Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3

There is not much that is truly new to see in Iron Man 3, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Taking place after the New York-based alien antics of last May's mega-hit The Avengers, this latest Iron Man story seems to feature even more explosions, whiz-bang technology and Tony Stark wit than its 2008 and 2010 predecessors, but is nevertheless essentially the same movie: A rich guy who runs some sort of mysterious company is evil, and Iron Man is the only one who can save the world from his treachery. Jon Favreau, who helmed the first two installments, reprises the minor role of Happy Hogan but turned the directing duties over to Shane Black. Mr. Black's work will doubtlessly be considered a success thanks to box office receipts alone, but he does not seem to have tinkered much with any key elements of the established franchise. If it ain't broke, why fix it? With Iron Man 3 Disney faced the daunting task of meeting huge audience expectations--something threequels (and even sequels) rarely manage to accomplish--and did just that.

Robert Downey, Jr.'s lines are packed with more humorous quips than ever before, and for the most part the effort works; the folks in our theater (ourselves included) laughed again and again, even as the tone of the film turned darker. The brisk pace is unrelenting for the 130 minute running time, and this inevitably means that within the same 30-second span the audience is made to laugh at loud at a joke but also wince as a terrorist murders an innocent man or as a woman is forced to submit to the torturous scientific experimentation of a madman. The opportunities for humor abound particularly when Stark finds himself in a small Teennessee mountain town, helped only by a kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins), who, of course, is an Iron Man fan.

The best performances are by villains Guy Pearce (as Aldrich Killian, the maniac businessman) and Ben Kingsley (as a terrorist known as The Mandarin, made up to look a good bit like Osama bin Laden). Mr. Downey is not challenged whatsoever, but that's OK; the role that has done more than any other to make him famous has now become larger than he is. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), as one might have guessed from strong hints in the previews, does have a more significant part to play here. Don Cheadle returns as Colonel Rhodes, but it is still Iron Man alone who is smart enough and quick enough to ultimately defeat their mutual enemy.

One wonders how long the ongoing trend of flashier-than-ever-before comic book adaptations will continue. For roughly twelve years now, the major studios have trusted more and more in what they call "tentpole" films, meaning that they will prop up the whole business, even as smaller, more thoughtful movies made for adults grow fewer in number. These PG-13 spectacles cost upwards of $200 million to make, but with a few exceptions, largely pay off. There remain plenty more comic book characters and stories in the pipeline from Marvel (and DC, too). Iron Man 3, 2013's first summer blockbuster, is very entertaining and indicates that, so long as quality writing and production values are granted, the trend will continue for many, many years to come. There will always be bad guys, and we will always need superheroes. Tony Stark will return.

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