Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: Iron Man 3 Review (2013)

Is Tony Stark’s new adventure his greatest one yet, or simply another by-the-numbers comic movie in a series rapidly running out of steam?

There’s a scene in “Iron Man 3” where Tony Stark tells a kid -- the film’s Steven Spielberg-esque, sass-mouthed youngster-that-gives-the-hero-another-reason-to-persevere -- that he shouldn’t be a “pussy” just because his dad left him. It’s an interesting quip, because “puss out” is exactly what this movie did, on virtually every level.

The third entry in the better-than-most-comic-book-movies series is a clear and present compromise, through and through. Originally, the film was supposed to revolve around a classic Iron Man story arc called “Demon in a Bottle,” in which the multi-billionaire industrialist succumbs to his greatest threat ever -- alcoholism. Of course, that idea got shot down quickly, because A.) Disney don’t like dealing with “hard issues” like substance abuse and B.) a film with an alcoholic main character would have to have some shreds of humanity throughout. And when you have toys and video games to sell, sensitive, adult explorations of real world issues is something that’s about as desirable as a heaping case of herpes.

The storyline the movie appears to cull the most inspiration from was called “Extremis,” which was an arc about some unscrupulous bio-engineers giving super powers to white supremacists. Perhaps not wanting to flaunt the sensibilities of the nation’s more right-wing agitators, the movie abandons that element of the story altogether, and instead recasts the villains as a bunch of blue-balled, hyper-jealous nerds-turned-international terrorists that trick wounded army veterans into being injecting with crazy nano-juice that turns them into walking briefcase bombs. And in keeping with Disney protocol, the dizzying, incessant violence we witness is digitalized and sanitized for mass consumption; alike the Boston Marathon, lots of things go boom, but unlike that horrific attack, there’s none of that “too real to actually address” blood, guts and scattered limbs to be seen in “Iron Man 3.” We can’t have kids equating onscreen mass violence and destruction with negative real world implications, so all of the make-believe terror we witness here is PG-13, mock 9/11 iconography -- lots of things die, but they die with their shirts on, without dropping the “f” word, and without their veins splayed out on the pavement. Nothing says “positive displacement” quite like putting a robot sentinel where the Oklahoma City building once stood, no?

And of course, there’s the great “Mandarin” cop-out. In the comics, “The Mandarin” is this hyper powerful, green-skinned Martian Chinese emperor dude that has a bunch of rings that can cause various shades of death to happen, pretty much at will. In “Iron Man 3,” The Mandarin is transformed into an Osama-Bin-Laden-ish Islamofascist Noam Chomsky America Hater, whose namesake, as a result makes not a lick of goddamn sense within the context of the film. Clearly, this had nothing to do with Disney’s attempt to better market the film in China, where they decided to release a special edition version of the movie containing the most superfluous footage in the history of superfluous footage. And in a spectacular display of utter bitchtitude, Disney suits decided to ultimately repackage The Mandarin as bumbling, make-believe Maoist dissident that’s actually Sir Ben Kingsley drunk off his ass, playing an actor paid off by the film’s “real” antagonist to be the public face of tyranny as part of some sort of convoluted false flag operation. Oh shit, I probably should I said that was a spoiler somewhere up front, huh?

Be sure to pick up your official Dora the Explorer wristwatches, Mark II potato guns and giant stuffed tit-bunnies at Target after the movie!
At this point, the water in the “Iron Man” well has obviously began vanishing. After four feature films, Robert Downey Jr.’s brash-playboy-egotist shtick has gotten moldy and repetitive, with the “cult of personality” no longer strong enough to support an entire motion picture. For the most part, Downey just hobbles around, muttering to himself, waiting for the latest bit character to walk into the picture for the expected exchange of barbs. The supporting cast of characters are pretty weak, with Gwen Paltrow literally turning into an “Iron Woman” by the end of the picture, while Don Cheadle’s “Iron Patriot” character is just there so marketers can hawk another action figure. The villains in the picture are similarly uninspired, with most of the antagonists portrayed by nuclear zombies with emotional ranges about as wide as Mary Kate Olsen’s waistline. The film’s real menace -- Guy Pearce, playing a Stark-like self-made industrialist sphincter that breaths fire and has a handshake warm enough to melt doorknobs -- has one of the most senseless motives in the history of cinema; all of that death and destruction, all because Iron Man made him wait on a rooftop for an hour back in 1999. Really.

