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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

what Tony Stark needs most is a hug (Iron Man 3 review)

Iron Man 3 green light Gwyneth Paltrow Robert Downey Jr

I’m “biast” (pro): love the Iron Man flicks, love Robert Downey Jr., love Shane Black

I’m “biast” (con): not a single damn thing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The least interesting thing about the otherwise hugely entertaining Iron Man movies is, ironically, Iron Man. The suit of powered flying armor, that is. Hiding Robert Downey Jr. behind a metal mask and giving his idiosyncratic performance over to CGI cartoon battles make for an enormous squandering of quality cinema time. If only, I thought as I was waiting for the lights to go down on my screening of Iron Man 3, we could have an Iron Man movie without Iron Man.

Dang if I haven’t nearly gotten my wish.

The comic-book purists are going to howl over Iron Man 3 for various reasons, the least of which is the fact that Tony Stark, the billionaire genius playboy philanthropist who now has in his garage a veritable army of Iron Man suits, spends barely any time at all in any of them over the two-hours-plus runtime here. I’d be delighted to be wrong about what the purists will think, because this could be the whip-smartest and most affecting superhero movie yet… because it’s about the man, not the armor. Which is, I think, why people who love comic books defend them, and rightly so: because they’re not about capes and superpowers but about the guy (or, very rarely, the girl) in the cape, and how being a superhero kinda sucks more than you would expect it to.

There’s a lot of spirit-of-the-law stuff here, I think, if not the letter.

It’s very much not ironic that screenwriters Shane Black — yes, Lethal Weapon Shane Black — and Drew Pearce, a British TV writer, are playing around a lot with trying to figure out just what it is that makes Tony Stark Iron Man… and what makes us believe that a suit of armor represents heroism. Where does Tony Stark end and Iron Man begin? Stark went out of his way in the first film to continually point out that he was not a superhero, but this time he’s living with genuine insecurities — and admitting to them — that that younger Tony would have taken great pains to hide. I cannot recall a comic-book movie ever before broaching the topic of PTSD, as Tony is clearly suffering from since the events of The Avengers. He’s all nightmares and panic attacks these days, and it’s forcing him to reconsider just what the hell he’s doing playing supersoldier in the first place. “Nothing’s been the same since New York”: it’s such a simple line, but it’s startling coming unironically from the reflexively snarky Stark. And also coming from director Shane Black, who dresses it in the same unexpected combination of sweetness and verve and vulnerability that he got out of Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Due Date) in his last film, the sublime Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. And when Tony repeats that thrilling final line from the first Iron Man movie again here — “I am Iron Man” — it takes on a much deeper and far more intriguing meaning.

So Iron Man 3 has already nudged Tony out of his comfort zone — which is always where the interesting things start to happen — before it really goes to work on him. He publicly challenges a terrorist known only as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley: The Dictator, Hugo), which ends in the destruction of his home and tinkerer’s garage HQ, and so he’s now lying low trying to figure out his next move, which would appear to require solving a series of mysterious suicide bombings attributed to the Mandarin. Always, though, Tony’s biggest obstacle is himself. There’s never a moment here where you’re tempted to wonder just where the rest of the Avengers are, and why don’t Thor and Hulk and the rest come to Tony’s aid, not only because of the clever structuring of the plot — Tony is believed dead after his house is blown up, and later, events simply move too quickly for anyone to have had time to scramble — but simply because of how intimate the electromagnetically powered heart of this story is.

And yet… And yet… Black and Pearce leave us with lots to ponder in a grand scale, too. Empty suits, broken-down suits, suits with someone else inside ‘em: how do they change how we see Tony? How much of “Iron Man” is image… and how much is image-driven propaganda we willingly buy into? Stark’s military buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle: Flight, Hotel for Dogs) is now officially dubbed, in his own suit of starred-and-striped armor, Iron Patriot, which they both snicker over, yet this is a world — both onscreen and off — in which such nonsense is effective. How much of the power of the Mandarin to terrorize comes from his pirate television broadcasts, in which he appears as an outlandish caricature of an “Eastern” boogeyman? Hell, we’re even left to wonder why we’re more likely to accept as plausible a genius industrialist rival of Tony’s — biologist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce: Prometheus, Lawless) — when he’s slick and handsome, after he’s upgraded himself from the awkward nerd who’d once approached Tony with a partnership proposal years earlier. Double hell: we’re left to reconsider how our notion of the traditional damsel in distress can be upended so easily thanks to our own preconceptions about the genre; thankfully, Black and Pearce have chosen to let Tony’s life and business partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow: Contagion, Country Strong) continue to be one of the most intriguing lady sidekicks the genre has seen — she’s never less a damsel in distress than when you think she is.

There isn’t a single thing wrong with this flick. Okay, the 3D is even more pointless and superfluous than in most 3D movies. But the cloud of air I was walking on afterward meant I was hardly bothered by that. It’s rare that the threequel is the best of the bunch: savor it.

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Iron Man 3 (2013)
US/Can release: May 3 2013
UK/Ire release: Apr 25 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated SHAPT: superheroes are people too
MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate violence, threat and language)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • What’s interesting about Shane Black’s work is how he seems to deconstruct – or at least examine the real-world implications – some of the standard elements of action movies: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is obvious, but look also to the first Lethal Weapon (which deconstructed the Cowboy Cop as self-destructive and suicidal: Black didn’t have a hand in the increasingly rote third and fourth films) and to Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero (which could have been done with more subtlety but in hindsight a brilliant failure).

