‘Iron Man 3’ may be an improvement in the product

By Gary Clift

Here are some claims veteran screen-writer Shane Black can make for the second movie he has directed: “Iron Man 3” has made lots of money. “Iron Man 3” has sold lots of tickets. And “Iron Man 3” is a better movie than the first two films in the series.

This last, though, isn’t much to brag about. “1” and “2” were directed by Jon Faveau (who appears in the new movie as Pepper Potts’s bodyguard). He has never proved himself as an action picture director. The very popular first two Iron Man movies were all about Robert Downey’s chatty, egocentric title character. What happened around him didn’t make all that much difference.

It doesn’t here, either. And the story for “3” requires audiences to ignore our usual handicapping of outcomes—in other words, the movie needs compliant rather than a participatory viewers. Guys who sit there trying to figure out if the regenerative process at work in the minions of Aldrich Killian will make those guys any match for the empty robot suits of Stark Industries are not going to enjoy the movie all that much.

Except that they will still like Downey. Black and his writing partner Drew Pearce have given Tony Stark, Downey’s character, a list of quotable lines which the popular delivers with comic flare. “Stop stopping.” “Where’s my sandwich?” Speaking to one of the glowing thugs working for the evil Killian, Stark answers a question by saying, “You tell me, West World.”

“Why don’t you dress like this at home?” he asks the black bra wearing Potts (Gweneth Palthrow) during one of the action scenes. My favorite came when he had to collect thirteen people who had been sucked out of Air Force One while it was in flight: “Remember the game called Barrel of Monkeys?” The theater crowd laughed aloud at that one. And at most of the others.

His dialog invariably follows what he calls “House party protocol.” So it is a surprise when Stark speaks seriously to his girlfriend Potts about the threat posed by The Mandarin. This costumed “super-villain” blows things up and interrupts t.v. broadcasts to taunt and lecture the U.S. government. He also seems to have it in for Stark, whose business builds weapons for the Defense Department.

One of those weapons is the Iron Man suit. He has built a bunch of those. One is for his friend Col. Rhodes (Kansas City’s Don Cheadle). Another finds Stark and assembles around him when called.

Attack helicopters working for The Mandarin (who is associated through imagery with Arabs—don’t ever think too much during the movie or the fun will be lost) destroy Stark’s oceanside home, but he and Potts escape serious harm. While Stark sets off to investigate incidents of high heat explosions, Potts helps an old girlfriend of his to get away from the scene.

At a Tennessee explosion site, Stark is befriended by a ten-year-old kid who inspires a Macguiver-like attack on the Mandarin’s lair. But when our hero finds the long-fingernail-wearing t.v. personality, he discovers something unexpected. The Mandarin is played very well, incidentally, by Ben “Ghandi” Kingsley. Guy Pearce (as the wildly made-up Killian) and Rebecca Hall also have good turns.

But their acting only bolsters the illusion that there is something more going on here than loud noises and wry asides. Even as a summer blockbuster, “Iron Man 3” seems like empty calories.

Considering what the first two movies in the series were like, though, “3” also seems like an improvement in the product.

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