Monday, May 6, 2013

Iron Man 3

Ask somebody who likes the "Iron Man" franchise what makes Iron Man a great character and I suspect he'll be at a loss for words. It's really not an especially interesting character; without the tremendous goodwill Robert Downey, Jr. brings to the table, Iron Man would be (ahem) leaden. And, as one who doesn't like the franchise, I'm here to report that Downey is again not enough. "Iron Man 3" is loud, dark, severely bloated at about two hours and twenty minutes, and not very much fun.

I'm somewhat surprised, because the cast is loaded with talented actors. Ben Kingsley gets the most interesting part, an elusive terrorist from Parts Unknown who speaks in an indeterminate accent and calls himself The Mandarin. There may be an even more devious mastermind behind him, a scientist named Aldrich Killian, well played by Guy Pearce. Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow reprise their roles as, respectively, Iron Man's partner in heroism, Colonel James Rhodes, and Tony Stark's CEO and love interest, Pepper Potts.

The regressive character of Pepper (reduced to screaming out Tony's name like a latter-day Margot Kidder) lacks interest, and Paltrow, whose heart no longer seems to be in acting, turns in a perfunctory performance. Meanwhile, Cheadle has nothing to do as Rhodey; the great Rebecca Hall is totally wasted as botanist Maya Hansen; and as for Jon Favreau, as Stark's comically hyper-vigilant head of security Happy Hogan, suffice it to say that his days as the attractive teddy bear type - say, opposite Famke Janssen in "Love & Sex" - are over.

The truth is that Downey needs a worthy foil to play off of. His most entertaining film of recent vintage was "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which earned a spot on my honorable mention list in 2011 largely on the strength of Downey's interplay with Jude Law. Here, except for a cringe-inducing detour to a Tennessee hick town with a precocious kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins), he's left to deliver almost a movie-long monologue, ending a lot of scenes with "clever" quips that aren't and making both Stark and screenwriters Shane Black and Drew Pearce come off like jerks in love with the sound of their own voices. I also had a real problem with the movie's treatment of women; even the smart ones are objectified and reduced to reactive roles. The "Iron Man" franchise is a man's world, and I just want to stop and get off.

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