Iron Man 3: A Bit of Conservatism, A Lot of Fun
Moviegoing politicos will find little material for debate from Iron Man 3. What they will find in this latest installment of the Avengers franchise is an excellent entry in the Marvel canon.
The previous two films saw a very pro-American-power, and even at times conservative-sounding stance. The villains that billionaire tech genius Tony Stark encountered in Iron Man brought back a little of that post-9/11 ethos of an America unified against Middle Eastern terrorism. Iron Man 2 was probably the most stark (pun intended) in its denouncement of meddling Government: Tony literally tells the Senate Armed Services Committee, “You want my property? You can’t have it,” and states outright, “I’m tired of the liberal agenda. It’s boring.”
Iron Man 3 has shades of the same. A red-white-and-blue Iron Patriot suit piloted by Colonel James Rhodes (“Rhodey”) is integrated into national security (Stark still owns the rest of them). Small-town Tennessee forms the set of the middle of the movie, and in one scene a Department of Homeland Security agent has a red-hot tussle with a local police officer there, who questions her authority in his jurisdiction. The DHS agent turns out to be in league with the villain. Seems centralized police forces aren’t always benevolent. A nod to federalism and local sovereignty?
The plot takes a while to unfold, and the twist is easily foreseeable. The terrorist threat now comes from the Mandarin, a mysterious figure who claims responsibility for a series of bombings around the United States. An old scientist acquaintance that Tony met at a conference back in 1999 (a great throwback to the first movie, if you remember Yinsen) is also taking dangerous liberties with human DNA. The result is humans who can scorch through an Iron Man suit with nothing but a flat hand.
Mostly, though, this movie’s just a great time. With the inclusion of the Mandarin, and especially toward the beginning, it holds a sense of gravitas fairly well. With all the sleuthing and downtime in the midst of the action, it’s evident that writer/director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce are going for a more grandiose, Dark Knight-style tone, and they pull it off to some degree. But with an often flippant character like Tony Stark, it’s difficult for that stone to sink all the way down. Indeed, Stark is not Bruce Wayne — and would we really want him to be?
Some critics derided the film for a lack of character development, but miss what this installment is going for. Black and Pearce assume wide audience knowledge of the first two films, and rightly so in a franchise that is so interwoven and popular. We rejoin Tony Stark after the Avengers’ final battle in New York against the alien horde of Chitauri. Because of those events, Tony is suffering from insomnia, and in an early scene he learns he’s also having anxiety attacks. Far from a cheesy, thrown-in malady that fails to give depth, this is a subversive way to show Stark’s humanity, especially to himself. It slips in from the side: he thinks something’s seriously wrong at first and is skeptical when J.A.R.V.I.S. informs him it’s a simple anxiety attack. For someone so ingenious and “made of iron”, it throws him off. It seems impossible that he should fall to something so mundane.
This is where Iron Man 3 recognizes that it must depart from its predecessors. Because Stark is a “normal human,” bereft of special powers besides his intellect and charisma, Iron Man has always been the most realistic of the Avengers films to date. The first Iron Man cemented this fact, with a very on-the-ground feel of war and terrorism. Now, however, Tony knows extraterrestrial forces and demigods are real, and he is understandably shaken–an effect that sometimes goes unacknowledged in comic universes. The reality crumbles a bit, and Pearce and Black use this to bring out slightly more fantastical villains.
One critic noted that Stark spends a lot of time outside the suit, and that’s true. He laments that the audience has to wait for the action, but this is part of the point. By the end, Tony learns that he is Iron Man without the suit, and the rest of the movie bears that out. He invents things on the fly while his suit is in the shop. He is forced to use the suit in pieces. And by design, he removes himself from his “high-tech prosthesis” — controlling it remotely when it’s strategic to do so. Whereas in the previous two installments the race was all about who would control the suits, this enemy can cut through Stark’s gold-titanium alloy with its bare hands. This fact forces Stark to have to adapt himself, not just his technology.
Final recommendation: Go see it before it leaves theaters. If you’re a Marvel fan at all (and even if you’re not), you’ll be well satisfied.by