May 3, 2013



IRON MAN 3:  Watch It At Home – Offbeat But Uneven Tentpole

The last thing on earth that Shane Black, the co-writer (with Drew Pearce) and director of IRON MAN THREE (the way the credits spell it) seems to have wanted to make was an Iron Man movie, and that makes this third–or third and a half, depending on how you count The Avengers–in the blockbuster franchise rather strange.   At various times, Iron 3 recalls a grandiose, massively-budgeted version of one of those Elmore Leonard yarns about a scam that goes bad and becomes deadly, or a mid-70s James Bond movie like The Man With the Golden Gun that lacked a world-dominating villain, or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the 2005 semi-parody detective movie Black made with Robert Downey, Jr, or Terminator 2.  What it doesn’t resemble very much is either Iron Man or Iron Man 2.

That’s not altogether a bad thing, since the gravitas that we associate with this generation of comic book movies has tended lately to become ponderousness, and Iron 2, in particular, was a mess.  But it makes for a ramshackle, uneven production, one where people may be surprised to find Tony Stark (Downey) wearing plainclothes more often than his metal suit.

The suit itself appears to be part of Stark’s problem.  When we rejoin the billionaire weapons manufacturer and superhero, some time after the events of The Avengers (one of the movie’s oddities is that although it was always planned as a summer opening, it’s set very specifically at Christmas), he’s suffering from something like PTSD over what he’d gone through in the alien attack.  Unable to sleep, undergoing anxiety attacks, increasingly dislocated from love of his life Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he feverishly turns out dozens of new prototype suits, including models that fly to him at his command and form around him piece by piece, and some that can fly and function via remote control.  When someone close to him is harmed, Stark is drawn in to a run of deadly bombings that appear to be the work of the terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and after an attack on his Malibu home, Stark investigates the crimes.

Very little in Iron 3 is what it initially seems, however, and there isn’t much more that can be said about the storyline without running the risk of major spoilers, except that scientists Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), both of whom Stark had met briefly 15 years earlier, play a part.  For much of its length, the movie is more of a lighthearted detective story than a superhero epic, and that’s certainly an interesting tack for a $200M (plus marketing) tentpole to take.

It’s a relief that Downey doesn’t spend half the movie reading voiceover for a CG Iron Man, as he seemed to do in Iron 2.  Black writes well for Downey’s quipping voice, even if he doesn’t challenge the actor much (Tony Stark became more of a shtick for Downey than a character after the first movie), and Iron 3 is comparatively light on its feet, often frankly comic in tone.  Unfortunately, the plotting is clumsy, with lots of unconvincing “eureka!” moments, and the surprises are often not all that surprising.  The movie can’t handle or satisfyingly explain Stark’s emotional issues, and there’s a section with a cute little boy serving as Stark’s assistant that’s like a dumber version of the indie Mud.  Since ultimately the picture has no choice but to deliver the set-piece action sequences that are the genre’s bread and butter, it’s also subject to jarring shifts in tone, especially in the last half-hour, when what had been a fairly modest story is blown up (literally) to a giant scale that it really didn’t need.

There’s a lot that’s enjoyable in Iron 3, especially the performances, which include the return of the series’ former director Jon Favreau as Stark’s ex-bodyguard and now head of security, and Happy Endings‘ Adam Pally as a very enthusiastic fan of Iron Man’s.  Even though the special effects sequences often feel extraneous, the CG technology has become increasingly expert and convincing as the series has gone on.  Photographed by John Toll and edited by Peter S. Elliot and Jeffrey Ford, the picture looks sleek and moves swiftly.  But unlike the original Iron Man and The Avengers, its tone doesn’t feel all of a piece–on the contrary, it’s as though Black and Downey wanted to make a mid-budgeted, character-driven thriller and could only pull it off by hiding it in the middle of a gigantically expensive franchise.

None of this will affect the boxoffice for Iron 3, which made $300M overseas before even opening in the US, and which is all but certain to end up worldwide very near, if not in, the $1 Billion club.  But it’s interesting that Iron 3 feels more than a bit like the end of a trilogy, even though Marvel and Disney clearly intend for it to continue.  (Downey has also been rather forthright about the fact that his initial deal for the series has expired, and the studio will have to pay up for him to do further chapters.)  The Tony Stark we’re left with at the end of this movie is in a different place from the one we first met, and we’ll find out soon enough whether that means change for the franchise as it goes forward.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."