As for the film’s plotline, it goes a little something like this: kaboom, explode, kapow, kaboom again. Under the sure-handed direction of Shane Black (he who gave us such subtle, humanistic classics as “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout”), there’s an absolute deluge of explosions, gunfire and metal things collapsing ad nauseam, with random sections of people saying things in concerned intonations to simply serve as an adhesive of sorts to glue all of the clanky mayhem together. Nobody really says anything in the picture; it’s just detached zinger after detached zinger, followed by absurd, reflexive in-jokes that transform the movie into a meta-parody. A dozen people get immolated outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre, and seconds later, we’re laughing about stuffed rabbits with human-like breasts, Dora the Explorer watches and a CIA agent’s fascination with “Downton Abbey.” The film lives in a perfect state of consequence-less violence, an idealized comic-book world where death is plentiful and bloodless; as such, it’s a delightfully pro-frontier justice potboiler, a “sensitized” celebration of American violence that’s a thousand times more offensive and careless than a film like “Spring Breakers,” which actually made an attempt to display the, gasp, downsides of America’s penchant for gun violence and vigilantism.

In the film, Tony treks from Malibu, California (where he’s almost CGI’d to death in a scene with so much green screen carnage going on that it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on in the movie) to (of all places) Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he researches a recent suicide bombing and receives aide from a snot-nosed country boy armed with a potato gun and seemingly no parental supervision whatsoever. From there, he travels to Miami, where he uncovers the truth behind this Mandarin fellow, while Guy Pearce, now rocking the Iron Patriot armor, comes up with this grandiose plan to kidnap the president (who looks more than a little like a certain Mormon also-ran) and execute him live on the poopdeck of the ship that was responsible for the BP oil spill or some other bullshit like that.

"Gummy snacks are a lot like America. Hollow, and filled with lies." 

The final 20 minutes of the film is just an exercise in digital excess, with Tony Stark and a literal platoon of Iron Men doing battle with a bunch of mechanical-molecular-electro-PTSD-monsters before Gwen Paltrow karate fights Guy Pearce to the death. It’s your standard, hokey, corny, and cheese-encrusted overblown popcorn movie finale, with lots of false starts, false finishes, and feint attempts at displaying human drama. If you want a satisfying, emotionally fulfilling denouement, check out "Paris, Texas." If you want to see metal action figures go clink and clank for twenty minutes, while computerized explosions go off literally ever 20 seconds…“Iron Man 3” is yo’ boy, then.

To be fair, though, there is some good to be found in the movie. For one thing, Ben Kingsley rules the goddamn planet as the phony Mandarin, this drunk-off-his-arse British thespian that hoes it up while watching footy, completely unconcerned by the fact that there’s a seven foot tall robot-person standing in front of him with a death ray pointed at his Al Bundy-sized honker. The pacing, for all intents and purposes, isn’t too bad, and every now and then, Downey gets to drop a halfway decent line. Structurally, it’s a more solid film than most comic book offerings, but thematically? It’s all been done, and it’s all been done better, I am afraid.

If I had to rank this movie alongside some of the more recent superhero flicks, I’d say it’s a mildly less enjoyable film than “The Avengers” and a marginally better film than “The Amazing Spider-Man.” More or less, it’s about on par with “The Dark Knight Rises,” which, as we all know by now, ain’t exactly saying all that much.

As a popcorn action movie, it’s all right, I suppose. As an actual motion picture, it’s quite mediocre, and as piece of pop cultural art -- well, let’s just say that it isn’t a piece of social commentary in league with “Robocop” or even “Terminator 2” -- which “Iron Man 3” shares quite a good number of commonalities with, in terms of aesthetics and general structure.

As a standalone picture, “Iron Man 3” is a fairly forced, half-hearted, by-the-book comic movie, with all the standard toppings and very few surprises. In many ways, the Iron Man franchise now bears quite a few similarities with Stark’s armor in the latest film -- beat-up, bent, and rusted, to the point where repair now seems practically impossible.


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four


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