Watching “Iron Man 3”
Watching “Iron Man 3” is a bit like dropping in on old friends who are decent enough company, even though you’ve kind of grown apart.
The film is fun and exciting, with a lively sense of humor and sharp, clever dialogue — of all the superhero franchises, the “Iron Man” films most resemble the frothy screwball comedies of an earlier era. In fact, the most interesting thing about “Iron Man 3” is the interaction between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who began the series as Stark’s assistant and is now his girlfriend. Watching these two bicker and banter is easily the highlight of the film. Sure, the special effects are cool, and there are some dynamic action sequences, but the basic storyline — evil supervillian genius seeks to control the world and Tony Stark AKA Iron Man must stop him — is nothing new. What makes “Iron Man 3” worth watching is the same thing that made “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” worth watching: character and heart.
Still, a bit about the plot: “Iron Man 3” opens with a flashback. It’s New Year’s Eve 1999, and Tony Stark plans to spend the night with Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, who needs to be in more films, because she is awesome), a brilliant scientist who has invented a regenerative treatment that helps people recover from severe injuries. On the way up their hotel room, Stark and Hansen run into Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a nerdy scientist hoping to get Stark to invest in his company. Of course, Stark stands him up. The film then jumps forward to the present, to find Stark in a committed, monogamous relationship and dealing with the aftereffects of the alien attack on New York City detailed in the 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers.” He can’t sleep and is plagued by anxiety; clearly, he has PTSD. This development is the second most interesting thing about “Iron Man 3.” Having grown slightly bored with the cocky and fearless Tony Stark of “The Avengers” and the first two “Iron Man” films, I was intrigued by the neurotic and doubting Tony Stark of “Iron Man 3.” I think it’s safe to say that Stark’s newfound maturity, as well as his mental health struggles, inject some freshness into a franchise that risked feeling played out.
That said, one of the best things about “Iron Man 3” is its female characters, and we don’t really see quite enough of them. For me, the most exhilarating moment in the film occurred when Stark’s mansion is under attack, and Stark can’t quite get his suit on, and suddenly Pepper Potts is flying all over the place in an Iron Man suit, rescuing people. This is a smart subversion of a standard superhero narrative, in which the superhero saves the damsel in distress. In this instance, Tony is in distress, and needs Pepper’s help. (Which is the film’s underlying theme, now that I think about it — that Tony Stark can’t do it alone.) Frankly, I would have loved to see more of Pepper Potts as superhero. Instead we head to Tennessee to watch Tony repair his Iron Man suit and plot his next course of action. Downey is excellent as usual, and a joy to watch. But every time Gwyneth Paltrow is on the screen, “Iron Man 3” becomes a lot more fun. I also really enjoyed Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen, who is smart, tough and morally conflicted; when Aldrich SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! killed Hansen, I actually felt sad.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the shadowy terrorist behind a string of bombings. “Iron Man 3” has a few subversive things up its sleeve, and the Mandarin is one of them. WARNING! MORE SPOILERS! Kingsley is actually a drug-addled actor hired to play the part of a terrorist; while the government focuses on the scary Muslim featured in the terror videos sent to the networks, Aldrich and his minions can operate with relative ease. One of the best scenes is the confrontation between Tony Stark and the Mandarin, who reveals that he is a British stage actor named Tony Slattery. On the flip side, one of “Iron Man 3’s” big flaws is Aldrich himself who, as comic book supervillains go, is a pretty stock character — I was never sure what his motivation was and, despite some nice sneering from Guy Pearce, he never seemed especially scary or compelling or worth worrying all that much about.
In the end, “Iron Man 3” is a nice resolution to the “Iron Man” franchise, and my general feeling is that this would be a great time for Downey to take a break from this particular character and do something else for a while. I mean, where else can this series go? And what would be the point of going there? I’m happy with how far Tony Stark has come — with his boundless love for Pepper Potts and his continuing growth as a human — and I’m ready to say good-bye to him.
At least for the time being.
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