Tony Stark is a wicked amalgamation of Batman and Superman. He’s a billionaire with an endless array of gadgets, and he can fly, shoot lasers, and take all sorts of damage when in his Iron Man suit. But he lacks Superman’s humble Kansas demeanor and Batman’s unbreakable No Killing Rule, so how does he get away with still calling himself a superhero? He makes us laugh.
Director Shane Black earned his name combining hard-hitting action with gut-busting comedy in Lethal Weapon, and the same formula works wonders when applied to Iron Man. The laughs come from all angles in an endless stream from Robert Downey Jr.’s quiptacular mouth. Whether he’s talking to girlfriend Pepper, best pal Rhodey, or a little boy in rural Tennessee, he’s determined to dominate the conversation with his superior witticisms, even if it means calling the kid a pussy. No zinger is off limits for the Man of Iron.
The Marvel cinematic universe continues to grow as Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian brings Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M., into the fold, not to mention Roxxon Corporation also plays a small role. With HYDRA, Hammer Industries, and other villainous organizations popping up in other Marvel movies, it’ll not be long until the cinematic universe is as fully developed and addictingly convoluted as the comics.
|Not using the A.I.M. from the comics = GOOD IDEA|
Killian works with the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an international terrorist with a Bin Laden beard and Unabomber shades. Given that in the comics he wields ten magic rings -- a concept that Marvel’s quasi-realistic tone might not readily accept -- the makers of this movie were faced with the challenge of how to convert the Mandarin to the big screen. Their solution? They didn’t. I’ll let you watch to find out what that means, but suffice to say that some fans will be pissed at the treatment of Iron Man’s greatest nemesis, while others will be tickled at the surprise twist that inspires a great bit of acting from Kingsley. Count me among the latter.
|Now do you see why they didn't use the rings?|
The result is a fascinating look at a man with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- if you saw aliens pour out of a portal in NYC then you would, too -- and an extreme dependency on the machinery that gives him his identity. Watching him figure out how to live a life in a world without ready access to his limitless resources and a battle suit for every occasion is the bread and butter of the movie.
It’s unfortunate that the PTSD arc fizzles out just before the third act. Instead of an emotional climax based on the intriguing character work that invested us in Tony Stark the Man, we get the equivalent of a toddler upending his toy box on the floor and smashing together all his action figures with delight. A few dozen Iron Men descend on a shipyard full of glowy bad guys, but with the suits being pilotless and the villains being largely immune to harm, it’s hard to care about anything that transpires.
And a note about the Extremis baddies: they seem to be all but immortal, but then we see them die for random reasons that contradicted their previously demonstrated durability. The bald Extremis lived through quite a bit, but then died to a focused beam through the chest. The female Extremis that attacked Tony in the bar died in an explosion, but when Tony detonates his suit while on Killian, he survives. Yet when Pepper kicks a missle into his face and detonates it, Killian dies. I would argue that a concentrated explsion spread across one's entire body is more intense than one just next to you, but it seems like they needed Pepper to have her "moment" at the end.
This also brings to light that Pepper was relegated to being the typical girl tied to the tracks for half the film. She's shown captured and in pain as the villain salivates over her as his prize, only to then show her dangling upside down in a sports bra before falling to her "demise." With only one female on the Avengers -- one without powers, at that -- and most female Marvel leads existing as love interests and little else, it's a shame that the one woman who can verbally spar with Tony is only given half a movie's worth of compelling material.
Getting back to the robotic finale, the different armor designs are cool at first glance, but they only work to point out a glaring plot hole of the film. If Stark had a fleet of battle-ready suits ready to launch at the push of a button, then why didn’t he use them when his mansion got attacked? When he had to save thirteen people jettisoned from an exploding plane? When he had to do anything, really?
The best suit was the Hulkbuster one with its distinguishing bulkiness. The physical manifestation of heavy metal. But even that follows the trend of wasted potential when, instead of fighting, it acts as a support beam and is never seen again. I wanted to see one of its elephant-sized feet come down on an Extremis baddie, crushing them into sparks like putting out a cigarette with your shoe.
|Why Hulkbuster no smash?|
It also would have been nice to see it in a green color, perhaps acknowledging Tony’s bromance with the Hulk’s Bruce Banner. This would also act as a clever response as to why Tony doesn’t immediately call on the Avengers for help: he’s already built suitable replacements. But the movie does answer this question in its own way. The Avengers only assemble when a threat appears that no one hero could stand against. Clearly, Tony could handle this one all by himself.
But despite any nitpicks, the film is a win. Anything that can move me to laughter gets a bonus in my book, and this movie succeeded despite every flaw because of the effortlessly humorous RDJ. It’s better than the misguided-but-still-watchable Iron Man 2, but too overreaching in its need to dazzle to best the original. It’s certainly a solid follow up to The Avengers and the start of Marvel Phase 2. Speaking of future Marvel movies, perhaps the oddest bit comes at the start of the credits when we see: “Tony Stark will return.” Even though we just saw him all but relinquish everything that makes him Iron Man, Marvel made sure to blatantly state to audiences that there’s more coming. As if there was ever any doubt.