Movie Review: Iron Man 3- Shane Black’s Dark Humor and Verbal Wit isn’t Enough to Save This Formulaic Ruination of the Original Comic

iron_man_3_trailer_19Marvel’s ridiculous dogmatic hold on their chosen formulaic plot structure for their films hasn’t yielded the best products when it comes to their character specific adventures, especially in upholding untouchable comic book material and characters. After the atrocity that was Iron Man 2, where Jon Favreau tinkered with not only one but two villain interpretations Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, it was clear that the reins of control might have to change hands in order to preserve the shreds of positive creativity that were rather limited. The decision to hire director/screenwriter Shane Black wasn’t an odd one because his incredible sharp wit would definitely compliment the narcissistic persona of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and has been evident before through penning the Lethal Weapon franchise and in his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But not even the darkly humoristic additions or the frenetic action sequences could salvage the complete bastardization of the comic in relation to the utter ruination of Iron Man’s devout nemesis, the Mandarin. Basically Iron Man 3 squanders needed guidance from its comic book source by completely ignoring its merits creating a storyline that is practically insulting to dedicated readers and longtime fans. What becomes crystal clear throughout the latest Iron Man installment is that Disney, with their unfettered franchise building of Marvel material, really doesn’t care about original fans and seem to be quite antagonistic towards their love of the origins and characters in the comics themselves. There’s no doubt that many desensitized moviegoers will find a great deal of enjoyment through Downey’s witty banter and Shane Black’s kinetic yet hollow action sequences, but the limitations posed by the Marvel formula is a creative barrier that needs to be eliminated. It never mattered who was piloting this cinematic suit, whether it was Jon Favreau or newcomer Shane Black, because the real villain behind the curtain is Disney and Marvel itself since their focus on potential merchandise in gadgetry has diminished the creative soul and drive of their pictures. Franchises might make money but sometimes, or most times when it comes to Marvel films, they make fools of us all when they claim ignorance to the original comics and create travesties of epic proportions much like Iron Man 3.

There’s almost no excuse to never follow the original comic or disregard essential characteristics because most of that creative originality and foundation will never be improved upon no matter who attempts to revamp them. In Iron Man 2 there were slight narrative influences from the “Demon in a Bottle” story arch but it was minimal at best and made into a humorous deviation of alcoholism rather than a true dramatically reflective expansion of complexity on Tony Stark’s character. With Iron Man 3 screenwriter Shane Black has borrowed the “Extremis” story arch but it’s more of a template rather than a dedicated guideline and he manipulates the details freely much like Jon Favreau did with “Demon in a Bottle.” Taking place after the events of Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3 follows Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as he suffers from anxiety and unexplained mental stress in the midst of a wave of attacks from a new terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Unfortunately the script doesn’t take full advantage of either Tony’s mental state or follow through with the introduction of Iron Man’s arch nemesis treating them as shallow plot decisions instead of deep existential character changing challenges. The real focus of the script is in setting up ridiculous twists and creating an artificial conspiracy that is so overdone and familiar it seems as though the film might enter a realm of self-parody. Black does indeed inject his signature dark wit throughout Iron Man 3 but almost to the point of exhaustion and tonal inconsistency where moments of sincerity are counteracted by an unrelenting barrage of verbal mockery. It’s appreciated to see an attempt of introducing some seriousness to the tone and direction of Iron Man but it is never fully sought out appearing to be a shallow deviation rather than an inspired artistic choice. Each segment of the Iron Man trilogy never focuses on expanding the flaws or complexities of the character Tony Stark because the main focus is in the introduction of new gadgets, which are as clunky as the storyline itself. While Shane Black attempts to bring a darkly humorous and tonally serious approach to Iron Man there is no doubt that Disney’s dogmatic control over the formula of the plot is a detriment to expanding its full creative potential.


