Franchise officially comes to an end, but with such slow development, there may be another one yet
The Iron Man trilogy concludes with fire, and lots of it, but while there is always a chance of the iron phoenix rising again, it seems this is the end of the road for the franchise, although the filmmakers are playing coy. There are many bangs, but in the end it is the whimper that is deafening. The narrative pull is never particularly strong, as it seems we have seen this all before.
Out of the hands of Jon Favreau, who directed the first two installments and whose involvement this time around is only as an actor – one who lies comatose in the hospital for most of the running time – Iron Man 3 was scripted and helmed by Shane Black. It’s Black’s first film in the director’s chair since 2005, when his extraordinary (and extraordinarily self-deprecating) Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang melded film noir with comedy in a way we were not used to.
The first few seconds of this film are titillatingly close to the sensibility of Kiss, Kiss …, as Robert Downey Jr. (who also had the lead in the 2005 film, playing an actor pretending to be a detective as he blundered his way through a murder investigation yet managed to find the killer in the end) constantly interrupts his own voiceover to correct what he said a few moments before.
But it all comes to an end almost immediately. We start in more innocent times: in Bern in 1999, when the world’s biggest fear was not a terrorist attack but a technological meltdown as Y2K threatened to gobble up every piece of data.
That didn’t happen, and in the present a former nerd called Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) has appropriated technology that can regenerate limbs and infiltrate national broadcasts. On television screens across the country, a bearded man appears to tell the president, very menacingly, there will be utter chaos very soon.
This bearded man, who looks like the Hollywood version of the stereotype of a Middle Eastern warlord, is called “The Mandarin,” and he seems to have some very evil plans up his robe. As played by Ben Kingsley, no stranger to evil characters (his role as gangster Don Logan in Sexy Beast remains one of his most frightening), The Mandarin ought to be a delicious character study. Instead, he is a puppet while the actual brains behind the operation belong to someone much less interesting. That is too bad, as you may even struggle to remember who the real villain was a few days after watching the film.
Downey Jr. has now embodied Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in three films and contributed most to making The Avengers at least more or less watchable. The actor gets the requisite amount of throwaway lines that combine wit and aloofness to always keep us smiling, but here he does so with little attachment to the events around him, and even a film such as Kiss, Kiss …, whose comedy was much broader and its lines much more droll, had a tighter grip on our hearts.
Although the first act clearly leads up to a tale of revenge, much of the film is actually just a drawn-out series of flying carcasses, or rather empty suits, as Stark has worked hard to control his likeness from afar, and duplicating his Iron Man costume over and over again. The metaphor shouldn’t be lost on anyone, and it is surprising the filmmakers didn’t realize this point when they were in production.
What Black does to make up for this lack of interest is to use a child, whose parents we never see, to interact with Tony in order to prove he is not an out-of-touch rich man with toys who just happens to save the world now and again. The child actor is not bad, but the idea is terrible, and leads Iron Man 3 into “aw-shucks” territory that doesn’t fit at all with the smooth concept of the film. On the flipside, Tony’s banter with Jarvis, his (virtual) A.I. head of operations, remains as delightful as ever and luckily serves as a counterbalance to the kid in Tennessee.
In terms of locations, boredom often sets in, and a great deal of the final act takes place in a shipyard that, unless you are into heavy industrial design, just doesn’t equal the elegance nor generate the interest any number of other locations would have had. It’s dark and gloomy and not very appealing, and a place where we don’t want to spend such a large part of our time.
Having strung us along for 130 minutes, the film reaches its end, but the conclusion to the franchise seems almost abrupt and undeveloped, and while the end is deliberately ambiguous about the future for Tony Stark, you never know with these guys.
Iron Man 3
Directed by Shane Black
With Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle