RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
He’s still called Iron Man, but his suits in the new movie fall apart like tin foil. At the slightest bump, the weaponized armor crumbles into pieces. The first time it happens, it’s like, “Whoah, pretty cool.” The second time it’s “Yeah, still somewhat awesome, I guess.”
The third time and after, it’s “Damn, Iron Man loses his clothes more often than a Kardsashian.”
Sometimes when actresses in movies wear a ton of different outfits, it’s because they had a clause in their contracts that states they get to keep all the clothes they wear onscreen. Maybe that’s what’s going on here with Robert Downey Jr., given all the different suits Tony Stark has concocted, and how often they’re so easily destroyed by his many enemies.
More likely, though, there are so many Iron Man suits in the movie because the more suits that exist, the more toys the Disney/Marvel voltron can sell to your kids, and the more suits upgrades it can sell to you via that stupid Iron Man 3 iPhone game.
There’s a cynical, upsell-happy vibe flowing throughout the movie, which seems to have been formulated more by the minds of Mad Men than Comic Book Men. It starts with the weak, perfunctory use of 3D, which adds almost nothing to the goofy array of explosions and toppling buildings. Maybe I’m off on my own here, but when I pay the extra $3 and suffer the indignity of wearing the glasses, I want to see things pop out at me. There’s something to be said for using 3D to add subtle death to backgrounds, but the effects are so tepid in this movie the only reason to keep the glasses on is to avoid having to stare at a blurry screen.
Shane Black, who wrote the screenplays for the first two Lethal Weapons and The Last Boy Scout and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, seemed to be a good choice to take over as director for Jon Favreau, who made the first two films in the series before bailing for the regrettable Cowboys and Aliens.
But the family-friendly Mouse Ears/Marvel pedigree nerfs Black’s edge, and Downey’s Stark has “grown” to such an extent that the filmmaker has little to work with. By now, Stark has already finished his womanizing and alcoholic self-destruction stages, so now his inner struggles are reduced to insomnia, mental battle scars from the climactic battle in The Avengers and dealing with a rough marriage with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Yes, the world’s foremost engineering mind is forced to confront the impossible problem of coming up with a knockout plan for date night with the old ball and chain.
Still, Downey adds his usual panache to the flattened version of the character, and he manages to keep things interesting even when he’s stuck for much of the running time with a boy wonder sidekick he gets stuck with after one of the many times he’s destroyed a suit. The kid’s presence is a thorough embarrassment, and Downey seems as disgusted with having to deal with him as we do to watch their shared scenes.
The villains are occasionally interesting. Guy Pearce plays one of Stark’s former scientist groupies who now turns minions into iron-melting, self-healing mutants, and Ben Kingsley is Mandarin, a shadowy terrorist figure. Although their methods are convoluted, at least their intertwined plots turn out to have a pragmatic purpose, rather than the usual motivation in Marvel movies, which is just to ‘splode the world.
There is plenty of ‘sploding here, more so at the end than the beginning, especially after the end credits roll and the audience ‘splodes in a collective groan at the inevitable post-credits scene. This one is painfully anticlimactic, especially after having to suffer through the neverending lists of the various best boys, key grips, “second second assistant directors” (seriously), drivers and assistants.
Many, many people will probably be OK with this Iron Man, just as many, many people are OK with oatmeal. But this sloppy entry is undoubtedly a low point for a previously strong series. The two people who like the movie the most will no doubt be Thor and Superman, who are relieved that they weren’t given a tough act to follow this summer.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley and Jon Favreau. Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black. Directed by Black. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.