1+2 Really Does = 3: The Latest “Iron Man” Combines Vigor of First Film with Torpor of Second

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Iron Man 3 (Shane Black, 2013)

Before I begin my review, I’d like to ask you, dear reader, what you think about parents who bring children small (and loud) enough to be potentially 2, 3, or 4 years old to a movie like this? This is a PG-13 movie. Here is how the MPAA description for PG-13 reads, taken from its website:

PG-13 — Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them. A PG-13 motion picture may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category. The theme of the motion picture by itself will not result in a rating greater than PG-13, although depictions of activities related to a mature theme may result in a restricted rating for the motion picture. Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous.

Since I am not publishing this anywhere but my blog, allow me to make this review, itself, PG-13, and use, for once (and only once), one of the aforementioned “harsher sexually-derived words:” Why the f*** were there little kids at this PG-13 movie? They’re giggling at the (not so limited) violence, some times yelling, some times scared. Are Americans frigging (note the use of “frigging” the second time) nuts? Maybe they are, as witnessed by this story I read in the New York Times this morning. I just don’t get it. It’s easy to blame violence on films (I don’t know, is it?), but even if you believe that Hollywood is responsible for all of the evil in the world, don’t you think that parents should exercise judgment when choosing which films are appropriate? OK – my rant is over.

Before the movie began, as I was looking, horrified, at the hordes of miniature children, I had the pleasure of watching preview after preview for the coming onslaught of superhero films this summer. Sitting there, I had the feeling that there would never be any other kind of movie made in my lifetime. I think that is probably a grotesquely exaggerated response to what really amounted to just 15 minutes of trailer bombardment. Still, look at what some clever folks at movie.com have put together in celebration of the sameness of style we can expect: 2013 Summer Movie Preview. It’s fun, right? Probably more fun than actually watching all of those films.

But hey! Don’t get me wrong. I love superhero films, which are really just repackaged Westerns, with Superman/Iron Man/Spiderman/Batman, etc., standing in for the lone gunslinger of yore. I’m just not sure I want only that for the next three months. Star Trek Into Darkness is not a superhero film, but seems to have much of the same aesthetic. Then again, in spite of all that I just wrote, I am super-excited to see Man of Steel. I hope it lives up to this kick-ass trailer (Wait! Isn’t that the music used in the movies.com spoof? Damn!). I also hope that my use of kick-ass doesn’t slap my review with an R rating.

But why would Hollywood want any other kind of summer? As I said on the radio on Friday, May 3 (where I pointedly avoided any “sexually-derived words”), “never forget that the business of Hollywood is to make money.” I believe I read this in a book by University of Maryland Professor Douglas Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System: A History. Art – or even uniquely compelling entertainment – is besides the point. It’s not that people studiously avoid making good films, but that they focus on what the returns will be above all else. After all, it is a business. And look, Iron Man 3 has delivered on its promise. Let the summer blockbuster juggernaut begin! And if you’re not glad, then take heart that this Wednesday, May 8, the Maryland Film Festival opens, showcasing the exact opposite of all of that.

And now, here’s my review.

Iron Man 3 is not the worst movie ever made, nor is it even all that terrible. In fact, it has significant entertainment value, and if you’re a Robert Downey, Jr., fan, and don’t mind seeing him do the same thing he’s been doing since the first Iron Man, then you’ll enjoy this. If, like me, you are a big Guy Pearce fan (which is why I chose a version of the poster with him on it), and wish that we saw more of him, then you’ll also enjoy good portions of the film. I’d like this film even more if we also saw more of Rebecca Hall. More Rebecca, less Gwyneth.

The problem I have with the Iron Man character, himself, is that Tony Stark, no matter how you slice or dice him, is and always will be an arrogant entitled jerk-off. Sure, he changed after the events of the first film, but unlike Bruce Wayne – the alter ego of Batman – he flaunts his privilege and wealth with little sense of how much they have made him the man he is. Bruce Wayne, at least, seems to get that “with great power comes great responsibility.” What? A Spiderman quote in the middle of an homage to Batman? I believe the quote should be properly attributed to Voltaire . . . In any case, Stark is a prick, and so I have trouble caring much for him. In this new film, his stupid macho bravado almost gets his girlfriend (Gwyneth) killed. Now that might have humbled him (and paved the way for a more appealing actress).

The story centers around an apparent terrorist threat on the United States, embodied by an Osama Bin Laden look-a-like, played by Ben Kingsley. In a surprising set of plot developments in a film released just weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, we witness executions and explosions, including one at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where innocent civilians are killed. Because a friend of Stark’s in injured in one of the attacks, our hero makes it personal, and thereby becomes a target, himself. The subsequent mayhem sends him off to discover the nature of the explosives used. He ends him, broken suit and all, in Tennessee, where he meets a fatherless boy whom he adopts as a sidekick. After some genuinely funny banter, and gruesome battle scenes, Stark is off again, this time to Miami, where he tangles with the terrorists, pals around with Don Cheadle, saves the world, saves those most precious to him, and destroys much real estate.

Manohla Dargis, of the New York Times, wrote a review in which she faulted the film for using terrorism as a cheap way to lend the plot gravitas and relevance, and I agree. But I disagree that this is a tactic employed in this film, alone. I felt much the same way watching the first Iron Man, a movie during which – all the while enjoying it – I kept marveling at the superficiality of the treatment of the reasons behind global terrorism. It made a nice backdrop for Stark’s moral development, but the light treatment of the subject was also, if looked at closely, intellectually and politically offensive.

But have no fear, if all you want is a rollicking good time. This movie delivers, in terms of action scenes, witticisms, and energy, unlike the second film. I can’t even remember the plot of that film, except that Gwyneth and Downey got it on at the end. I would recommend, however, if you enjoy some of the better lines, that you check out the last film that the writer-director Shane Black helmed, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Now that was good fun. And R rated. Which meant no kids. Because we never see kids at R-rated films . . .

I do wonder, though, at the stupid opening voiceover. Did the other Iron Man films have it? I don’t think so. I truly dislike that kind of aesthetic inconsistency.

I also wonder why it was so important that this film be in 3D. It took nothing away, but also added absolutely nothing to this experience. Unlike, say, Life of Pi, which made stunning use of that technology, Iron Man 3 just kind of tacked it on. I would save your money and see it in 2D. You’ll lose nothing by it.

4 thoughts on “1+2 Really Does = 3: The Latest “Iron Man” Combines Vigor of First Film with Torpor of Second

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