RedEye

'Iron Man 3': High anxiety for Tony Stark ★★ 1/2

A little too much and a little not enough, director and co-writer Shane Black's "Iron Man 3" nonetheless has everything Disney and Marvel need to keep the "Avengers" superhero constellation shining and regenerating well into the 23rd century. It's what you call a pre-hit: As of this writing (Tuesday, 8:57 a.m. CST) the movie already has zoomed past the $200 million mark in worldwide box office.

Eighty percent of the globe has already gotten a look at it. North America's essentially an afterthought, if hundreds and hundreds of millions of likely dollars can be called that.

Here's where we are with Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., who the film's background materials remind us is the biggest star on the planet by measurement of franchise association (the "Sherlock Holmes" movies and the "Iron Man"/"Avengers" universe). The climactic alien melee in last year's all-star reunion "The Avengers" has left Stark nerve-racked and an insomniac workaholic. A new global terrorist, very much in the Bin Laden mold, has oozed onto the scene: The Mandarin, from the comic books. As portrayed by Ben Kingsley, with a strange, Laurence Olivier-in-"The-Betsy" dialect, you're not quite sure where he's coming from, either geographically or ideologically, which is the point.

In a flashback to New Year's Eve 1999, Stark's encounters with inventor and entrepreneur Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) set the story in motion. Everything in Stark's life can be read as a Hollywood metaphor: Killian's the spurned fan, Maya's the disposable one-night-stand who, years later, comes back into his life. The nerd-turned-smoothie Killian, who has a bit of history with Stark's partner and lover Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is working on a human evolution project known as "Extremis."

Meantime, fire-breathing mutants are wreaking havoc, at one point taking down Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The Mandarin goes about his business, destroying Stark's home, slaughtering innocent civilians in the name of teaching America a lesson. Stark ends up in rural Tennessee, where in a gleefully cynical bid for a preteen audience (a few years too young for the violence in "Iron Man 3," I'd say), Stark befriends a bullied 8-year-old (Ty Simpkins) who becomes his tag-along and sometime savior.

A strange detail: In "Iron Man 3," Stark no longer needs to be in the Iron Man suit. He's able to operate the thing remotely when needed. The movie's like that too. It's decent superhero blockbustering, but rather remote and vaguely second-hand. At this point, even with Black's flashes of black humor, the machinery is more or less taking care of itself, offering roughly half of the genial wit and enjoyment of the first "Iron Man."

Black's not especially lucid or creative in staging massive action sequences; even the major set-piece, in which Stark attempts the mid-air rescue of Air Force One passengers, is a medium wow at best. (Which qualifies it more for "yeah, big whoop" status.) On the other hand, when the truth behind The Mandarin arrives, it's a wild "reveal" and very much in tune with Black's sense of self-referential showbiz humor, which he twisted into a very interesting pretzel in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang."

From the "Lethal Weapon" franchise to "The Last Boy Scout," Black loves jocular sadism, and there's a lot of it (too much) in "Iron Man 3." When Stark goes on a killing spree, it's as if we've been dropped back into Mel Gibson/Danny Glover-land. For all the trauma Stark's supposed to be shouldering, Downey rarely seems less than superhumanly cool. He's a huge talent, verbally adroit and quick on his feet, even when the feet are encased in digital metal. But one of the things I resisted about the second "Iron Man," the parts where Stark became a badly behaved, trashed-out party boy, has cooled into a kind of imperious remove in "Iron Man 3."

No less than "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which placed a detective story inside the world of Hollywood wannabes, "Iron Man 3" treats Stark and Downey as untouchable superstars, just gliding through. It's not without its payoffs; I enjoyed a lot of it. But overall last year's "Avengers" delivered the bombastic goods more efficiently than this year's Marvel.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'Iron Man 3' -- 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating:
PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content)
Running time: 2:09
Opens: Thursday midnight

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Top 50 superhero movies of the last 10 years

    Since 2002 there have been arguably 50 movies about superheroes. Arguably, because genre is tricky; it's often variations on a theme, and some variations are less obvious than others. ("Star Wars," for instance, a bit of a space western, is no one's picture of the western genre.) Oh, also: Because...

  • Who are the early Oscars 2014 favorites?

    Who are the early Oscars 2014 favorites?

    Now that Ben Affleck has shaved his good-luck Oscar beard, it's safe to officially close the book on the 2012-13 awards season so we can cast a small peek at the treasures that await. What will the best picture race look like? Here are 10 candidates (release dates may change): -- Glenn Whipp, Tribune...

  • 'Iron Man 3'

    'Iron Man 3'

    Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in "Iron Man 3."

  • Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued Chicago's former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million on grounds the entire program was built on a $2 million bribery scheme at City Hall that has already led to federal corruption convictions.

  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

Comments
Loading
78°