Perhaps the storyline issues aren’t completely the fault of Shane Black since Disney is notorious for guiding the creativity of any of their directly produced works to fit their family focused agenda making it difficult to break out of their adopted formula. However, it seems Black was also quite strained in the venue he should be most comfortable in, which is creating intense action sequences. To say that most of the action in Iron Man 3 comes off tedious and boring is actually putting it mildly because the progression of the action seems intent on showcasing as many new special effects tricks rather than keeping them related to Stark’s struggles. Watching Iron Man 3 is much like watching a second person playing a video game; it can be visually engaging but it’s never as fun as actually playing the game. The first half of Iron Man 3 undoubtedly had incredible potential of launching the film into new territory not only with Stark’s anxiety attacks but also with the hostile and direct attack on his home and loved ones by the Mandarin. It’s rare in superhero films, especially in the Marvel variety, when the hero’s comfortable sense of security is directly targeted putting everything he’s built, technologically and romantically, in jeopardy. Unfortunately that first hour ends with a defeatist whimper and falls back on the familiar formula creating action based on spectacle rather than necessity. The final battle has as much technological chaos as Michael Bay’s Transformers and never has the vulnerable sense of urgency that the first hour successfully handled. Because all of these Marvel films follow a known formula everything becomes expected and nothing is surprising. It’s also a waste of Shane Black’s cinematic talent that was evident in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang since his proclivity for verbally excessive scenes and darkly comical moments are his strong suit. There is no signature visual style and an absence of innovative techniques because Black needs Iron Man 3 to match up visually with all of the Marvel films, a choice that has equal disadvantages to its consistent franchise advantages. There are bouts of entertaining moments throughout Iron Man 3, mostly thanks to a talented cast of familiar characters and new ones, but those are the exceptions to the overall disappointment that it becomes both in story and in action delivery.

The consistency to the Marvel formula does have some benefits when it comes to the talented actors they choose to embody the personas of their eclectic superheroes. It’s no surprise that Robert Downey Jr. continues to be exceedingly charming playing Tony Stark, a role that seems to allow his cavalier personality to brightly shine. Downey has the ability to elevate insubstantial film material to be at a basic level guiltily entertaining, which he successfully does in the Sherlock Holmes franchise but also throughout Iron Man 3 battling against the familiar twists and flimsy script. Despite the awful interpretations of the two villains Dr. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) there is no denying their captivating acting capabilities, especially Kingsley’s menacing presence that is abysmally shattered near the end of the film. Mandarin is Iron Man’s arch nemesis or the equivalent of Lex Luthor to Superman so the film takes that concept and completely throws it out the window ruining not only Kingsley’s performance but also the entire experience for fans of the comic. Pearce as Aldrich Killian has an equally charming and menacing presence but it’s a character that is misinterpreted and made into a villain when he isn’t one in the comic which puts a weight on his aspect of the storyline. These aren’t faults of the actors who do a compelling job in their given roles but it’s all for not when the script’s weaknesses begin to seep into the presentation of the characters new and old. A superhero is only as good as their villain and unfortunately for Iron Man 3 that doesn’t end up as a formula for success. No matter how competent all of these actors are, from the always impeccable Rebecca Hall to the incessantly charming Robert Downey Jr., the material needs to be fully paved to highlight all of their finer qualities but that doesn’t occur in either Shane Black’s writing or his direction of the action.

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Disney’s acquisition of the Marvel material has proven a great success in building tonally consistent chapters in their superhero franchises, however their focus has never been on the stories but instead on building opportunities for future income. Giving the creative reins to an accomplished screenwriter such as Shane Black seems as though it would be a wise decision but his sharp wit and dark humor are greatly underutilized in the chosen Marvel formula. Iron Man 3 might have some finer qualities in its dark humor and touch of seriousness but it’s no better than its equally lackluster predecessor Iron Man 2 because there’s a ghost in this Iron Man machine meaning it’s empty of any actual human qualities and becomes a hollow piece of franchise machinery. Fans of the comic who are familiar with the characters and events in the “Extremis” story arch will be appalled by Black’s interpretation because it messes around with untouchable material that would be deemed sacrilegious if done to any other notable literary or graphic work. Though there are moments of genuine entertainment, either in Downey Jr.’s witty banter or the first half’s engaging action sequences, Iron Man 3 is an unmistakable travesty, a mess of epic proportions, a complete disregard for the untouchable qualities in the original comic, and a soulless cog in the wheels of the franchise machine.

Grade: C+

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