Iron Man 3

May 3, 2013


The Marvel Machine rampages on in Iron Man 3, which is already taking in incredible amounts of money because, I think, Marvel is exceptionally good at product management.  It says something about the skill of digital effects companies that you can make a solid action blockbuster product without the specific skill-set of an “action director”, and thus we have reached the point where the talent is brought in for their ability to keep a certain level of quality, not take risks and, most importantly, keep the writing snappy.  Though some of the films have had minor aesthetic differences, they all more or less look the same:  generally bright, inoffensive, with a dash of pop art stylization without going full-blown Ang Lee.  The last two entries, especially, have had one major authorial difference and that’s in the writing.  The Avengers largely kept to Joss Whedon’s not inconsiderable talent for wit, and now Iron Man 3 flows right into Shane Black’s wheelhouse.  The fact that it’s distinctive is down almost solely to the script, and if it doesn’t set it necessarily to a higher standard than other Marvel fare, it’s at least different. 

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know my reaction to these films is varying degrees of lukewarm, save The Avengers which was through and through a lot of fun, and Thor, which had a wonderful colour palette and also worked it’s fish-out-of-water angle remarkably well.  It’s not huge praise to say that Iron Man 3 is probably the third best out of all of them, and also my favourite of the Iron Man movies.  It doesn’t have the enjoyably clean first hour of the Iron Man, nor does it have the dizzying Mickey Rourke highs of Iron Man 2, but it also lacks the skull-numbingly dull final act of the former or the shambolic mess of the latter.  It is a fine superhero film, and a perfectly enjoyable summer blockbuster (a quality we should probably embrace given what else is getting released this year or any other year).

It’s really all about Shane Black, who was for a time in the late 80s and early 90s the highest paid screenwriter working.  He made his name on quippy, violent masculine action pictures like the Lethal Weapon series, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight.  The poor showing of that last film probably contributed to his banishment to the screenwriting wilderness as the time of the 80s action comedy had passed in the wake of digital revolution.  Rather than lying on the scrapheap of Hollywood Days of Yore next to Joe Ezterhaus, he reinvented himself with the witty, hugely enjoyable Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey, Jr., and it featured a meta-narrative self-awareness that infuses much of Iron Man 3.  Indeed, like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it begins with Downey’s narrating the story by first throwing out a quote and then joking about it.  As an aside, if you’re troubled by the introduction of the narration device into the series, wait until after the credits for a diegetic explanation.

It’s interesting that given the screenwriting pedigree that this film barely has any character development at all.  We learn the reasons why the villains do what they do, and the supporting characters are given enough motivation to make the plot progression passable, but considering Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), now CEO of Stark Industries and Tony’s live-in partner, has a pretty significant central role in the story, we learn absolutely nothing more about her than we already knew.  Tony gets a minor arc in trying to overcome the trauma of the climactic events of The Avengers, and he’s given to anxiety attacks (which are done well), but other than that he hasn’t significantly changed at the end of the film from where he was at the beginning.  This will probably feel like a letdown for those who saw the unique circumstances of a series of big-budget epics to introduce a more television-style element of character development, but given that I don’t particularly care about Tony Stark or Pepper Potts beyond their most basic attributes, I wasn’t bothered.  The stamp of Shane Black comes in the multitude of one-liners and jokes that are, for the most party, pretty funny – as well as some Joss Whedon-esque gags (one late in the game involving one of his many suits) – and in that of the plot itself, which nicely gets to strip Tony of his various gadgets and even his suit for a not-too-long stretch in the middle as well as the twists and the commentary on the absurdity of comic book heroes and villains.  I’m sure there must be some fans of the comics out there that are absolutely raging about what he’s done with Iron Man’s arch-nemisis The Mandarin, but I appreciated it and though Ben Kingsley put in one of his better performances.  I also liked how the final action sequence wasn’t just dunderheadedly boring, with some actual humans running around and some mano-a-mano-a-womano fighting going on.  There are elements of the film that ramped up, but they’re not dwelled upon, and thankfully this picture largely scales back instead of expands out, as though each sequel needs to be all bigger, all the time.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the inclusion of a gaudy Miami mansion, or a scene in a trashy rural bar, or the inclusion of a strung-out moron actor and a series of bikini-clad bimbos, or even a night-time climax at a shipyard, all straight out of the 80s action playbook.  In that sense it ties itself to that tradition of the dumb action movies of the past.  Though the effects are much better and the misogyny and even a little bit of the cynicism have been sanded down, these blockbusters aren’t terribly different from the ones of thirty years ago.  And that’s fine by me, because I don’t need a Marvel film to burrow deep into the psychological reality of its characters.  I just need it to be light and breezy and fun and occasionally thrilling, which Iron Man 3 more or less accomplishes.  These things should never take themselves too seriously, and this one doesn’t.  If you have any doubts, check the end credits.



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