Iron Man 3 (2013) – Shane Black (Dir.), Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce
Yes! The summer begins! And I’m still wearing a scarf outside! Go home, Chicago, you are drunk. As per usual, Marvel rolls out its initial super-tank of a mutherfucker before any of the other paltry ‘real’ studios have a chance to even start advertising. With The Avengers snagging the “Wait, I thought summer started after Memorial Day” slot, they, as always, set the box office ticker high for their competition and then laugh through the rest of the summer season at their piddling contenders like some kind of bejeweled warlord in a gladiatorial ring of cinematic crappery. This year, they have bequeathed us yet another entry into the Downey Jr. Motor-Mouth Olympics. Yes, the most loquacious of lotharios is back in the titular dress of ferric properties ready to do battle with an awkwardly porn star/Bin Laden-esque and awfully accented super villain, The Mandarin. So, after the mind-blowing brilliance of The Avengers, anything following in its wake is going to look as explosive as a ladybug’s fart. Does Iron Man 3 live up to the hype? Is it a worthy addition to the money-sucking juggernaut that is Marvel Studios? Does it stay true to the comic instead of pissing in the face of every comic fan ever to greasily thumb through an edition of Iron Man?
Okay, let’s get this straight. I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Mr. Black, our hidden hand taking over from Happy Hogan, Jon “Candy-Ass” Favreau, and inserting his own unironically termed pitch-black-humor, does a decent job of keeping the action moving and the audience guessing. Haunted by the events of The Avengers, our dickish hero, Tony “Winter Isn’t Coming” Stark suffers panic attacks and spends his nights tinkering in his infinitely-resourced basement lab. What haunting events, you might ask? No idea. The guy seemed stoked about schwarma. Anyhoo, a new threat has appeared in the form of Osama Bin Laden if he was a film student at NYUs special education department. He teaches ham-fisted lessons about fortune cookies while sending exploding veterans into heavily populated areas. All the while, a slicked and uncomfortably tan Guy Pearce is putting the moves on Pepper Potts and also…spitting fire? What the fuck?
There are some things that Black gets extremely right. In the past (*cough* Iron Man 2 *cough*) the tension drains from the films the second Downey Jr. slips into his metal badassness-enhancer. Instantly, we know that the guy is safe from harm and can dispatch between 20 and six thousand bad guys without breaking a sweat. This is why the second half of the second movie becomes as exciting as watching your younger brother suck at Halo. I mean…things explode and the graphics are nice, but are we supposed to care? Here, with the addition of the piecemeal Mark 42 (where they milk the silly Xbox Kinect-esque gesture commands joke for all it’s fucking worth), we find our hero seriously under-tooled and outgunned for a majority of the movie. Especially with our enemies’ supposed invulnerability and the ability to force a superheated fist through his thorax, suddenly the fight sequences take on a more intelligent edge. Probably the most pulse-pounding section involved a microwave, a gallon of gasoline, a tank of propane and the world’s most unattractive hottest woman. Black has been writing action movies for long enough (he wrote the unintentionally prescient Mel Gibson biography Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight) that he knows how to take a worn-out formula and shove a thousand volts up its ass. What apparently eludes him, however, is even the most basic sense of thematic through-line.
What makes Black’s writing so enjoyable is also its greatest weakness. His dark-as-a-Sith-Lord-with-a-case-of-the-Mondays humor keeps his characters spewing witticisms left and right, whilst simultaneously turning every single person on screen into an incorrigible asshat. Stark, while an untouchable yet lovable douche in the previous movies, takes some dives into the awful-person end of the pool. I’m not sure if Shane Black has children, but if his writing is any indication, they are some of the most patriarchally-ridiculed kids on the playground. Thanksgiving dinners must be a no man’s land of emotional land-mines and bladed conversation. I imagine that his children, when they first rode a bike five minutes without falling over and splitting the skin on their knees for the thirtieth time, looked to their father searching for some kind of pride or approval only to receive a, “good job, you little turd”. The same could be said for the action. While varied, explosive and pretty across the board, there is little place for emotional movement. I mean, the final battle takes place in a shipyard solely due to the fact that Shane Black’s obsession with bland backdrops from the 90s. Much like the mid-movie bone-crunching foray in The Dark Knight Rises, we could have seen Stark as totally vulnerable without his tools. We could have seen a man coming to terms with his morality. Instead, the guy is just as nimble and tree-frog like in his aerial skills as he is with the weaponry, bullshit panic-attack side plot aside. The whole thing reeks of hollowness.
