This Time with Irony
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Oh, to be fifteen and totally grok director Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3,” seen with your best pals and later praised over cholesterol-ridden burgers, accompanied of course by an unconscionably-sized basket of fries. Inside that magic circle, this film is probably great. Outside it, the third episode of the Marvel Comics-derived adventure is just pretty good.
Still, even seen from the vantage point of the Great Unwashed, there is much to recommend this rousing adventure as Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, jumps once more into the breach to save humankind. And if the experience jogs a fond memory of those comic book reading days, odds are it’ll amplify your enjoyment.
Indeed, there is the minutiae and lore of the franchise, doubtless the entertainment lifeblood of the male adolescent enthusiast…a phenomenon his parents wish would transfer to his schoolwork. But don’t sweat it if the terminology overwhelms. You’ll pick up what you need, and what you don’t, well, rest assured there won’t be a test afterwards.
Meanwhile, simply surrender to the kaleidoscopic onslaught of special effects that propel the saga with megaton shock and awe. If there’s an f/x language, “Iron Man 3” pens a veritable thesis, the film neatly and rather wondrously melding its over-the-top visuals with the narrative that manages to seep through its crevices. It’s all about that uniform.
For those who’ve come late to the party, note that Tony Stark, multi-billionaire weapons manufacturer turned Earth savior is a tinkerer extraordinaire. As such, he has been working on a customization of his Iron Man suit… a new fold in the metal that hopefully will allow him to respond more effectively when the bad guys rear their ugly heads.
Which just happens to be now. Entering stage left is disgruntled old colleague, Aldrich Killian, played despicably well by Guy Pearce. After having reached bottom in the single-minded pursuit of egocentric ambitions, he’s back in town to show off his stuff, especially to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, his now archenemy’s main squeeze.
Shades of Nazi superman genetic altering insanity, the preening Mr. Killian, via his Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), is touting the majesty of Extremis, a substance invented by Stark’s ex, Maya (Rebecca Hall). He plans to rule the world, and he’d like Pepper to be his Ava Braun. But she’s not buying, and you can figure the upshot.
Also sullying the mélange of antithetical forces is The Mandarin, a dark-hearted terrorist of penultimate acumen who’s been having his ghastly way, artfully portrayed by Ben Kingsley. A study in evil with no real objective other than the total intimidation of the planet, it is no mistake that his mystery and elusiveness evoke a reminiscent chill.
But beware. Director Black weaves a fairly good story between the crescendos of visual wonder. All is not what it seems. And, lest we fear that the razzle-dazzle of techno wiz filmmaking forgoes the dramatic elements of the comic book adventures that won our favor in the first place, note there is ample quixotic melody strewn through the action.
Yep, for all the thrill that was gleaned way past your bedtime— imagination, comic book and flashlight under the covers—the writers didn’t omit your romantic education. Tony is cool, handsome, cute, witty and, like the icing on French apple pie, intriguingly rich. Analogously, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is surely this 14-year-old’s blonde ideal.
Call me a corny old sap, but it’s believing that their amour is every bit as genuine as the most earnest of Hollywood’s pairings that keeps this leviathan of color and sound from dissolving into just one more CGI extravaganza. But the prime mover and shaker, fully matching the visuals in one-two punch fashion, is Robert Downey, Jr. himself.
He is the glib braggart personified, at once human and extraordinary, and likeable because we know in our hearts that beneath all the vaunt and persiflage the protection of his fellow man is job #1. Although, in this episode, attempting to convey the vulnerability under the alloy, the psychoanalysis is a bit much. But don’t worry, he’s still quite super.
However, whether a metaphor about heroism or merely this go-round’s notional mechanism, there is an irony to this third installment of Iron Man. Yes, the title persona performs many spectacular deeds. But it is when he is compromised, bereft of steel-capsuled identity, and still able to outclass the foe, that we are most heartened.
In that ability is captured the essence of the fantasy…a profound wish for control and a hope that there is something more within our own power to ensure our future. We are about accomplishment and the vanquishing of perceived boundaries. So, when a film like “Iron Man 3” successfully illustrates that dream, we celebrate our own destined mettle.
“Iron Man 3,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Shane Black and stars Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Guy Pearce. Running time: 130 minutes