The Surprise of WTF: Iron Man 3

Remember the guy in Predator with the glasses? Who tells the dirty jokes and was the first of Ahnuld’s crew of badasses to be eviscerated by the Predator? I think his name was Hawkins? He was played by a fellow by the name of Shane Black, best known for writing Lethal Weapon. The story is that he was working on the script for Lethal Weapon at the time Predator was being filmed, and producer Joel Silver wanted him around so he could review the script, so I guess they just decided to give him a supporting role while they were at it.

Now, twenty-six years after the release of Predator, along comes Iron Man 3, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was directed by none other than, you guessed it, Shane Black. Yep, that nerdy-looking dude from Predator who got eviscerated before anyone else directed and co-wrote one of the biggest films of the year (seriously, Iron Man 3 made somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 million dollars over its opening weekend, second only to The Avengers, which coincidentally was the last movie Iron Man made an appearance in).

Black was an interesting choice of director for a megabudget blockbuster like Iron Man 3, since his only previous directing credit was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a fantastic little neo-noir (also starring Robert Downey Jr.) that flew under the radar when it was first released but has since developed something of a cult following. I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s easily one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It’s hilariously funny, has some fun action scenes, the leads have great chemistry, and it pays homage to one of my favorite authors, Raymond Chandler. I need to do a full write-up of it sometime because it’s bloody brilliant and is also a Christmas movie! I meant to write about it last Christmas but ran out of time, so maybe I’ll save it for next Christmas…or maybe I won’t.

But back to Iron Man. 2008’s original Iron Man is widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies pretty much ever made, and with good reason: it’s smart, funny, well-acted, action-packed, and has a lot of heart. 2010’s Iron Man 2, while (in my opinion) hardly being the catastrophe people sometimes make it out to be, couldn’t help but feel a bit flat in comparison. The good news is that Iron Man 3 picks up the slack and moves along at a more brisk pace than the somewhat lackadaisical second installment. The not-so-good news is that the story is, well, kind of all-over-the-place.

In the aftermath of the events of The Avengers, our hero Tony Stark has been plagued by anxiety attacks and nightmares following his near-death at the end of that film. To combat this, he has taken to holing up in his lab/workshop and building suit after suit of badass Iron Man armor. His latest creation, Mark 42, is remote-controllable and Tony is able to summon it from long distances to attach to his body piece-by-piece. This is actually a really cool idea and the movie gets a lot of mileage out of it, both in terms of gags (like various armor pieces flying towards Tony’s sensitive male areas at high speeds) and action scenes (including a standout sequence where Tony thrashes a roomful of thugs with only part of his armor).

There’s also a new terrorist threat on the loose in the form of the Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, and a sketchy businessman named Aldrich Killian (people named Killian are Not To Be Trusted) played by Guy Pearce. For some reason that currently escapes me, the Mandarin has a serious vendetta against Tony, which leads to the spectacular destruction of Tony’s awesome mansion (this is not a spoiler, it was in all the trailers). From there, things get a bit…weird.

There’s only so much I can say about the plot without giving too much away, so all I’m going is to say is that there is a big plot twist regarding…well, I can’t say what the twist involves because to say even that would give away too much. Suffice to say that there’s a really big plot twist, and it’s a bit weird.

I’m honestly pretty torn about the big twist. Those of you who have seen the film will know which plot twist I’m referring to, and the way I see it there are two very distinct ways of viewing it.

In one sense, it’s a great twist because it is completely unexpected. It’s noteworthy that there was nothing whatsoever in the film’s extensive advertising to suggest this particular plot twist, and when it happens it is genuinely surprising. It’s impressive when the makers of one of the biggest films of the year are able to so completely pull the wool over viewers’ eyes.

On the other hand, it’s a terrible plot twist for all of the same reasons that make it a great plot twist. It’s jarring because it comes out of nowhere, and seems really out of place, and completely contrary to what the audience was expecting. Now that I’ve had a few days to think it over, I’ve decided that it is admittedly a clever and thoroughly unpredictable twist, but at the same time it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated by it.

Sigh. That’s the thing with big plot twists. They’re either brilliant or they suck. Or they’re both at the same time. It’s kind of confounding from a storytelling perspective.

So where do I go from here? Well, I’ve read some complaints of the film by people who think that there wasn’t enough actual Iron Man in the movie, since (mild spoiler alert) Tony himself doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in the Iron Man suits. This is mostly true, but I thought there was plenty of Iron Man in the movie (or Iron Men as the case may be), even if Tony himself wasn’t always wearing the suit (and if you think about it, there really wasn’t a whole lot of Batman in The Dark Knight Rises).

I think Shane Black said something about how the movie kind of pondered if there was more to Tony Stark as a person and a hero than just the suits, and I think there is something to that idea. Iron Man 3 is almost more of a Tony Stark movie than an Iron Man movie, but, you know, I’m actually pretty okay with that. There are some fun action scenes where Tony has to rely on his brains more than his metal muscle, and these scenes are a fun and important reminder of just how smart and resourceful Tony is.

Despite some of the more jarring plot elements (and there are more and more of them as the film progresses), Iron Man 3 is still a fun and enjoyable movie with lots of great moments. It’s hard not to get a kick out of Downey’s buddy-chemistry with Don Cheadle, and watching them bicker and shoot at bad guys also brings to mind a couple of famous movie cops in another Shane Black-scripted action flick. Downey is as likable and cocky as ever, and Gwyneth Paltrow gets more to do as his lady love than just get captured and look nice (both of which she does). The rest of the supporting cast is solid, the special effects are top-notch and the film moves along briskly and is certainly never boring. There is also a post-credits scene well worth sitting through the end credits for.

Iron Man 3 is a film that perplexed me a bit as I left the theater. I had a lot of mixed emotions about it at first, but now that I’ve had some time to mull it over I think it’s a better film than I initially gave it credit for. There is a certain degree of WTF that I didn’t expect, but it’s a fun, well-made film and I will see it again. If you didn’t like it the first time you saw it, I’d really encourage you to give it another try. First impressions aren’t everything.

Surprise WTF rating: 7.66666(repeating), because why not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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