In the pantheon of comic-book movies, “Iron Man 3” is neither a rave nor a bust.
It rolls along noisily for a little over two hours, a string of whiz-bang special effects, big explosions and violent confrontations. And when it's over you think, OK, not bad.
But not great, either. Watching it, I didn't feel much of anything about these characters, a far cry from the original “Iron Man” that was grounded in a sense of realism. A couple of hours after seeing this sequel, there were few visual images that stuck with me either.
Not that it matters what I think. “Iron Man 3” has already hauled in $200 million overseas, and it's sure to swamp the North American box office this weekend. My guess is that comic-book fans will find plenty here to make them smile.
I smiled myself at the cynical wisecracks and dry verbal sparring by Robert Downey Jr. as armaments inventor Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. He's great. I especially liked his exchanges with a bullied little boy (Ty Simpkins) who helps him when he's down and out — and who is rewarded generously for his trouble.
Stark's problems this time are twofold. One: He's suffering through insomnia and panic attacks in the wake of the New York City throwdown that ended “The Avengers” last summer. His cage has been rattled.
Two: Some terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley has fun as a bin Laden wannabe) is causing all kinds of problems. And he brings those problems to Iron Man's doorstep, literally.
Oh, and afterthought: Since he can't sleep, Stark's been working on Iron Man suits that can run themselves. He can summon them to wrap around his body at a moment's notice, piece by piece, but there seem to be software glitches.
Meanwhile the government has its own Iron Man-type suit, which it repaints in red, white and blue and calls Iron Patriot. Stark's old friend, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, underutilized), fills that suit.
The movie offers a bit of early mystery as we sort out the bad guys from the worse guys and what motivates them.
At a 1999 conference Stark attended in Switzerland, he bedded Maya, a biotech researcher (Rebecca Hall, “The Town”) who has discovered a way to regenerate lost living tissue. Pluck a branch off a ficus, it grows back. Same for a human limb.
But the process has glitches, which can cause the regenerated limbs to glow red-hot and then detonate like a bomb. Maya's boss, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, still buff), used to date Stark's girl, Pepper Potts, and he hasn't forgotten Stark's snub when he wanted to talk business.
It's no secret by now that the big action sequences involve the destruction of Stark's seaside home, an attack on Air Force One and a showdown on a giant oil rig. Also a smaller mess at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The oil rig is the movie's climax, but the Malibu house attack is the best of the action bits.
It's also nice to see Gwyneth Paltrow, as Pepper Potts, have a bit more to do this time, though there still seems to be little heat between her and Downey Jr.
Take away the performances of Downey and Kingsley, and this movie would deflate like a popped balloon. What a comedown from the edgy original, when Stark the arms merchant faced down his inner demons, and the suit was not as important as the man inside it.
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