Iron Man 3 Movie Review: It's Self-Absorbed and Half-Assed, But Still Great


Iron Man 3 in a nutshell: that's it. It's just a nutshell. A protective receptacle with no nut in it to be protected. Albeit a very handsome, very witty, very polished nutshell, it's still only good for a one-night stand or a week's fling at the most. It's no marriage material. It ain't got no soul. And you won't want to eat it. 

I'm gonna name-drop a dude up in here: Shane Black. This guy was once the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, know why? Oh, I don't know, maybe because he wrote a little introspective indie piece called Lethal GODDAMN Weapon! If you don't remember, that's the movie that practically defined the modern buddy cop action-comedies, along with the proper way to do a feather-cut. He's no David Mamet or Charlie Kaufman, but he's an excellent writer in the genre and I've read a lot of his scripts and if you're him, hey! Let's hang out. Beer's on ... Well .. It's on you. Because you're way richer than I am. And I don't drink.

So Shane was riding high in the 90s. He was the go-to guy for action at the time, and apparently he mastered the craft to such an extent that he got bored with the formula he helped create and started going post-modern after a while, writing meta-fictional movies about the kinds of movies that he used to write. It started with The Last Action Hero, which had a little bit of sting to it, sure, but wasn't as fully realized as his 2005 masterpiece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a movie that completely deconstructed the buddy-cop genre and masterfully laid its pieces side-by-side on the ground for us to laugh at.

So here's what I think happened: Shane was hired to fill in for Jon Favreau as writer/director of Iron Man's second sequel and said to himself "You know what? I'm not in the mood for this. I'm gonna give it my 50% and it will still bedazzle the shit out of these dipshit producers, so there's no need to bust my ass for this one." That's why the movie, while very witty and clever and good-looking, is still also quite vapid. The self-conscience of his earlier efforts is there. But it doesn't jibe with this one because it's basically just using the movie for its own purposes, like a pimp goading into his stable a dumb teenager who ran away from Idaho to pursue an acting career in LA. And the poor thing is none the wiser until it's too late. All of the self-referential twists are done only for their own sake, not for the sake of the characters or the story or anything else. If the screen had eyes, it would shoot a wink to the audience after every couple of seconds to say "Those movies, right? Who's with me?"

Because since it has eyes, it may as well have a mouth and vocal cords, too.

You know what? Let's give it an elbow as well. That way it can nudge the audience after the wink. Yeah, that's a more complete picture.

And it ends up coming to a point where the twists weren't twists anymore because I ended up expecting the movie to do the opposite of what I would normally expect, so it became predictable in its unpredictability, if that makes sense. 

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), if you haven't been following the series so far, is a playboy inventor who, after getting into a bit of a scrape in somewhere-in-the-Middle-Eastistan, fashions himself a suit of armor with which to fight crime and global terrorism, turning thus into Iron Man. After dealing with space aliens in The Avengers, Tony goes back to his home in L.A. to do a little R & R with his new girlfriend, former girl-friday Virginia "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Little does he know that the past is about to come back to bite him in the ass in the form of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a vaguely Asian terrorist who wants to ... You know ... Do that whole terrorist thing on America and all that.

The Mandarin, we soon discover, is working in cahoots with a former acquaintance of Tony's, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who hired one of his one-night stands, Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) to develop for him some sort of chemical thing that makes people grow their limbs back and regenerate. And also melt the stuff they touch for some reason.

The character development is all very slapdash. Tony himself gets some sort of convenient anxiety problem to deal with just to give him a perfunctory character arc, and none of them are entirely credible. I dig that Shane was going for a sort of cartoony feel with it, but it didn't really click for me. And if you're Rebecca Hall, I'd like to say hi. We should get on a date sometime, so I can tell you how under-used you were for this film. How about your place? I can bring the wine. But I still don't drink, so I'll bring some Pepsi instead. Crop of 2012. 

It's been sitting in my fridge for a while.

The CG is gorgeous and the set-pieces are jaw-dropping, but they all suffer from the old action sequence paradox: the faster and more dynamic the stuff happening on the screen is, the more exciting it is, but also the more confusing it is. With all those colorful and detailed armors being flung up and down the screen, it was sometimes difficult to figure out who was getting smacked about and why. The fact that the 3D glasses invariably make everything darker doesn't help.

In the end, Iron Man 3 is just not very engaging. It's a very smart movie, top of the class, really, but I kept being pulled out of the experience because the film couldn't resist pointing to itself all the time. It's so smitten with itself.

I dug it, but in a cold, impersonal way. The way a mafiosi would dig a shallow grave for some guy who got whacked that they don't know.