bruce Wayne. (Hanging out for a couple hours with Adam West would probably be pretty sweet, actually.)

    • Hmmm… I search my fading memory and it seems that factually, you may be correct. I knew someone said that. I’m also pretty sure that James Kirk, Tony Stark, and Bruce Wayne are the same dude and that next summer we’re going to get the supergundam movie in which they all join together to form BatIronKirk to smite the living barnacles out of the ghost of Ingmar Bergman with their giant electric stand mixer.

      I agree, yes, that hanging out with Stark is more fun than moping with Wayne, but I’m not sure I feel the same about Favereau/Black and Nolan. The Iron Man films are more fun because that’s all they’re trying to be. While I don’t think Nolan succeeds at more than a fraction of what he tries, he’s certainly ambitious.

      Which is an interesting thought, because now I’m wondering what Iron Man 3 was trying to do beyond keep a franchise alive and from feeling stale?

      So… I’d happily put any of the Iron Man films on if I just wanted to see things entertainingly blow up. I think I’d leave ’em running if I was also, say, doing the ironing. I don’t think there’s much point to having Nolan’s Batman films on unless you’re actively going to watch them, though.

      Can we get a movie about you being mocked by the popcorn lady? That sounds like fun.

      • You know, I have kind of come 180 on this. Batman is by far my favorite comic book superhero, specifically because he’s basically a disturbed sociopath who’s barely holding onto his sanity.

        I totally dug Batman Begins, not least because it’s based on one of my favorite comics (Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One). And in general, I’m way more into the DC superhero universe than Marvel, because the writers are superior, and the characters are more interesting. But ultimately, it seems like those darker takes on the superhero genre play better in comics than on the screen. Or at least, if I’m going to see a big-budget summer superhero movie, lately I’d rather see Marvel because they just seem to have more fun with it.

        I’ve probably been corrupted by seeing the last Batman at the theater three times over the space of two weeks (not by choice). And I now hate Christian Bale with a fiery hatred. And while I appreciate Christopher Nolan, whatever the hell he was trying to do with the last Batman he chiefly succeeded in annoying me. To the point that when I see trailers for the new Superman, I want to slit my wrists. Hey look, it’s a dour, ultra-serious, depressing take on Superman! Sign me up!

        I think you’re spot-on with your assessment of what Iron Man 3 was trying to achieve: let Robert Downey Junior goof off for a couple hours, throw in some banter, blow some shit up. But Superman is a good test case of your question: Would you rather see a sometimes-visionary creator take the Superman material and try to make something really different and profound with it? Or would you rather see Christopher Reeve mug through two hours of camp? I don’t know, there’s probably no correct answer. It depends on what kind of mood you’re in.

        • I only have one issue with this test case; visionary director Zach Snyder is only visionary in that he can actually sense objects with his eye parts. I’ve seen a few of his films. 300 was god-awful. Watchmen was watchable, but less than the sum of its parts. It definitely did not add anything to the source material. So… yes, he can create pretty pictures on film, but is that ‘visionary.’ To answer my own question: no, it is not.

          Do your really think Snyder is trying to make something different and profound, or is he trying to make something akin to Nolan’s work by aping obvious stylistic choices?

          Also, your question is unfair. Reeve’s Superman film had Gene Hackman in it and he is excellent.

          • What better thing to do in Florence than to spend a couple of hours in the evening viewing The Iron Man Numero 3? It was even in english. Call me crazy, but I thought it was better than number 1. I didn’t see the second one. At least Shane Black brought some small amount of directorial personality to it, something entirely lacking in the first (and I assume second) one. And Ben Kingsley was great. The ending sucked. And sure, most of it was just your basic super-hero mumbo jumbo and shit blowing up. But I don’t know. It all felt much less offensive than I imagined it would be.

            I’d hoped it would inspire a whole post. But I guess ye olde Evil Genius pretty much covered it. It was there, it did its job, we saw it. Not much more to say.

            Other than that I’d watch Superman with Christopher Reeve over this every time.

            • I must admit to watching Superman not so long ago. As awesome as Miss Tessmacher and all that is, there is some seriously painful cheese there, too. Margot’s in-flight song/poem standing out as particularly dreadful.

          • Well yes, not pimping for Zack Snyder, but Nolan is producing, no? And my sense is that if he were behind the camera that’s pretty much what you’d see: lots of washed out grays and pained squinting.

            Have you seen the Richard Donner cut of Superman 2? Kind of neat if you’ve only seen the theatrical release.

            • Yeah, but Nolan might actually have, I dunno, I theme or something he was trying to comment on. Snyder’s theme will be “that stuff Nolan didn’t quite manage to say clearly.”

              I will have to track down Donner’s cut. Never seen it. I haven’t seen Superman 2 since, well, the 80s?

  3. I saw the Donner cut of Superman II a few years back. I recall not liking it too much. Interesting, though. There will never be a Zod better than Terrence Stamp. Although Michael Shannon is a pretty creepy dude. Maybe he’ll pull it off.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

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