Tony Stark may be battling one of the funnier bouts of PTSD in filmic history.
In Iron Man 3, the guy that had a bomb put shrapnel in his heart, escaped from a cave full of terrorists, fought blood poisoning and faced off against Loki finally has been pushed over the edge into anxiety attacks and insomnia by his experience fighting the war against the Chitari at the end of The Avengers. His reaction to his near-death experience is a logical step from his dealings with what seemed to be a slow slide towards his demise in Iron Man 2. We’ve already seen Tony unbalance. Here, he’s testier, sharper and meaner and ever, which makes this the perfect opportunity for Shane Black’s particular style of sardonics to stretch their legs within the Marvel universe.
I’m sure a lot of critics who are familiar with his work, especially his previous effort with Downey, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, will note that for all its building off the work of Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon, the threequel is a Shane Black movie to its very core. The pacing, the dialogue, the narrative bookends, the plot holes (sorry, it’s true) and even the Christmas setting harken to his earlier works. The economy of his screenplay is in many ways remarkable. Building off a throwaway line from the first film, Black creates a peek back into Stark’s past as it proceeds to swim back and bite him in the ass. (Strange how the same night led to so much of his destruction and salvation.)
The narrative is certainly cleaner than the second go-round as the film concentrates almost solely on Stark being stripped down to his barest essentials and having him (and the audience) rediscover who the man is inside the can. Who is Tony Stark when you wrench away the technology? The support staff like Rhodey and Pepper? His overbearing confidence? In doing so, Downey is given a chance to not only give the character some vulnerability and pathos after the huge affair of Avengers, but to reestablish Iron Man as more than just a suit and reground him, even as the nature of his sci-fi equipment begins to go from retro-futuristic to ridiculous. Unfortunately, the ending, while exciting and fun, seems to be contrary to this entire theme as well as creating some rather obvious questions. For some reason, while I certainly think there could have been some better plotting, I just didn’t really care much while I watched it. I doubt it will bother me much in the future, either. The dialogue is so good and Downey hits such a high note with the character that it just didn’t seem to matter.
Also, there is very little in terms of “world building” this time around. While the events of The Avengers are mentioned (and they continue to use the arrival of Thor as a watershed moment in the history of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” as it is being called), there is no Fury, SHIELD or crossover situations with Cap and the other Avengers.
Stepping in to fill the shoes of the villains this time are The Mandarin and Aldrich Killian. If Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was a comedic, impotent version of Tony, then Killian is Hammer reflected through the mirror darkly. He actually is a genius and, though he certainly doesn’t start that way upon first appearing, charming in some of the same ways as Stark. Guy Pierce manages this well, including his transformation after a decade. The Mandarin’s use was somewhat disappointing given his pedigree as a heavy, being in many ways Iron Man’s main rogue in the comics. However, Ben Kingsley is so good in the role, it definitely does not come down to him. It just seems to be a sacrifice to the alter of political correctness in the name of international box office. There are certainly many ways to handle The Mandarin without resorting to the seeming “Yellow Menace” origins of the character. I’m just a little disappointed they went with this one. Speaking of secondary characters, can I just say how glad I am that Favreau was nice enough to return as Happy Hogan even though he had a somewhat public falling out with Marvel? I’m glad that everyone seems to be getting along again, because he’s a welcome presence.
Between the narrative questions and the fact that in many ways Killian is similar to Stain and Hammer, Iron Man 3 can’t be called perfect, but it is absolutely good enough to stand head and shoulders with the rest of its Marvel series precursors. I would put it below the first and above the second in regards to the franchise. As far as the 3D goes, it’s not bad given how dark a lot of the film is. It’s certainly better than the awful job that was done with Thor, just a couple of years ago. But it is ultimately very skipable. You’re fine seeing this one in two dimensions.
(Four damns out of five)