130 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
I’m too old to be watching superhero movies. Or most of them, anyway.
The itchy feeling that nagged me throughout “The Avengers” came back with double intensity during a preview of “Iron Man 3.” Basically it told me I didn’t care any more.
I didn’t care about the special effects, the lavish extravaganza of destruction, the fanboy-friendly in-jokes.
The things I do care about in movies are nowhere in evidence or so pushed to the periphery they have no weight or impact. Apparently there’s a rule that a comic book movie can’t have anything like genuine feeling, that this would be a violation of the pact with the audience.
It’s getting to be like masturbation. Something to get you through until the real thing comes along.
This is not to say that “Iron Man 3” — it was directed by action screenplay writer Shane Black — is terrible. As an example of the genre it’s pretty solid stuff. I’s precisely the kind of action-filled eye candy that makes American superhero movies popular around the globe.
It’s just that I don’t care. I now feel about the whole business like I do about Three Stooges shorts. The first one is fun. After that it’s…meeeeh.
Part of the problem is that once a franchise gets up and running, it feels stuck. I found the first “Iron Man” supremely entertaining because its hero, Tony Stark (delightfully played by Robert Downey Jr.) was a massive dick who by circumstance was forced to become someone better. It was a story about change. Human change.
Now, though, any change in the franchise has nothing to do with Tony but with his toys. Or his enemies. Tony himself is as frozen as a fly in amber.
A colleague tells me that his five-year-old hates superhero origin stories because they take too long to get to the smashing-things-up part. Five-year-olds are not big on character development. Apparently five-year-olds now make up the bulk of the worldwide moviegoing audience.
I suppose you’ll want to know some details about “Iron Man 3.”
Well, Tony has been tinkering with his Iron Man suits. Now the individual parts are “smart” and can fly around the globe to find their master. If Tony is in Miami and his dismantled suit is in, say, Tennessee, the parts will take off like a buzzing metallic insect swarm, zip across hundreds of miles and reassemble themselves around their master. In any other kind of movie this would be a sorta-interesting gimmick. Here it’s the biggest deal in the picture.
The villain is a vaguely Islamic, sorta Chinese dude called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who has the power to interrupt worldwide communications and pretty much declares war on Iron Man. It’s hard to get a handle on this guy, and a mid-film reveal (certainly the most clever thing in the picture) explains why. I can say no more.
There’s also a small army of genetically engineered baddies who can generate tremendous body heat and, under the wrong circumstances, actually explode in a mini-nuclear fireball. These creeps are led by a mad scientist (Guy Pearce) and they kidnap Tony’s squeeze, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).
A big chunk of the film finds Tony stranded in small-town Middle America without his usual resources, and he develops a kinda interesting relationship with a fatherless kid (Tye Simpkins) who helps him get his act back together. The relationship manages to avoid cutesiness because Tony insists on treating the tyke with the same sarcasm and arrogance he does everyone else.
Back again is Don Cheadle as Col. James Rhodes, who has his own version of the Iron Man suit. Cheadle is a good actor who, to me, always looks bored or lost in this role.
It all ends in a massive brawl that pretty much flattens the Port of Miami. But then Miami is already pretty flat.
| Robert W. Butler