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 we could have an Iron Man movie without Iron Man.
Here it is.
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. It's very much not ironic that screenwriters Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) 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.
Stark went out of his way in the first film to point out that he was not a superhero, but this time he's living with, and admitting, genuine insecurities that the younger Tony would have taken great pains to hide. He's all PTSD nightmares and panic attacks since the events of The Avengers.
"Nothing's been the same since New York," he says. Which is startling, coming unironically from the reflexively snarky Stark.
And so Iron Man 3 nudges Tony out of his comfort zone before it really goes to work on him. He publicly challenges a terrorist known only as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), which ends in the destruction of his home and tinkerer's-garage HQ.
His next move 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 where you're tempted to wonder why the rest of the Avengers don't come to Tony's aid, because of how intimate the electromagnetically powered heart of this story is.
The flick leaves 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? How much of the power of the Mandarin to terrorize comes from his pirate broadcasts, in which he appears as an outlandish caricature of an "Eastern" boogeyman?
Hell, we're even 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) 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.