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Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Culture | 17 comments

Iron Man 3 – a review (or an excuse for one) SPOILERS

This morning I saw Iron Man 3, which was launched in Australia well ahead of the US (as happens with many of the cinema blockbusters these days). I was looking forward to this movie, which seemed to have many of the ingredients for success, but I came home feeling disappointed.

Despite the big “SPOILERS” warning in my heading, I don’t intend to say much to spoil it. At the same time, you’ve been warned. If you don’t want any clues, stop reading now.

First, the good. The performances are generally of high quality. Yet again, Robert Downey Jr. gives us a fine portrayal of Tony Stark, showing the genius superhero’s mix of strength and weakness, of pride and humility. Stark/Iron Man is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after the experiences depicted in The Avengers, and he is forced to battle throughout with his inner demons as well as his (super)human enemies. This comes across well. Likewise, Gwyneth Paltrow is reliable in the role of Pepper Potts. They gain our sympathy in every scene, always seeming like the courageous underdogs against dangerous opponents who, in fact, do them great harm before it’s all over. In particular, Guy Pearce performs superbly, creating an especially terrifying villain.

I should also commend the way the movie depicts something that has been said before, perhaps often, about Tony Stark. His real super powers are not the capacities of whatever suit of armour he happens to be wearing. They are his essentially superhuman technoscientific intellect, his genius as an improviser and tactician, and his extraordinary courage beneath the self-doubt, and the psychological brittleness. This aspect is portrayed clearly and underlined by strong scenes; indeed, this alone might make the movie worthwhile for fans of the franchise. It is a bold, yet readily recognisable, vision of the character.

But the movie is too long, too self-indulgent, too dependent on special effects, and at times too confusing. It ends with a huge, extended battle scene involving much industrial wreckage, as if we haven’t had enough of those.

As is well known, Iron Man 3 features a version of The Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), one of Iron Man’s classic villains from the Silver Age comics, almost an equivalent to Magneto, Loki, or Doctor Doom. The Mandarin has always been a difficult opponent for Stark – a genius in his own right with superhuman fighting skills (in the comics, his karate blows can shatter steel) and a set of rings that effectively gives him a whole array of powers. However, what the moviemakers end up doing to the character is a travesty. You’ll see what I mean. The Mandarin was inevitably going to be difficult to translate to a contemporary live-action movie – he was originally something of a Fu Manchu lookalike, which sends immediate suggestions of racism. So it was going to be a challenge to create a version that was viable for the big screen at this point in the twenty-first century. I was anticipating how Iron Man 3 might rise to that challenge… only to see a bathetic failure. Even if you’re not a fan of the character, you’re in for an anti-climax.

I really wanted to like Iron Man 3. And I did like some things about it, such as the performances from Downey, Paltrow, and Pearce. But overall it was a movie that I could have done without. Obviously your mileage may vary. Feel free to disagree with me.