After “Die Hard (1988)” was released, the bar was set. Action films from that point foreword had to get to that level of intensity or people would say “Well, it wasn’t no Die Hard”. Last summer, “The Avengers (2012)” kinda did the same thing for Superhero movies. That movie raised the bar. And that thought returned to me several times while I watched “Iron Man 3” unfold. Like The Avengers it has huge set pieces that are infused with all of the craft, artistry and high energy that money can buy. The filmmakers of this third entry find clever, new ways to show people in peril as well as Iron Man’s feats of daring-do (one scene with a piano is a good example). Director/co-screenwriter Shane Black (who was an action screenwriter wunderkind back in the 80’s and has only directed one movie prior to this) is able, for the most part, to keep things moving along briskly and clearly which is a good thing since many of the action scenes are extremely busy in nature. There is one truly amazing scene involving Air Force One that is about as good as it gets. The finale is much longer and far busier but not as exciting.
I read an article earlier this month about how the filmmakers of the upcoming Superman movie spent a lot of time figuring out how to make Superman vulnerable. That idea is certainly at the heart of Iron Man 3. In fact, Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr. doing his best Robert Downy Jr.) spends a lot more time out of his suit than in it. Well, that’s not entirely true but when you see it you will know what I am getting at. Also, the Stark mansion and all of Tony’s gadgets and toys are no longer at his disposal. Moreover, there are some other personal issues going on that afflict Tony in a way that emphasizes his non-superhero side. In essence, Tony has to start over and think outside of the box. But to be clear, eventually he and the suit get to do some feats of wonder before it’s all said and done.
The film starts out modestly and kinda meanders for a while in way that made me worry. Early on there is a bunch of Tony and Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow smiling a lot and sporting some tight abs later in the film) conflict scenes that don’t really work because they both don’t really seem to be all that upset to begin with. It’s diet cola drama. Tony and Pepper are better at just smiling and saying clever things. Anyway, things eventually start to unfold and the narrative picks up steam and then never stops. For me, the quip-centric Tony Stark is at once a lot of fun and overbearing. As we now have 4 movies with this snarky character, it’s a fine line between love and contempt. But at the end of the day Downy sells it better than anyone else and it’s hard to resist.The trouble here is when the screenwriters try to inject more serious elements only to have Tony undercut them verbally. Again, Tony Stark is better at being light on his feet.
Along with it’s basic plot elements that I will not go into here, Iron Man 3 is about Tony Stark coming to the realization that he has reached his limit of pushing the boundaries of technology and his suit. That he has been hiding in his suit too long. There is this reoccurring image/idea of Tony being separated from his suit (best two visual touches are an exhausted tony pulling his suit through the snow and an exhausted Tony sitting next to his suit on the couch). He acknowledges the need to get back to a normal life. Get back to the basics. Perhaps the superhero movies themselves will do the same thing sometime in the future; when audiences become weary of this kind of spectacle. But for now, as spectacles go, Iron Man gives us all the the goods. Recommended.