Iron Man 3: What Went Wrong

*do not read on unless you want to be SPOILED rotten*

Well, I saw Iron Man 3 last week, and I have been puzzling over the film since that time. I’m still not entirely sure what to think about it. On the one hand, it was quite enjoyable, and on the other, it was definitely missing something essential, and felt a little lifeless and fragmented, maybe unfocused.

To say that this surprised me is a serious understatement. Marvel did all the right things, but apparently all the right things to not a great film make. They hired Sir Ben Kingsley to play the Mandarin, who did (as usual) an amazing job. They hired legendary action film writer-director Shane Black to write and direct. Again, a great choice, considering Black was behind some of the greatest action films of the past. Last Action Hero. Lethal Weapon. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The Long Kiss Goodnight.

So what went wrong?

I liked the fact that they tried to make Tony more vulnerable and have an identity crisis in the film. I just think it failed because of several factors.

– The film opens with a voice-over from Tony Stark, telling us about the events that are to follow. Right away I knew the film was in trouble, because it just sucked all the tension out of the story. Oh, I thought. Well, he obviously survives. It is clear that Shane Black was after a deconstruction of Iron Man, breaking him down and building him back up. This is a dark night of the soul, similar to The Dark Knight Rises. But imagine for a second that DKR began with a monologue from Bruce Wayne that told you he lived through it. Well, I guess I don’t need to worry about him, then. He obviously can’t die.

– I get that Tony is supposed to be haunted by the events of New York. But I don’t understand how nearly dying in The Avengers was any different than nearly dying in the first Iron Man film. Or the second Iron Man film.

Tony was out of character almost the whole film. Given that you’re giving Tony Stark panic attacks and night terrors, what do we know about him that would tell us how he would respond to such fears? We know his dad was closed off and gruff with him, turning him into a kid that acted out for attention. We also know that when he feels nervous or threatened, he covers it with bluster, sarcasm, and joking. In short, when his insecurities go up, his playboy antics do too (just recall Iron Man 2, where he is freaking out about dying and responds to this insecurity by playing up his invincibility, not down). So why then does Shane Black have him giving heartfelt monologues to Pepper about how broken he is? Tony Stark wouldn’t do that. Tony Stark would brush it off and cover it up with sarcasm and joking and fast cars. And he breaks down within twenty minutes of the film’s open. If you want to bring him to a place of confession, he has to earn it.

– Which brings us to another major character issue. How does the events of Iron Man 3 help him overcome his fears about dying? Yes, I understand that he is using the suit as a shield from the world, and that destroying them all is a sign that he’s free. But specifically now: how does threatening a terrorist, getting nearly killed, hike off into small-town America to fix his suit, and face a bunch of lava-people help to resolve that arc?

– The villain. The Mandarin is one of the most famous, beloved villains of the comics. He was amazing for the first act of the film, which had a building threat roiling under the surface to it. Very solid and chilling. But the revelation that the Mandarin was a fake completely undercuts the tension of the film, particularly when you replace the Mandarin with the plastic-faced, flat-charactered, boring Guy Pearce character. At this point, I didn’t even care anymore. I get the fact that Black is subverting our expectations, but like with every subversion, it needs to replace your expectation with something better, or at least as interesting.

– When you have your characters constantly befuddled by a plot that took the audience approximately ten minutes to piece together, it begins to get annoying. Oh, so the lady was working on exploding plants, and a guy wanted to talk to Stark about his ideas, but he never showed up and now that same guy turns up years later with the dangerous plant-exploding technology, and he’s obviously been injecting it into people who become unstable and spontaneously combust – and the characters spend half the movie trying to figure this thing out?

– If Killian wanted to remain behind the scenes, in the shadows, why is he the CEO of a company that is publicly working on technology that matches the deadly “terror” explosions and also turn up in the same helicopter that is pounding missiles into the side of Tony Stark’s house when there are three camera crew copters in the air with them?

– What exactly was his plan, again? His experiments start exploding so he creates a terrorist character called The Mandarin rather than deal with the fallout (because having the government after you for terrorism is better than for experiments gone wrong, right?). Or, wait, he’s kidnapping the President? Why? So the President was involved with the oil company that had a big tanker spill so Killian is going to blow him up with the tanker ship? What?

– Last, but not least at all, we learned that having Tony Stark leap in and out of suit after suit in the final battle is not nearly as cool as we thought it would be. By a long shot. Seriously, stop suit-hopping already! Once was enough.

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