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‘Iron Man 3’ delivers on dark superhero action

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
May 8, 2013
Filed under 4Play

“Iron Man 3” begins with protagonist Tony Stark approximating an adage by Oscar Wilde —  “We make our own demons.” It’s apparent that destruction is on the horizon — a terrorist named The Mandarin forces the people of the U.S. to live in fear of random bombings. Stark’s own bodyguard, Happy Hogan, is severely injured in one of these bombings, and Stark promises vengeance.

However, instead of delivering said vengeance, Stark is attacked at his home, resulting in an impromptu trip for him to the frigid Midwest and the kidnapping of his trusty sidekick and lover Pepper Potts. Stark has to overcome the demons he’s made for himself in the professional and personal sphere as well as overcome the fears and stress that being a member of The Avengers brings him.

“Iron Man 3” treads a lot of the same water as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. This is especially disappointing considering how well the first two films in the Iron Man series managed to avoid this — despite the similar premises of millionaire-playboy-turned-superhero. A terrorist seeks to destroy the ones Stark loves as well as his personal fortune. Stark bites off more than he can chew, is presumed dead and must rebuild himself, both spiritually and physically, in order to ensure the safety of the ones he loves.

The terrorist plot in itself helps make this installment in the Marvel series one of the darkest superhero films of all time. The terrorist hopes to disenchant the American populace by showing them that their government is helpless. In order to do this, he turns human beings into walking bombs.

It’s shocking that the film was not pushed back considering the recent tragedy at the Boston Marathon, as well as the current U.S. social climate. Some moments of the film, such as a scene where amputees are first turned into human bombs, were unbearably uncomfortable.

Another shocking moment  is when Stark, attempting to bond with a young fan who has a less-than-optimal family life, gives the child a weapon to use against a bully at the school. Of course, this moment is immediately lampshaded when the child uses the weapon to escape from a bad guy, but still the notion that a superhero would arm a student for school violence in a film released so soon after the shooting at Sandy Hook is a bit disgusting.

Many of the deeper, more political elements of the film’s plot also hit extremely close to home. There are mentions of impending war and government conspiracy. While some may view the extremely resonant plot as engrossing, it to makes for an awkward theater-going experience.

Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy got a pass when it came to such controversial themes due to the dark mood established by “Batman Begins.” However, Marvel’s films tend to be more of a family affair, full of comic relief and simple action movie plots. “Iron Man 3” retains this family friendly comic relief and even throws in a subplot following a child genius in order to further appeal to a younger demographic, yet also manages to be one of the most violent PG-13 films in recent memory.

The extremely dark nature of the plot would be excused and even heralded if not for the fact that two-thirds of the way through the film this dark plot is dropped. Following a rather surprising and well-hidden plot twist, the film devolves into the standard series of stock situations and tropes found in nearly every other superhero film. The last hour of the film is extremely predictable, with situations being ripped from the climax of nearly every recent superhero film released.

Even worse than this is the convoluted nature of the film’s plot. By the end, so many characters and subplots have been introduced that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of which minor characters are good or evil and what their motivations are. Even then, the revealed motives for the antagonist’s plot seems silly and poorly thought out.

While the film’s plot lacks, the visuals are stunning. The action scenes are well choreographed and very entertaining, especially the final fight between Iron Man and a superhuman army. The CGI is extremely attractive considering the relatively short production time. This is managed by the employment of a massive effects team — seriously, check the end credits to see how many people worked on this movie’s effects.

Despite being bloated, some of the film’s individual subplots were well-executed. The relationship between Tony and his child sidekick, Harley, played by newcomer Ty Simpkins, was a highlight. Harley brought a genuine likability to the otherwise miserable-yet-lovable Stark and also brought the film’s only moments of genuine humanity.

Aside from the always delightful Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, “Iron Man 3” also brings an extremely fun performance from Ben Kingsley as classic Iron Man villain The Mandarin. Kingsley’s Mandarin purrs his addresses in a manner resembling Jim Jones if he had taken acting lessons from The Joker. While the film presents a disappointing take on the hero’s most notable villain, Kingsley still helps to save the film from being absolutely wretched.

The film also replaces the potential love-triangle that was so abhorred in “Iron Man 2.” Here, instead of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow causing problems for Stark and Potts, we instead have a character played by Johansson’s real life friend and near lookalike Rebecca Hall shaking up the duo’s love affair. This is, perhaps, the biggest downfall in “Iron Man 3.” Who wouldn’t like to see a Hall-Johansson love triangle reunion after having seen “Vicki Cristina Barcelona?”

All-in-all, “Iron Man 3” is a satisfying popcorn flick and nothing more. Despite early indications that it may reinvent the wheel, it instead rolls into the status quo head-on.