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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. brings laughter to the tale

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If it’s not exactly ripped from the headlines, the plot of Iron Man 3 is as perilously close to reality as a summer superhero blockbuster can be. Unlike The Avengers, the story is grounded in an earthly threat, a string of seemingly senseless terrorist bombings playing out on television. Drawn into the search for the culprit, billionaire inventor-industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) finds a corrupt Defense Department-funded genetics project gone amok. A program to restore the limbs of wounded war veterans had unintended consequences.

As the tale begins, Stark is sulky, unsettled by the recent world-saving adventure with his “super friends.” He compulsively tinkers with new generations of the metallic flying suits that have served him so well in previous episodes. When his faithful but none-too-bright sidekick Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is injured in a bombing outrage, Stark declares war on the bearded face of terror, a mysterious figure called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Despite the Fu Manchu moniker, the Mandarin is linked in visual imagery to Islamic extremism and needles his television audience with facts on America’s heritage of hypocrisy. “I consider myself a teacher,” the Mandarin says. “America is ready for another lesson.”

It’s no spoiler to relate the suspicion that a genetic researcher Stark had glibly dismissed years earlier, the handicapped science nerd Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), is mixed up in the conspiracy. “We create our own demons,” says Stark in a voiceover for the flashback to his first encounter with Killian, which prefaces the film. Killian will reemerge soon enough, strangely healed of his infirmities, seeking revenge for the hurt Stark inflicted on him and spouting that old dream—make that nightmare—of fashioning a new, “better” human race.

Downey’s witty acting carries the show, and he’s given many funny one-liners that push the story toward comedy. He handles his ironic role with zest; Stark’s tendency toward hubris is often thwarted by glitches in his operating systems. Surrounded by a strong cast, Downey is joined by Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, his business partner-love-interest-woman-to-save-from-the-fiends; and Don Cheadle as Col. Rhodes, whose Iron Patriot suit may be a clunky government answer to Iron Man, but every hand is welcome when America is in peril.

The 3D was reportedly added in post-production; much of it only goes to show that two dimensions are just fine, thank you. The coolest visuals involve the Iron Man suits, whose components fly together and assemble at Stark’s command, and the crime scene hologram in his living room. Naturally, the climactic scene involves many fiery explosions.

Adults used to dismiss such stories as puerile, but we now live in a world where the FBI arrests an Elvis impersonator for sending the president a ricin-laced letter, only to find that the impersonator was set up by his nemesis, a martial arts instructor. If reality has become a cartoon, then maybe the universe conjured by Marvel Comics was prophetic.