Saturday, May 4, 2013

He Who Fights Evil With The Coolest Toys Wins

Reel To Reel: Iron Man 3

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Action violence, several references to sex, mild language

I wonder how Sigmund Freud would've analyzed Tony Stark. He could spend hours delving into the clash between Stark's id and super-ego, and how his psyche is constantly trying to mediate between the two. My unprofessional diagnosis finds hims to be a walking think-tank, an arrogant supercomputer with ADD that processes information at the highest possible data rate. He designs amazingly smart gadgets, but he's always smarter than any of them, which means Iron Man 3 isn't about the suit, it's about the man who wears it.

But we knew that. We knew it from the original, which turned out to be a bigger hit than people expected, largely because Robert Downey Jr.'s character is so compelling to watch. Iron Man 2 pushed Stark's quirks, which became too much of a distraction. Then came The Avengers, which should've been renamed Iron Man 2.5 for the way he stole the show. Now comes the official third chapter, one that's human and interestingly low-tech in many places.

Stark is constantly working to improve his Iron Man suits, and we see him working on a feature probably inspired from a Harry Potter summoning charm. Or maybe it was Luke Skywalker's light-saber procuring trick. Work seems to be helping him deal with anxiety issues he developed during The Avengers, and he has several shiny new prototypes ready to go.

It looks like he'll need them all. A maniac terrorist named The Mandarin (Kingsley) is breaking into television broadcasts and blowing things up. He's supposed to remind us of Osama Bin Laden, but he sounds more like Dr. Evil after walking onto the set of Kung Fu. What's more, tracking him is frustrating authorities because his handiwork doesn't leave the kind of shrapnel one expects from IED's. (The timing of this film had to cause concerns for Marvel and Paramount Pictures, coming less than a month after the Boston Marathon bombings. No doubt some of the images will be especially disturbing for people.)

Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is back as Tony's girlfriend and personal assistant, but she's getting tired of Tony's suit collection and work habits. She's running Tony's company by proxy when a suitor walks in. Aldrich Killian (Pearce) has a miracle treatment to regenerate lost limbs, only they run a little hot in the process. We learn this is the same guy Tony brushed off years ago during a 1999 New Years' Eve party, which means he must be evil under Hollywood's laws for movie villains. Also returning is Stark's buddy, Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Cheadle) in a cheesy "Iron Patriot" clone.

Iron Man 3 finds the right dosage of Stark's character while giving him more vulnerability. At times he is forced to go old-school, playing more the detective than the mad scientist. He befriends a child (Ty Simpkins) as he tries to get his suit fixed. Their relationship is not an emotional tack-on designed to milk our emotion, but a working partnership that advances the story. Oh yeah, there's action, too. We have huge, over-the-top armor battles where Tony gets to surprise us over and over with his Iron Man gizmos, bugs and all.

I still think the first installment of the series is the best of the lot, but the third ranks a close second, with The Avengers a close third. A sequel to that picture is now in the works, and now the question is, how much has Tony Stark got left in his mind?

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