Iron Man 3. Better than 2, but so what?

primary_iron-man-3-couchThe general feeling regarding Iron Man 3 is that it’s better than Iron Man 2, and I wish I had anything contrary to add to the conversation, but I don’t (please, don’t stop reading!!) It is better than Iron Man 2 in that I sat through it without being bored and I had a good time. A big part of the enjoyment comes from its sense of humor. I don’t remember another big-budget franchise in recent years where wit and banter plays such a large part in the series’ overall appeal; if this movie were just huge action set pieces without the humor, we’d feel like we’re missing something. We’d be watching Iron Man 2.

And a large part of the series’ wit comes, of course, from Robert Downey Jr. Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, deserves the utmost credit for casting and fighting for Downey to headline a potentially very successful (and wow, potential achieved… and then some) action franchise. But Downey wasn’t box office. And he had that troubled past. Remember, the most high-profile work he’d had for a while before Iron Man was a multi-episode stint on the TV series Ally McBeal. Nobody wanted to hire him; though incredibly talented, his former personal demons were too big a risk to gamble. The fact that Downey fronts not one, but two major movie franchises (Sherlock Holmes) is truly a worthy tale of redemption for a gifted artist who overcame enormous obstacles.

This installment is directed and co-written by Shane Black, and it continues Marvel Studios’ tradition of hiring outside-the-box talent to helm its movies; look at the work of Sam Raimi, Ang Lee, Kenneth Branagh (for crying out loud!) and Joss Whedon before they took on Marvel properties. Black came out of nowhere and wrote Lethal Weapon, which combined action and banter with equal importance. He also wrote The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, a film that wasn’t highly regarded when it first came out but has since gone on to develop a cult following. It was also the only major action film to feature a female lead character outside of the Alien movies. This is only Black’s second movie as a director; the first was 2005’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, an amusing retro noir with modern touches that starred Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. My guess is he got the job directing Iron Man 3 as a give-back from Downey after Black cast Downey in that movie eight years ago when few others would. If that was the case, then Black didn’t let him or the franchise down and did a fine job of recovery after the uninspired Iron Man 2.

But having said that, Iron Man 3 feels like nothing more than a fun ride at an amusement park. Though well made, there aren’t any moments that stick for any length of time after walking out of the theatre. Yes, it’s a summer movie, and a good time is really all that most people can hope for, I guess. But Christopher Nolan demonstrated with his Dark Knight trilogy that a big-budget action franchise can have some depth. And while The Dark Knight Rises is far from the mountain top from which The Dark Knight sits, it’s still an ambitious movie that delivered memorable set pieces and some fascinating performances (I’m on the side that thinks that Tom Hardy was fantastic as Bane.) Guy Pearce is a wonderful actor, but his character, the scorned and vengeful Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3, has no resonance whatsoever; he’s as generic a “standard-issue bad guy” as any series this huge has had in a long time. And I can’t comment too much on Ben Kingsley’s amusing performance as the Mandarin without giving anything away, so I won’t.

A big summer movie doesn’t have to have the weight that the Dark Knight movies had (some would call it “overbearing”, but not I.) The Avengers isn’t a dark or weighty movie, but it had an interest in character and some brilliantly staged action sequences that made it a fun and memorable time at the movies (Hulk’s ragdolling of Loki inspired in some members of the audience I saw it with the only standing ovation during a movie I’ve ever witnessed.) And while Iron Man 3 is fun, it shouldn’t be so content to rely on that alone. Not when you have a character as rich as Tony Stark. And not when you have an actor as gifted as Robert Downey Jr to play him.

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