Here it is, the new Iron Man post The Avengers, which it follows in timeline. And this is the first to be written and directed by Shane Black, who established his reputation for humor and action with the Lethal Weapon series. And it got good reviews and is said to be the best of the three. Which it may be, despite being a long, loud, emotionally-unengaging series of special effects and explosions, peppered with rather outrageously shameless product placements.
We open with a flashback to 1999, in which a pre-Iron Man Tony Stark meets lovely scientist Rebecca Hall as Maya, who shows him her work on self-repairing plants which have a tendency to explode when damaged. He also meets Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a scientist so nerdy that Stark blows him off with a casually cruel prank. Guess that's because in 1999, he hadn't yet seen The Incredibles.
In the present day, Tony is having trouble sleeping and panic attacks after what happened in The Avengers, although these will come to have absolutely no bearing on the story. He is finally in a full-on romance with Paltrow as Pepper Potts, although he's annoying her by buying her a twenty-foot-tall stuffed bunny with giant breasts, and sending his suit to greet her instead of himself. These remote-control suits are new, as well as suits that can find Tony and fly to him (implying that each little piece has its own propulsion system, hard to swallow) and there we are. On TV are terrorist attacks by a Bin Laden clone called The Mandarin, who wants... something? Never quite sure what. The movie traffics in images of real-life terrorism and serious issues it has no intention of addressing seriously, while you wonder how it became okay to see a hanging man lit on fire in a PG-13 film.
Things go along in a rote way until Tony's bodyguard is injured in an explosion, leading Tony to impulsively give out his address--his giant cliffside mansion would be otherwise unfindable, see--and helicopters come and blow it up. Tony escapes to Tennessee with everyone presuming him dead, where he meets a young boy who helps him get parts and make repairs. Then it turns out, wouldn't you know, that he just happened to fly right to the scene central to unraveling the plot, which escalates into a big battle that sees a water tower falling onto the town. The bad guys start glowing from inside and can heat themselves to thousands of degrees, which is a not-bad element as it makes them formidable foes.
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Soon Tony finds The Mandarin and discovers that he's just an actor to cover the tracks of the real bad guy, who is Killian. Pepper, meanwhile, is taken by Killian and tortured with the process that makes people heat up and explode. Blah, blah, it all comes down to a showdown atop these giant cargo cranes, with multiple Iron Man suits and--oh, but I forgot the part with Air Force One. At a certain point, a hole gets blown in the side of the plane and several people fall out, which Tony makes into a big human chain and deposits gently in the water. They clap and cheer for him, and this turns out to be by far the best sequence of the film, as it's the only that really makes anything of the 3D, and the only where we see real, human results from Tony's heroism.
Anyway, then we get to the showdown, where Pepper is discovered--and killed! This makes Tony slightly reflective for a moment, although at least he doesn't do what you're apparently supposed to when you see a loved one die, which is scream their name (as Pepper has done earlier when she presumed Tony dead). It's also hard to discern how, or if, Tony his moved by the death of "the one thing that matters most to him." Then there's more battle, more explosions, then--Pepper is resurrected! She uses her high-temp powers to kill Killian, and that's it. I was really hoping that she'd go off and, because of her issues with Tony (she had earlier walked out on him, although one might not have noticed) she would go on to become the supervillain of part 4, but no, she's instantly cured, and soon after, Tony has all the shrapnel removed from his chest so he can have the little reactor in his chest removed, which--why not do that before? If it's so easy?
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So midway through this movie it occurred to me: I am not involved in this film at all. It's just a series of actions and wisecracks and explosions. I don't understand what the villain's ultimate plan is, and how any of what we're seeing has anything to do with it. The movie is over and I still have no idea what the villain was trying to accomplish. I also don't understand what the numerous setpieces, from the Tennessee fight to the Air Force One thing to the final battle on the cranes have to do with anything. I have no idea what finally happened to Rebecca Hall, or why she was in the movie at all. I have no idea why Pepper was walking out on Tony. It's all just a steady stream of incredibly expensive hot gas.
Also killing story involvement is the lack of emotional involvement. Tony's a fun character, but his glibness about everything means we never see him get upset about anything, and having such an emotionally flat character results in an emotionally flat response. The irony is that this movie is apparently trying to increase the emotional stakes, by having his friend be injured and loved one die, not to mention the panic attacks that contribute absolutely nothing, but none of it sticks, and we know it won't matter. So many people in these movies are resurrected with such frequency, we know by now that the only time someone will actually stay dead is when the script requires it.
Contrast this with The Avengers, which pared down the action sequences to two major ones so that they could have impact, and the climax was actually the climax, not just last in a series of events. When someone died in that movie, the characters actually slowed down to react, and thus it gave the overall story some momentum and emotional stakes. That movie showed that it was possible to have a huge spectacle and action blowout with a story and characters you actually cared about.
This movie is enough to make me wonder why people--myself included--continue to go see these blockbusters, when they are really virtually indistinguishable. This one has done particularly well at the box office, and after a while you have to think: WHY?!?!? Why do people go out and see the exact same movie over and over and over again? This one had Iron Man, the other has Kirk and Spock, the other has Vin Diesel, the other has Duane Johnson, but they all have the same rhythm, the same lack of story--or collection of busy incident that passes for story--they all have the action scenes every ten minutes, they all have the same CGI effects. This one blows up this city and that one blows up the other city. Last year three movies featured beams that shot up into the sky, this year three movies feature people being sucked out of airplanes. It must simply be testament to that when a movie is good, it can be very fun, because one is drawn to keep going back, like with some sort of drug addict, hoping this next hit will equal the good one. It's sad--and it's sad to think there are people out there who think this is a "good movie." Acceptable way to pass time, perhaps, no better or worse than anything else, but not a "good movie."