The best thing about Iron Man Three is Robert Downey, Jr. If this trilogy proves anything, it is that Downey’s best natural gift is his mouth. He has a rapid-fire delivery in which it takes you a second to register what he just said. Like Groucho Marx, his mouth is always ready with a verbal gag almost before he can complete the thought. He is really a wonderful comedian with the ability to mix the comedy with a certain amount of vulnerability. This is a rare and precious gift at a time when most screenplays march their characters through wooden, pedestrian dialogue that only functions to move the characters from one plot development to another. For Downey, it is such a unique gift that, while you’re watching Iron Man Three, you realize that he alone is keeping the movie from becoming a crushing bore. By this point (this is his fourth go-around in the role) his verbal gifts are still fresh and have become the buoy to a series that – hate to admit it – is running out of gas.
Iron Man Three is a well-made, skillful action movie – the special effects are convincing, some of the action scenes work, but they are at the service of a plot that is completely canned. Here again is another story of a superhero battling an army of super-villains who want to take over the world while also dealing with domestic issues that no suit of iron can fix.
The suit, for Stark, has become the same prison that it was for Batman, only in Stark’s case he has become dependent on it. How does one balance time with the girlfriend and saving the world? He could do this because the public has fallen in love with War Machine, a new Iron Man occupied by Tony’s pal James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). This should leave Tony more time to be with girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) but she complains that he is spending all his time in the lab building new Iron Man suits.
Domestic bliss is only part of Stark’s problem. The latest threat to civilization is someone calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an impressive-looking cloaked figure with his own private army that has been committing acts of terrorism on every shore. They seem invincible, they attack and walk away unscathed due to new developments in regenerative genetics (don’t ask).
In a development that still has me scratching my head, Stark goes on television and makes an unbelievably stupid proclamation to The Mandarin by giving him his home address with no plan to defend it! What?! Why? Why would you do that? Why would a guy smart enough build a flying metal suit do something that rash and stupid? Why would he not build himself a metal fortress around the house to defend it? Why does he have the nerve to look surprised when the Mandarin’s goons start bombing the place back to the Stone Age? Not only does this idiotic decision put his own life in jeopardy but it puts Pepper’s life in danger too. She goes missing.
Okay, so let’s talk about Pepper. The first movie allowed Tony and Pepper time to develop a sweet romance. The chemistry was there and we felt for them. This movie keeps them apart for most of the film. We’re told how much Tony loves her (he narrates the story) but their scenes together are all too brief and, hate to say it, not very magical.
The presence of The Mandarin, you should know, is also all-too brief. This character is to Iron Man what The Joker is to Batman, but there’s a problem here: He’s hardly in the movie. You’ll be alarmed when you realize that 95% of Ben Kingsley’s performance was captured in the trailer and that the movie reveals a plot development that relegates him to a cameo role. If you were looking for a big showdown between Downey and Kingsley, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Much of the plot can’t be revealed here without spoilers, suffice to say the movie is entertaining without being extraordinary. You’ll find that the action scenes get the job done, but if you’re looking for world-class plot development, you’d do best look elsewhere. Director Shane Black, the scribe responsible for the screenplays to The Last Boy Scout, The Last Action Hero and the Lethal Weapon movies injects a refreshing sense of humor onto a dead plot and wisely makes time for Robert Downey, Jr. to simply do what he does best, just talk. Unless he’s giving his address to his enemies, then he should just shut up.