Warning: This review contains spoilers and assumes you have seen the film. I have no interest in rehashing through summary.
I went to the movies yesterday and I watched ALL the Iron Man: Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and the premiere of Iron Man 3. Loved the first movie, enjoyed the second, adored the third…
Hated Iron Man 3. It was mediocre-bordering-on-bad. I am offended by its existence. The whole setting-it-during-Xmas schtick was a pointless inclusion of a director’s trademark that had no thematic link to anything going on in the movie. Rather than serving the film’s story or theme, it was an egotistical inclusion by a narcissistic hack. The script itself was completely generic. I know amazing writers who can’t make a living wage doing what they do, and some hack got paid for this regurgitated dreck? A President in trouble, the VP plotting with some stock science vengeful-nerd to take the President’s place, none of them effective or fleshed-out characters we care about. They were just plug-and-play symbols of an ‘omg, threat!’ trope plot #6, which was how the script handled pretty much everything, including Pepper (UGH!). Oh Pepper. We will get back to Pepper later.
But yes. The script. You know how they took a script for a Tim Powers adaptation, filed off the serial numbers, plopped in Jack Sparrow, and called it Pirates of the Caribbean 4? It feels like they did that here, except this concept lacked the charm of a Tim Powers novel. It was random 90’s action movie plot/script #3 with Tony Stark and The Mandarin plopped in. ALL of the villains were laughable cut-outs with no appeal or plausibility, and that includes Tony’s internal PTSD demons. Because none of the villains had the menace of Obadiah Stane or Mickey Rourke-as-Whiplash, their defeat was just an excuse for things going explodey. There was no tension or threat.
That goes doubly for Tony’s PTSD. There was one good menacing scene dealing with that (where the uninhabited suit attacks Pepper), but the other instances were played almost for comedic effect. And the resolution made no sense at ALL. The people close to him notice but don’t seem to really care, he has a few freak outs, and then some random kid is all "You have PTSD? Well, you’re a mechanic. Build something." Except we already know that’s what he has been doing this entire time!
Doesn’t matter. For plot reasons (rather than interesting character development reasons), going out and building something with stuff from Home Depot cures™ Tony. I think that the writers were trying to harken back to the sea change Tony had at the start of the first film, but the kid was no Yinsen, and the results did not have the impact of the Mark I suit blowing up all of Stark Industries’ weapons tech that had been co-opted by terrorists.
THAT was good storytelling. THIS was MacGuyver starring in a Die Hard film. And not in a good way.
Speaking of generic action flicks, there were too many set pieces that were vaguely interesting while they were on-screen, but seemed like pointless time-wasting in retrospect. Like the skydiving 13 who-the-fuck-cares. That should have been Rhodey, Pepper, Happy, hell, even the kid and his absent family, if you wanted me to care.
Similarly, the final showdown was in a visually-interesting location, but it didn’t have any narrative resonance. The film hopped around a lot and destroyed the one location we DID care about at the end of the first act, which made everything afterwards feel sort of aimless and pointless. Lots of action in interesting set-pieces… but I had no real reason to care about any of it. The final showdown could have been so much more.
For example, if you want emotional resonance, have that shit play out in the skies over Stark Industries. It parallels the destruction of Tony’s house in the first act. You’ve already shown us that you’ll blow up Tony’s house. Threaten to blow up his business, all his employees (i.e., his extended family), his fricken LEGACY. We’ve seen he doesn’t care much about it… but you can use the narrative arc of the film to bring him BACK to caring about it, so that by the climax, the threat to Stark Industries is even more real and more painful than the destruction of his home in the first act.
Moreover, have the bio-body-burny-McGuffinStuff be a project that Tony was funding, and that Stark’s teams were developing. That way, Tony becomes responsible for the threat and destruction because he’s been so busy superheroing it up that he hasn’t been paying attention to his back yard. That ties all this in to the first assertion he makes in the voice-over introduction, where he says everything that happened is due to demons he unknowingly created in his more self-involved days. In the film as it stands, Tony gets rid of a socially-awkward guy who is inappropriately trying to pitch a business proposition in an elevator full of sexy women (and Tony) during a New Year’s Eve party. Tony does this by telling the guy he’ll meet him later… and then he doesn’t show up.
That… is the villain’s origin story. Can I just say… LAMEST ORIGIN STORY EVER!
But if Tony doesn’t listen to the villain because he wants to get with the hot neurobotanist-McGuffin-Science-Specialist chick, and just hires him without looking into his background to know he’s crazy-sauce. If Tony sets up a secret project for him that he is too drunk to remember later… well, it needs more layers of development, but at least it is slightly more interesting.
