Hmm, an IRON MAN movie without Iron Man…
Kiddies will fidget, parents will cringe, marketers will hit the roof, executives will cower, and fans of good storytelling will rejoice. Is IRON MAN 3 the best of the series? Maybe. Probably. If you could call this an Iron Man movie. All I know is, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) spends so much time outside his titanium-alloy armor, or in various incomplete stages of it, or in it with his faceplate off, that we wonder if we haven’t walked into a seminar on how to make a movie without its eponymous lead character. And sometimes, even when we’re seeing Iron Man, it’s not really Iron Man; it’s just the armor suit working remotely!
Which begs the questions: Exactly WHO is Iron Man? Is it the man or the metal? Or is it symbiotic? Intentionally or not, the filmmakers have pitted Tony Stark in a battle against his own suit over who owns the penis in the family. This question is answered in the movie’s final frames, and I’m going to tell you what it is – or at least, what the writers think it is. Then I’m going to tell you the REAL answer… But first…
If faithful comic fans can get past the weirdness of being fed so little Iron Man, IRON MAN 3 works on a storytelling level. Y’see, writer-director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce are emphasizing the man within the machine, the humanity behind the supercool, planet-crushing timbre of the titanium; they’re saying the Iron Man armor is nothing without the man within. Whether he’s within or without.
In IRON MAN 3, a nihilistic terrorist called The Mandarin (deliciously continental Ben Kingsley) rips everything from Tony Stark – his home, his technology, his armor, his girlfriend, even his supercomputer liege J.A.R.V.I.S. – and Stark must use his ingenuity (rather than his vaunted suit of steel) to claw back from the edge of oblivion and exact retribution.
Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are leading the idyllic life of a non-communicating couple, Pepper running the billion dollar Stark Enterprises firm while Tony tools away in his Iron Lab with his disembodied pal and computer gopher JARVIS (voice of Paul Bettany), whose sarcasm modulator, we presume, has been dialed up to 11. Tony’s bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is now head of security at Stark Ent. (great to see him reprise his role, even though he is not directing). Stark’s colonel buddy James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who assumed the War Machine armor for the U.S. military, has been renamed Iron Patriot and given a stars-and-stripes makeover (typical hypocritical U.S. re-branding snowjob).
The subplot, which jigsaws neatly into the Mandarin madness in ways which any canny moviegoer will see a mile away, involves a geneticist named Killian (Guy Pearce, who has been just waiting to pull out such a meatballs and cheese performance since PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT) who was scorned by Tony 15 years ago for not funding his DNA project, exacting revenge on Tony by coming on strong with successes in his field; re-petitioning for funding from Pepper, whom he would like to come on strong. Pepper gets the chance to prove she’s not just a pretty face by standing up and fighting for her man many times, and it is touching when Tony commands the suit to encase her instead of him to save her from falling debris. She then uses the suit not to cower in – like your average action movie chick – but to protect Tony. Tears edge the eyes… And the fact that Gwyneth’s over 40 and we can still see her ribcage when she’s cut down to a sports bra and tights helps vindicate that People Magazine Sexiest Woman Alive award. Not that I agree with the decision, but it helps.
Tony opens the movie by talking about how a man “creates his own demons.” It sounds like absolute amorphous hippie crap until we see exactly how Tony’s most benign actions create malign consequences. I’ve never thought of this before – probably because I’m as self-centered and arrogant as Tony Stark (like all of you, let’s not forget) – but any person whom you’ve stepped on offhandedly, or reviled or neglected out of hubris becomes one of your “demons.” The creation of the demon need not be as obvious as a plate-throwing argument, a national lawsuit or fistfight – your actions could be as seemingly innocuous as not calling someone back after an intimate encounter (lovely geneticist Rebecca Hall is Tony’s discarded squeeze here)… Another example of the movie depending on its storytelling finesse rather than its Pretty Orange Explosions.
Of which there are many, don’t sweat it, thirteen-year-olds. Director Shane Black, no stranger to action (he created the LETHAL WEAPON series, directed Downey in KISS KISS BANG BANG, and “the jungle came to life and took him” in PREDATOR) forges a respectful, riveting drama (based on the Extremis mini-series of Iron Man comics, 2005) that does not lack for suspense, romance, comedy and a wallop of jet-propulsive action – a fulfilling moviegoing experience. The thrilling scene where Iron Man saves a planeload of freefalling people is that clincher that makes you wish wish WISH that this technology existed and that YOU could be the one inside it.
How damn cool is that freakin’ suit?!
Tony’s Mk. 42 armor is most prominent in this movie, and fanboys will get a ferrous kick out of the final sequence where scores of Tony’s suits of differing designs turn up under remote command from JARVIS to punch bad guys. A phallic metallic paradise! Unlike IRON MAN 2, where a bunch of faceless armored suits chased Tony, these suits are all HIM. Not only are they damn cool to look at, it’s a thrilling sequence where he’s jumping in and out of them at whim, as they clack open and clack closed around his body in seconds.
But where did they come from? Didn’t his cliffside house (and Iron Lab) get blown into the sea at the end of Act I?
All I can say is: Lucky for Tony he had his Billionaire Credit Card in his back pocket when the Mandarin blew his house into the Pacific – which once again illustrates the juvenile thinking of supervillains and the writers who write them that way. These supposed evil geniuses can’t comprehend that you don’t destroy a man by blowing up his house and punching his metal suit – you destroy him by freezing his assets. The assets make the Iron Man. For whatever you say about “heart” or “courage” or “physics genius,” if you haven’t got the finances, all the heart, courage and physics genius in the world won’t design and build a multi-million dollar, weaponized, flying titanium-alloy suit. Can any one of us afford to replace the engine block in our car, let alone churn out 42 computer-interfaced Iron Man suits?
And by the way, the Mandarin supposedly only gets Tony’s home address when Tony blurts it out in a dare to the Mandarin on national TV. Shyeh royt!…. Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Tony thrown numerous irresponsible whore-parties at his house? You think not one of those strippers/hookers, waiters/actors and surfer boytoys who frequented those parties would not have leaked his address for a dimebag or an eight-ball or the promise of an acting career? You call yourself a supervillain and didn’t know where the world’s most prominent playboy billionaire lived until he told you?
At Tony’s lowest ebb, a little boy he befriends (Ty Simpkins) tells him, “You’re a mechanic – build something!” Firstly, he’s talking to Tony while Depressed Tony, who admittedly hasn’t got any suits left, is still sitting behind the wheel of a car that costs more than my house; secondly, Tony then visits a hardware store and plops whatever weapon-making tools he wants into his shopping cart. Thank Iron Christ for that Billionaire Credit Card, right?
So in answer to the question ” Who Is Iron Man?” at movie’s end, Stark – as he did at the end of the first movie – once again assures us of his identity, saying it loud and proud. He assures all the corporate dirt-piggies who will no doubt want to keep their cash cow alive; assures we the fans that even though he removed the shrapnel near his heart, negating the further need for his cool chest reactor, that even though all his gadgets are destroyed, that even with his new mature outlook on life, avoiding danger for his girlfriend’s patticake, that even though he just rid himself of everything associated with that golden avenger, Tony assures the audience and Marvel Studios alike, “I am Iron Man!”
Well, his credit card is.