This proves symptomatic for a film so cock-sure of its box-office prowess — and don’t for a minute think it won’t be huge this spring/early summer — that the movie nearly blows up the very reason why anyone other than diehards care about “Iron Man.” No, not Iron Man but his billionaire inventor turned superhero, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).
Tony is back in fine form, I’m happy to report. Suave, dashing, easy with the quips, highly flawed, absurd in his intelligence — and occasional stupidity — Tony is the Man (forget Iron).
I won’t say this third go-round — infinitely better than the second but then anything would be — reduces Tony’s stature but his routine coms off as perfunctory, perhaps an example of franchise fatigue.
More to the point, the film minimizes the Stark banter in favor of anxiety issues that are neither persuasive nor acutely interesting.
What everyone including Jon Faverau, director of the first two films of this franchise and pulling double duty here as exec producer and actor, seems to forget is that the Marvel Comics film series got off to such a splendid start — well received by audiences and critics alike — not because an iron suit flew around the globe but because of the inimitable Stark.
The new edition finds half a dozen potential movies fighting for hegemony. Perhaps the most interesting one lies in the notion of a superhero who loses, or at least seriously misplaces, his powers, then has to start over from scratch.
Alas, this gets deeply entangled in other story lines such as a terrorist (Ben Kingsley) and a bombing that comes too close to recent events for comfort and a Stark ex-girlfriend (Rebecca Hall) and her wily benefactor (Guy Pearce), the film’s nominal villain and a rather dull one, I’m afraid.
Other lines of attack include Stark’s current squeeze, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), badly cast adrift for much of the film only to return to make an improbable stab at super heroism herself; the returning Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who is perhaps one good guy too many; and, refreshingly, an engaging young lad (Ty Broussard) for whom Tony serves as an erratic role model.
None of these story lines takes ahold since the film is not so much in 3D — although it is in some cinemas — as in its own dimension of overheated digital effects.
The choreographer (surely not a director in the sense we’re accustomed to) is risen-from-the-dead Shane Black, the iconic screenwriter of late ’80s and ’90s machismo, who evidently got along with Downey well enough as the auteur of the undervalued film-noir parody “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” — which also marked Downey’s comeback from personal problems — that he got this big-bucks gig.
Black does all right, keeping the pace snappy and humor lively. However, the film relies heavily on set pieces where two out of three ain’t bad.
The destruction of Stark’s Malibu lair and a mid-air skydiving rescue are first class. But a drawn-out climax, featuring so many Iron Men that one loses track of who’s who, is long on CGI and short on inspiration. At this point, franchise fatigue definitely takes over.
“Iron Man 3” benefits, of course, from pro contributions of cinematographer John Toll, production designer Bill Brzeski and editors Jeffrey Ford and Peter S. Elliot.
Opens: May 3, 2013 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Production companies: A Marvel Studios presentation in association with Paramount Pictures and DMG Entertainment of a Marvel Studios production
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Ty Broussard, William Sadler, Dale Dickey, Miguel Ferrer, Paul Bettany
Director: Shane Black
Screenwriters: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Based on the Marvel comic book by: Stan Lee, Bill Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Producer: Kevin Fiege
Executive producers: Jon Favreau, Louis D’Esposito, Charles Newirth, Victoria Alonso, Stephen Broussard, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Dan Mintz
Director of photography: John Toll
Production designer: Bill Brzeski
Music: Brian Tyler
Costume designer: Louise Frogley
Editors: Jeffrey Ford, Peter S. Elliot
PG-13 rating, 130 minutes