Bring on the Robert Downey Jr. snark, I’m jonesing for my fix. “Haven’t we had enough?” you ask, after three prior films and who knows how many forthcoming sequels. Possibly. But Tony Stark’s off-the-cuff remarks and sharp-tongued sarcasm are still the best thing about this series in my opinion.
In this film, Stark waxes lyrical about how we create our own enemies. To hammer home the point, the film immediately begins with a flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999—the genesis of one such foe. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is effectively introduced, and a comicbook-esk dolly shot gives us all the villainous backstory we need. At this Eifel 65-scored party we also meet Tony’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan, who’s played by former director Jon Favreau. Though sticking around as an actor and executive producer, Favreau has handed off the directorial reins to Shane Black.
Black, who also co-wrote the screenplay, seems well-fit with the franchise. After establishing a rapport in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), it was Robert Downey Jr. who suggested bringing Black on for the next Iron Man installment. His and Drew Pearce’s screenplay coherently balances Stark’s personal struggles with Iron Man’s larger-than-life celebrity, though Black’s greatest directorial competency is perhaps his willingness to step aside and let Downey Jr. do his thing.
That said, there is another self-imposed enemy for Tony Stark. It is a personal vulnerability, a foil to his egotistic persona. He lives with a post-Avengers awareness. His memories of NYC destruction and invading aliens and black holes induce debilitating anxiety attacks. Isn’t this a ham-handed plot device, an obvious attempt to inject personal conflict that fits within the self-created enemy theme? Yes, it is. But then, this is a comicbook film, and we don’t ask for much more.
We do ask for thrilling setpieces and sustained bouts of action, and Iron Man 3 faithfully delivers. There is a breathtaking sequence involving Air Force One and a sort of skydive routine. It’s quite the stomach-in-your-throat spectacle, managing to impress in spite of our heightened expectations. There are a handful of other tense action sequences, and the fact that Stark spends so much time out of the suit undoubtedly adds to the anxiety.
Most of the film’s problems—stemming from the superficial screenplay—are minor. The first act doesn’t insinuate the forthcoming drama as well as it hopes, plotlines are drawn with machine-like prescription, and a couple character motivations come off disingenuously. We accept these flaws without reservation, for again, this is a comicbook film. But the genre as a whole faces a deeper dilemma.
I had a hard time remembering whether or not I’d seen Iron Man 2 until a friend brought up the Mickey Rourke character and the Grand Prix scene. In a way, my murky recollection reveals one of the most pervasive symptoms of the superhero genre. We remember the heroes, but not their stories. The plotlines are throwaway, but the one-liners stick with us.
This is how I feel about Iron Man 3. Even if I’ve forgotten the narrative details by the time I’ve left the theater, I’m still laughing at the witty dialog and relishing the Robert Downey Jr. charm. He is a superb entertainer, and this is a damn fine piece of entertainment. In fact, Iron Man 3 proves that, if done right, maybe we haven’t had enough of the Tony Stark snark just quite yet.