Shane Black's "Iron Man 3" has the unenviable task of following Joss Wheadon's wildly entertaining, record-setting feature "The Avengers" as the next Marvel Films' movie out of the chute. While the superhero mash-up was deemed the end of phase one of the company's rollout of their stable of characters to the big screen, this film is considered the first entry in phase two, which will bring us sequels to "Captain America" and "Thor" as well as introduce new characters like "Ant-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" in their own stand-alone films.
To be sure, Marvel's phase one went off without a hitch as "The Avengers" fulfilled every promise made in the previous films. Too bad that "Iron Man 3" gets the next wave of movies off to a bad start. Illogical, scattered and underdeveloped, the film regrettably plays like a rush job. Glaring lapses in logic litter its incohesive narrative landscape as Black spends far too much time on Tony Stark's latest crisis of conscience, which isn't all that interesting, and squanders potentially intriguing subplots involving other characters. The result is a film that sputters and at times stalls, never really kicking into high gear despite having all the toys to do so at its disposal.
Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome from having dealt with the alien crisis in "The Avengers" as well as a crippled ego as he has convinced himself that after dealing with alternate dimensions and beings from another planet, that what he's capable of is small potatoes in comparison. He continues to tinker obsessively with his Iron Man armor and is in a fragile state of mind when the United States comes under attack by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist with seemingly no national affiliation who can strike at will within our borders. This becomes personal for Stark when his bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) is injured in one of these attacks causing the sleep-deprived, angry billionaire to issue an invitation to the madman ("Come and get me.") that he eagerly accepts.
Meanwhile, his Girl Friday, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is running Stark Industries and has been approached by an old colleague, one-time nerd, now dashing scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in the hopes the corporation will help finance one of his inventions. His Project Extremis is a technique that essentially allows the brain to be rewired, a process that potentially offers up as many positive uses as bad. Potts recognizes this and sends Killian packing, setting up a chain reaction of events that finds Stark exiled and without a home and, as a result, leaves the country vulnerable to the Mandarin's attacks.
All of this takes far too long to establish as the first major action scene occurs 30 minutes in, while Black's sense of pacing and balance is ill-suited for a film such as this. Obviously, Stark's existential angst should be the focal point of the movie, but potentially intriguing subplots are treated as obligations he has to refer to from time to time rather than being fleshed out to make a more balanced film.
Once more, Paltrow is wasted, but it seems more egregious this time as her character is put into a situation where she could have developed into something truly special that could have taken Stark and Potts' relationship into an intriguing new direction.
Equally vexing is the time the billionaire spends with a small boy (Ty Simpkins) he befriends while attempting to regroup. The banter between them is forced, and none of it really plays.
However, the thing that dooms the film is the fact that it doesn't follow its own logic. One of the modifications Stark makes is that he injects himself with a form of nano-technology that allows him to call the armor to him from a remote location. This is pretty cool; however, the suit is able to do the same thing with Potts and Killian though they haven't been injected. Equally troubling is the film's climax. Not only is it poorly filmed and confusing, but Stark's solution to the threat at hand will have you asking, "Why didn't you just do that in the first place?" Also bothersome is the lack of explanation as to what Killian's minions are capable of and what logic is behind the nuclear powers they wield.
And while this may seem nit-picky, the issue of the Avengers is never addressed. The Mandarin poses a national threat. Are you telling me the president wouldn't have called in at least Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. to assist Stark in this matter? You simply can't introduce those characters into Stark's world and then pretend they don't exist. At the very least, tell us Cap is on vacation or something. If Marvel insists on integrating these films, underscoring that all of these characters rub shoulders with one another, this issue must be addressed every time out, or the whole enterprise loses credibility.
To be sure, there are some highlights. Once the Mandarin's true purpose is revealed, it proves to be the most inspired part of the film and displays the sort of ironic wit Black displayed in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight." Equally impressive is a set piece in which Iron Man must save 13 former passengers of Air Force One who are falling from the sky after the airplane has been destroyed. These moments capture the spirit of the first film in the series, but they're too fleeting to save this enterprise and can't hope to overcome the narrative flaws that pile up so high they can't be ignored.
The final scene does open up the franchise to new possibilities and in the right hands could be an intriguing take on the superhero genre. However, I think that audiences were spoiled by "The Avengers," and it's going to take some sort of screenwriting magic to satisfy viewers with a film focusing on one superhero after seeing them interact with one other, especially one as poorly executed as "Iron Man 3."
'Iron Man 3' (2 stars out of 4)
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, William Sadler and James Badge Dale.
Directed by Shane Black; produced by Kevin Feige; screenplay by Drew Pearce and Black.
A Paramount Pictures release. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content). At AMC Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16.
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Dismal "Big Wedding" an affair to forget. (1 star)
Like Michael Caine and Gene Hackman before him, Robert De Niro seems to have never met a script he didn't like. While his career includes "The Godfather, Part II," "Taxi Driver," and "Raging Bull" among other classics, it's also littered with "Godsend," "Hide and Seek," "Righteous Kill" and too many other dogs to mention. He's currently attached to eight different films in various stages of production, all of which will be released in the next two years, which, compared to his contemporaries, makes him something of a workaholic.
De Niro is obviously a very intelligent man, so it's reasonable to ask why he would agree to make so many bad films, including his latest, "The Big Wedding." I have my own amateur psychological theories, which are worth about what Dr. Lucy Van Pelt charges — still, I find it more interesting to contemplate why he would agree to star in a turkey like this than actually review it.
But alas, it can be delayed no more. The film was pushed back from its original fall 2012 release date, and having suffered through it, it's woefully obvious that no release date would have been appropriate, save one with a large bonfire using each copy of the movie as its fuel source.
Perhaps one thing that attracted De Niro to the project is the opportunity to tackle a part the likes of which he had never tried before. Here he's a successful sculptor named Don who is a rather overbearing flirt who thinks every problem that comes his way can be solved using his sense of charm. The conflict at hand is a contrived doozy as his adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is coming home, with his fiance Missy (Amanda Seyfried) in tow and his devoutly Catholic birth mother (Patricia Rae) on the way. He has lied to his mama, telling her that Don and his adoptive mother Ellie (Diane Keaton) are married, despite the fact that they've been divorced for 10 years. Alejandro's solution to this is that they simply pretend to be married while his mother is visiting, something that doesn't sit too well with Don's current wife Bebe (Susan Sarnadon), who was once Ellie's best friend.
Yeah, it's pretty much a mess from the get-go as common sense is a casualty of lamebrain screenwriting. Instead of Don and Bebe insisting on Alejandro telling his mother the truth, this farce is allowed to grow and blossom into the cinematic equivalent of poison oak. None of the jokes works, the "comedic" timing is abysmal and writer/director Justin Zackham isn't satisfied with foisting one bad plot on us but saddles us with three more, one involving Don's daughter Lyla (Katherine Heigl) who can't have kids, another focusing on his son Jared (Topher Grace) who is a 30-year-old virgin, and the last revolving around Missy's parents (David Rasche and Christine Ebersole) and a financial scandal.
This is a disaster on all fronts, and I haven't even mentioned Robin Williams' tired gags as the officiating priest. I can only assume that all were handsomely paid, had a great time in Connecticut where it was filmed and have moved on to better films.
As to those who suffered through this during its opening weekend as I did, I'm willing to head a class-action suit to be filed against Millennium Films for wasting 90 minutes of my life if anyone would like to join me. Not sure what sort of settlement might be reached but if it will cover my ticket for seeing the upcoming "Man of Steel" in the IMAX format, I'll be satisfied.
For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.