Third-act missteps keep ‘Iron Man 3' from reaching greatness


(Marvel Studios)

Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

Early on in “Iron Man 3,” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) intones in a voiceover that “We create our own demons.” It is perhaps fitting, then, that despite being a very strong movie overall, “Iron Man 3” has some minor demons that prevent it from reaching the elite tier of comic adaptations.

Facts

‘Iron Man 3'

Rated: PG-13
Starring: Robert Downey Jr.,
Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle,
Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley
★★★★

This is not to say Tony Stark's latest big screen adventure isn't good; in fact, it's really good. The dialogue zips and zings, the stars all sell their roles really well, the direction is robust without going overboard, and the special effects scenes have lots of pop.

Perhaps the greatest strength of “Iron Man 3,” though, is that it's firmly an Iron Man movie, not an Avengers movie. The movie references what happened in “The Avengers,” but it abandons the cosmic flavor of more recent Marvel releases in favor of the techno-thriller style of “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2.”

To wit, the movie begins with a flashback to New Year's Eve in 1999, where Stark is at a science conference in Switzerland. There he meets up with scientists Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), the former of whom of wants Stark to back his think tank while the latter is pitching a process called Extremis that involves “hacking DNA” to regenerate tissue and such. Stark outright spurns Killian and abandons Hansen after a one-night stand.

Flash-forward to the present, and Stark is barely keeping himself together. The events of “The Avengers” have left him perpetually anxious and incapable of sleep, he's growing apart from assistant-turned-CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and a terrorist mastermind named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is blowing up targets worldwide seemingly at whim. Killian has also resurfaced, touting Extremis as the future of humanity's development while also muscling in on Pepper. An attack that nearly kills one of Stark's friends, followed closely by an attack on Stark himself, propels him back into action.

The Iron Man movies work best when they focus on how Tony Stark is his own worst enemy, and “Iron Man 3” takes this theme and retools it in a very personal, effective manner for much of the movie.

Downey Jr., magnificent and magnetic as always, expertly weaves an undercurrent of manic desperation into the motor-mouthed braggadocio that defines Snark's character. Downey Jr. also spends much more time out of the suit than in his previous outings, giving the audience a chance to see what really drives Stark.

Stark also has some literal conflict with his demons; one of the movie's most effective scenes involves his suit, which he can now telepathically control, going rogue on someone close to him. Similarly, a lengthy second-act sequence in which Stark, sans suit, must partner up with a kid in rural Tennessee to find some clues and take out some bad guys is very entertaining and adds new depths to Stark's character.

It's a shame that the movie's third act abandons this really promising material in favor of a more ordinary superhero smackdown. This is not to say anyone shouldn't go see “Iron Man 3.” Downey Jr. alone is worth the price of admission, the movie is fun and exciting, and the scene following the end credits is a nice bit of fan service that also answers a nagging plot hole (namely, who Stark is talking to as he narrates his tale). But it's hard to shake the feeling that with a little prodding, “Iron Man 3” could've transcended its genre and offered something truly remarkable.

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