Iron Man 3 (2013)

Adam Clarke is impressed that the Mandarin was somehow less goofy than Bane.

Caveat blogtor: This review contains spoilers for Iron Man 3. This is your final warning.

Having just quit smoking, Iron Man 3 earns the distinction of being the first film I saw last week in which I never once craved the sweet, tangy taste of cigarette juice. At no point did I shift uncomfortably in my seat, become depressed or rush and attack the screen in a misplaced attempt to deal with nicotine withdrawal.

That in itself is a minor miracle.

Iron Man 3 is an above-average entry in the increasingly indistinguishable genre of comic book movies. Not as introspective or unpredictable as Nolan’s Batman films, nor as cheerfully entertaining as Raimi’s Spider-Man or Whedon’s Avengers, Iron Man 3 is a largely enjoyable throwback to action films of the 80’s.

That 80’s/early 90’s action vibe is natural given that this film was co-written and directed by the creator of Lethal Weapon, Shane Black (who wrote and directed the fantastic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also with Robert Downey Jr). So, we have an action film with a smarmy, rich villain with slicked-back hair (Guy Pearce, looking like Val Kilmer circa Top Gun), a vaguely foreign pseudo-villain (Ben Kingsley) and two of Iron Man 3‘s many action climaxes occur at a deserted building site and a miami beach house. Hell, even Miguel Ferrer is in this movie! The only way the film could feel like more of a relic of my youth would be if Brian Tyler’s funky score was dropped in favor of a series of soundtrack cues from the late Michael Kamen.

In addition to those standard tropes of the action movies of that period, we also have the presence of a little kid semi-sidekick not unlike Robocop 3, Temple Of Doom, Last Action Hero (because in 1994 this had already descended into self-parody), etc. Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) doesn’t add much to the proceedings save a feeling of action movie familiarity for those between the ages of 27 and 40. Unlike the previous examples I referenced, Iron Man 3 benefits from the fact that Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is just as snarky to Harley as he is to everyone else.

The plot for the previous Iron Man was silly and this film doesn’t break the trend, but it’s hard to care when a movie is this fun. The movie is as silly as Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin voice and, unlike the laughable Bane from The Dark Knight Spends Most Of This Movie In A Pit, that silliness is fully intentional. Kingsley’s bungling actor seems to be channelling “Walph Bwown” from Withnail & I.

The most interesting aspect of the film was the comparative methods of its heroes and villains. It’s no secret that The Mandarin is actually a puppet for the machinations of Guy Pearce’s immoral scientist, Killian. But the film is all about the importance of figureheads and icons. The Mandarin is meant to be a powerful image; a mass-market bin Laden. Tony Stark, recovering from the events of The Avengers, keeps Iron Man as a symbol of heroism and invulnerability by using empty suits to perform some of his super-heroics. Just as the Mandarin becomes a media banner for global terrorism, Iron Man could really be everywhere at once.

Neither as over-the-top as the second film or as engaging as the first, Iron Man 3 was an enjoyably silly romp that recaptures what was so fun about action movies past.

Post-script: Adam Clarke has smoked 2 cartons of cigarettes since writing this review and its publication.