In the new tradition of humanizing our superhero movies, "Iron Man 3," especially its first half, brims with humor, charm and deep, plot-driving action.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Tony Stark battled aliens in “The Avengers.” The most self-centered, egotistical hero around rocketed himself into a wormhole to dispose of a space missile and save the world. He sacrificed and redeemed himself.
And now, he’s paying for it.
The aliens are history and the world is saved, but Stark still can’t shake feeling lost and unimportant — “a man in a tin can.” He can’t sleep. He starts having panic attacks. And even as The Mandarin (played by Sir Ben Kingsley, as part-Bin Laden/part-Billy Graham) terrorizes the country, the military insists that this is an America problem — not a superhero one.
(Director Shane Black [who also made "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and wrote the "Lethal Weapon" films] says he initially had an alcoholism subplot in the script, as well, but apparently it got nixed by the studio.)
For the first half of “Iron Man 3,” crammed in the third row of a packed and noisy theater, I was pumped, convinced that this was one of the best comic book movies in years. It was a “threequel” that actually felt fresh. The writing was quick and funny, and nobody pulls off one-liners like Robert Downey Jr.
But best of all, the action felt necessary. It moved the plot forward, worked to beat Stark down and knock him off his self-made pedestal.
In the great, new tradition of humanizing our heroes in comic book movies, everything sets up early here to bring Stark down to our level and give him vulnerability. Just like “Skyfall” stripped James Bond of all his toys and most of his swagger, “Iron Man 3″ creates a world where Tony Stark is backed into a corner, given nothing but forced to prove again what makes him as special as he always says he is.
It’s all about the man, not just the machine he made that made him famous.
So it’s disappointing when the action gets more shallow in the second half, especially when other elements get a little muddy, too — How exactly does this Extremis strand work? Why does the Iron Man suit seem so flimsy against these enemies? And does the movie really need to be over two hours long? Still, all those early, positive surprises more than hold up, and the good far outweighs the mediocre.
It isn’t often we get to see a superhero beaten and discouraged as often as we do here, and that’s an exciting change — especially since, even while he’s hyperventilating, Stark keeps his sense of humor.
It’s fun watching a cocky, wisecracking hero play with gadgets and beat up bad guys all day; but it’s better to watch that same jerky know-it-all lose everything, because then he has to start again with nothing — some nuts and bolts and metal and batteries. And he has to prove that he can build another empire.
“Iron Man 3” (PG-13, 2 hr. 15 min.)
Director: Shane Black
Released: May 3, 2013
***.5 (of five)
Despite a few shortfalls, “Iron Man 3″ is a ton of fun and a big step up from its trilogy predecessor. It’s able to achieve a “Dark Knight”-brand of human conflict, but does it with an “Avengers”-like tone and jokeyness. If you didn’t make it out to the theater opening night, consider this your second chance.
Rotten Tomatoes 78% fresh (of 222 critics)
IMDB 7.9 (out of 70,545 fans)
Richard Roeper Fresh
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone Rotten