  • RogerBW

    How remarkable. Hurrah!

  • Martin

    Can’t really add any more to what you’ve said, other than I loved it.

  • b.lynch black


  • Tony Richards

    Shane Black? The guy who practically defined the 80’s action movie genre? I didn’t know he directed too…cool

  • Got to admit, I have a big soft spot for “Last Action Hero”. It’s my kind of ridiculous.

  • Paul

    I think Last Action Hero is a brilliant post-modern movie, myself. Paul W is right that it probably failed through lack of subtlety (it could have hit both targets by being more like Total Recall) but for me it’s that relish — the dog pyramid, for example — that makes it so much fun.

  • Damian Barajas

    Just got back from seeing Iron man 3, I really liked it, my wife loved it and my son more than loved it, so it was a pretty good night out with the family :)

    Is this the best comic book super hero movie ever? Maybe. The dark knight is a better movie but its like the pinnacle of grim and gritty storytelling, but this movie is more… hopeful, it seems to point the way into a more hopeful future played out by real characters.
    Its certainly worth watching again on the big screen.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    “There isn’t a single thing wrong with this flick.”

    Except blatant product placement and a disturbingly thin lead actress.

  • PJK

    Then you owe it to yourself to go out and watch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, his directorial debut.

  • Beowulf

    KISS KISS, BANG BANG …. What the Japanese called James Bond.

  • Paltrow looks healthy in this movie. But when she was doing the press rounds for “Iron Man 3” and her cookbook, she looked gaunt and too tan.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    See, Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook — that’s healthy. Rebecca Hall is obviously slender but still looks nice. Paltrow is horrible in the movie and even worse after that.

  • rodimus

    not just kiss kiss, but the movies he wrote long kiss goodnight, last boy scout, last action hero, and monster squad

  • Jim saw Iron Man 3 last night and said – “just read MaryAnn’s review.” I’m relieved to read all of this and will go see it Monday. The “sound and fury” commercials left me thinking I’d skip it. I liked IM1, but really hated IM2. I always thought the original Reeve Superman had just the right balance of “gosh wow” effects, character development and a plot for a superhero movie and many of the recent ones lack that kind of balance.

  • And how did Downey, Jr look? As usual, the focus is on the appearance of the actress, and not on her performance (though I agree with you on Jennifer Lawrence).

  • I may be the only person to think so, but I adore The Last Action Hero. Not as fond of any of his other movies.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I enjoyed this quite a bit, about the same as “X-Men: First Class”. That is, as a whole it works, it takes the characters in interesting directions, but it’s not without flaws. though in this case, I think many (of not most) of the problems stem from editing issues caused by trying to get the running time down to the 2:15 it stands at now. (I know it’s not unusual for scenes and dialog from the trailers to not make it into the final cut, but IM3 seemed particularly egregious on that front.)

    I can’t agree, though, that there was “never a moment here where you’re tempted to wonder just where the rest of the Avengers are”. At least in one case. The MCU is now a place where Captain America exists. So some sort of nod in the direction of Steve Rodgers’s whereabouts seems compulsory. He’s the only member of the Avengers you need to do this for: Thor is in Asgaard, Bruce Banner has gone back into hiding (>.>) , Nick Fury, BlackWidow and Hawkeye are doing their SHEILD thing. Fury could easily consider a terrorist threat to be below SHEILD’s radar, even if he’s wrong.

    But Rodgers doesn’t work for SHEILD, so I can’t buy him sitting out a specific threat to the President of the United States of America like this. Not even considering the “It’s a U.S. thing, not a superhero thing” line. And frankly, just because Rhodes is an Air Force colonel doesn’t make the Iron Patriot any less of a superhero. You don’t even need Captain America to appear onscreen (though a cameo would have been nice). For instance, just say, clearly, that he and Rhodes are chasing after separate leads. That would make sense to the Mandarin’s plans, and could easily put him halfway around the world during the final two acts of the film, much too far for him to get to the action.

    So, I did wonder where Cap was, and there are simple ways they could have addressed that. It didn’t break my suspension of disbelief, though, largely because I really could accept that this was “Iron Man 3”, not “Avengers 1.5”. And that’s good, since “Iron Man 2” felt a lot like “Avengers 0.5”.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I don’t particularly like the way they’ve done Tony Stark in any of the films since the first “Iron Man”. The hair’s too short and goatee’s too styled. But I will say this for Downey: the dude’s fit. He looks a lot like a late-career athlete, and nothing like the middle-aged recovering drug addict that he is.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    I don’t know. He looks suitable for the part and that’s why I didn’t comment. What bugs me is that men are only portrayed as super skinny if there’s something wrong with their character (Christian Bale comes to mind), but for women it happens all the time for no good reason. And oh yeah when they’re unhappy and troubled their BMI goes from 15 all the way up to 17 (Blue Valentine) or 19 (Bridget Jones).

  • Ash

    Thanks for the very engaging review. I loved the movie too! Excellent script, great execution, and some great action sequences. The storyline is engaging and doesn’t insult your intelligence (unlike a lot of other action films)
    Guy Pearce as the Mandarin delivers an excellent performance as always and does wonders to up the ante – he’s just about the baddest bad ass there is!

  • Mscott

    While it in no way harmed my enjoyment of this nifty movie, I do wonder what another of Tony’s Audis was doing in Tennessee when he was shanghai’d there by Jarvis’ pre-house destruction, pre-Pepper kidnapping flight plan.

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