Sean K. Cureton

Shane Black and the Probably Inevitable Shortcomings of Iron Man 3

In Movie Reviews: 2013 on May 16, 2013 at 9:34 am

Theatrical Poster

Iron Man 3
Directed by Shane Black
2 ½ out of 4 stars

Iron Man 3 is the first feature film follow-up to last summer’s Joss Whedon directed, Marvel Studios produced The Avengers, and is also the first Iron Man film since 2010’s widely panned Iron Man 2. That being said, Iron Man 3 had a lot to live up to, both in terms of matching the standards which were achieved in Whedon’s Avengers, as well as making up for the failures of Iron Man 2. The initial trailers for this third installment in the Iron Man film franchise were promising, hinting at Stark’s troubles with alcoholism as well as his own inherent self-destructive narcissism. The poster for Iron Man 3 seemed equally promising, depicting a falling Iron Man with pieces of the metallic suit falling off of Stark’s body, suggesting both a literal and figurative fall from grace; and while the inclusion of the Mandarin voice-over in the trailers (Ben Kingsley) was admittedly an overt attempt at the grandiosity of Nolan’s Joker in The Dark Knight Trilogy, the inclusion of such a major villain from the Marvel canon could only be looked forward to with eager anticipation.

Iron Man 3 is the second feature film written and directed by Shane Black, a fairly prolific and undoubtedly successful screenwriter who has worked in Hollywood since the late 1980’s. Most notably, Black wrote all four of the Lethal Weapon films, as well as the John McTiernan directed Last Action Hero starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. With such a storied history in writing successful action movies for mainstream Hollywood, Black was a fine choice to take the director’s chair for the third Iron Man film, even if the exclusion of Jon Favreau as director was unfortunate and misguided on Marvel Studios’ part. Black is obviously a competent and talented writer, yet Iron Man 3 feels too ambitious at times, and falls flat in terms of story and character.

The plot behind Iron Man 3 has to do with a terrorist called “The Mandarin” who begins using weaponized technology designed to fundamentally alter the biological make-up of human beings, turning them into fire breathing, lava based creatures of destruction (unfortunately, that is a completely accurate and literal description of these villains). There is also a side-plot that deals with one Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the scientist who creates the aforementioned technology used in the creation of the Extremis soldiers (the fire breathing monsters), and who is seeking revenge on Tony Stark for ignoring him in 1999. The film is thus centered around fights between Iron Man and the Extremis villains, and contains plenty of action and over the top special effects to delight fans of action films with little to no substance; for those of us who come to superhero films looking for nuanced characters, interpersonal connections to our own lives, and existentialist extrapolations about God-like men, Iron Man 3 is not your movie, even if it tries to be.

For a film that attempts to address Tony Stark’s egotistic capitalism and unchecked narcissism, there is plenty left to be desired. One of the major ideas running throughout Black’s film is the idea that something in science can begin pure and become corrupted as American capitalism and consumer culture works on the ego of the creator, as can be seen in Aldrich Killian’s corrupted state at the end of the film. In this sense, Stark’s journey throughout the film is an internal one, focused on a significant change in personality and selfish obsessions in order to allow for an emergence of selfless philanthropy and heroism; or at least it should be. In terms of what’s offered more predominantly in Black’s film, Stark’s journey throughout the film is largely one of feigned sensitivity and heroism, with enough explosions and elaborate action sequences in order to placate the masses into a state of overstimulation and intellectual stagnancy. It is unlikely that Black intended for such an effect to occur, and it may be an overly critical and pretentious analysis of the film, yet it is an analysis which feels accurate in working out what didn’t work in the film that goes beyond making fun of the cartoonish aspects of the film’s antagonists.

This is, however, not to say that Iron Man 3 is a bad film. On the contrary, it can be quite fun at times, and plenty of reviewers have already sung its praises, claiming that it is better than Iron Man 2 and a worthy successor to the first film in the series. Yet, at the same time, there just isn’t enough replication of the same kind of interiority of character that was allowed in Whedon’s superior Avengers. Nor is there the same sense of careful pacing and smart plotting on display, as there was in both of the prior films in the series directed by Jon Favreau. Black has done a fine job of directing another Iron Man movie, and it is easy to see why he was chosen for the task. Nevertheless, Iron Man 3 is a good superhero movie that unfortunately leaves little room for fan excitement and enthusiasm, which is what is required for such a film to hold any cultural currency or relevance in a society which has become so super inundated with big budget comic book movies.

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