Now, there are some twists that, honestly, really got me. So, unless you have seen or have no desire at all to see this movie, please skip ahead. It will seriously hamper your enjoyment.
Alright, are the laggards gone? Delightful. So, to those of you who don’t give a fuck, the Mandarin doesn’t exist. Perhaps the most hilarious turn in the history of silly British accents has Ben Kingsley drunkenly stumble from a bathroom warning his two prostitutes not to go in due to the major shit he just took. It is probably the biggest choice Black makes with this film/this entire franchise, which is both appreciated and despised. It turns out that Pearce, that orange mutherfucker, has created the Mandarin to explain his experiments accidentally, you know, vaporizing innocent bystanders. Kingsley, perhaps type-cast, is simply a druggie actor kept hidden from the public eye in a place where you’d probably find most of the worlds greatest blemishes on the permanent record: Miami. Such a massive shift in plot and expectation causes feedback, some good, some bad. The good: suddenly the film has something flirting with a ‘message’, you know, that pesky thing that is really why art exists in the first place. America creates its own demons…literally. What is a better cover-up for a national fuck up than an international threat? This ties nicely into the fact that Stark blames himself for Pearce’s turbo-dick genesis. It also solves the insanely racist ‘Mandarin’ problem that went the way of the fucking bigoted dodo back in the mid-70s. Having a Fu Manchu-esque sorcerer attacking America with a mystical dragon isn’t going to win us any points on the UN security council.
However, like the second name in the Clint Eastwood murder-everyone classic, we have ‘the bad’: by eradicating The Mandarin from the Marvel universe, Black has made a choice that, instead of spawning more choices, has torn off that plot limb from the Avengers’ massive creative trunk. Not only that, but he has just urinated in the faces of pretty much every comic book fan to have ever dreamed of donning the suit. There is no way a sequel could expand from this world and no way to head further down the imaginative rabbit hole Mr. Joss “King of the World and Not in a Dumb Titanic Way” Whedon opened last summer. It cut this baby into a one-off nugget of purest unimportance. Funny it may be.
Alright. To sum up, on the one hand you have lovers of film apathetic to the details of a goofy comic rag; and, on the other, you have a fanbase so die hard they would save an entire Nakatomi Plaza from terrorists in response to even the slightest of minute factual snubs. The movie, on the whole, let’s itself down. When you have Chase from 24 (remember season 3? Kim’s boyfriend? Anyone? Anyone?) douchily chewing gum while slicing a fucking Iron Man suit in half with a super-heated karate chop, that’s some fucking imagery to work with. However, Mr. Black seems to simply see the world as it is and makes no attempt at allowing ‘art’ to get in the way of his ‘awesome’. And that’s fine. It’s just not good. Yes, you could choose the pasta dish with a fine mix of herbs, tossed with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, topped with a meat so tender you’d think Barry White had serenaded it for an evening before placing it in the pan; or you could choose the mac and cheese dusted with parmesan and bacon bits. Both tasty. But one nourishes, while the other becomes an inevitable and slushy date with the porcelain goddess at number 2 poop lane. With something so imagistically fertile as evil fire-douches and as politically potent as Osama Bin Laden/PTSD/veteran post war anti-patriotism, you’d think Black could have crafted something as least menially thought-provoking. But this thing is about a thought-provoking as Keyboard Cat. You watch him, you laugh, you question humanity and it’s purpose for existence seeing as you are laughing at a fucking cat playing a fucking keyboard.
…But then you click on the next Buzzfeed article because, fuck it, it’s Friday. Ain’t no work getting done today.