Honestly, the whole pot of random villain soup needs seasoning, because they were all pretty comically bad and inept and non-threatening, especially compared to the power and resonant stakes of Obadiah Stane or the combined threat and comedic ineptitude of Whiplash/Hammer (or… Loki. Cause nobody can villain it up like Loki). The villains were such a wasted opportunity. This was THE MANDARIN! Yes, you should work to avoid the yellow menace racist issues, but there are way better ways to do that. Make him a suave Hong Kong businessman who is getting the burning-uppy drug through corporate espionage in an attempt to live forever, Chinese emperor-style, or to make his workers work longer hours in some dark reflection of Stark Industries’ own manufacturing practices that Pepper is trying to fix, or… I don’t know. Something other than Hippie Ben Kingsley and sleazy 80’s Don Johnson Wanna-be Guy Pearce.
So. On to fixing my other big gripe, which was how they dealt with Pepper Potts. Part of the reason Pepper is awesome is that she’s just a regular woman who is INSANELY competent at what she does. That is not the Pepper-appearing-in-this-film. Instead, we get action-movie-fem-trope #2: the Unsatisfied-Girlfriend™ who just Doesn’t-Understand™ the hero’s current trauma. She has a Romantic-History™ with the bad guy, and current Sparks™ with him due to the hero Neglecting-Her™. She Does-Nothing-of-Interest™ until she gets Kidnapped™, used as Leverage™, and infected with the Villain’s-Evil-Serum™ so that the hero has to Rescue™ her. Then she Dies-But-Not-Really™ and comes back as a Reluctant-Badass™.
This is not the Pepper who brought Coulson and Shield into Stark Industries to stop Obadiah Stane. This is not the Pepper who got Hammer arrested and cleared the park while Tony was dealing with Whiplash. This is… not Pepper. And if you REALLY want to consider just how limp and useless she was in the final battle, compare how active she was to how active Rhodey was. Both normal humans. She lies there floppy and moaning Tony’s name; Rhodey kicks butt and saves the President.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that this was a plug and play script.
Fixing Pepper wouldn’t just make me happy, it could also fix a good chunk of what is wrong with the middle of the film, where Stark goes off the grid to hang in a bar, pick up a planted clue of PLOT IMPORTANCE, and… have random chats with random kid, while Pepper sits in a hotel room waiting to get kidnapped and evil-serumed.
Instead of that, take what is awesome about this film couple and use it. Seed a clue in the first explosion that the deed was associated with Stark Industries by putting a visitor badge at the site instead of random military dude dog-tags. This makes Happy’s security concerns resonant rather than comically paranoid. After the house blows up and Tony goes off the grid, have Pepper go to Stark Industries and use all that extra security info Happy was collecting to track down the corporate espionage. This accomplishes two things: A) it means Happy was effective, and B) it give Pepper the chance to be effective doing something she KICKS ASS at. You can even seed an earlier conflict between her and Tony about how there’s all these secret projects that she keeps finding that Tony set up without Obadiah even knowing, and how can anyone run a business like that without documenting and tracking that shit, and there are ethics violations all over the place, and they could get sued, and doesn’t he even CARE?
Which at the time, no, he doesn’t. Cause PTSD. But he will come to care, which is his journey through the middle of the film.
Pepper’s active involvement opens up the opportunity for Pepper and Tony to be in contact, with the added bonus of banter, each of them doing what they do best. While Pepper is investigating the corporate side of things, Tony is working to rebuild JARVIS.
Yes. JARVIS. The biggest missed opportunity of this film. Guys, they KILL JARVIS! (more or less). And the only emotional reaction we get is a one-line speak-and-spell rebuilding joke.
This is the potentially-explosive emotional core of the film, and a potentially powerful inciting event for a real sea-change for Tony. I should be as upset about JARVIS’s destruction as I was about Phil Coulson’s death. The entire middle of the film could have been Tony in hiding, with Pepper as his only link to the world, rebuilding a character we’ve come to love. In so doing, Tony has a chance to rediscover his past and rebuild HIMSELF. We could get some JARVIS backstory: Who is he based on? Why did Tony make him as he was? What does he mean to Tony? We could also get upgrades that would matter to the final battle.
With the emotional tightness and banter between that core of characters — Pepper, JARVIS, and Tony — you don’t NEED Random-Kid-We-Don’t-Care-About™ to give Tony someone to talk at and interact with during a dragging middle.
Aside: You could maybe include Rhodey investigating the President/VP political plotline, except I would honestly just cut that layer for being contrived and stupid.
The only good thing about this film was the post credit bit (YAY SCIENCE-BRO’S!) That was also the only bit that felt like an Iron Man/Avengers movie. Look for it on YouTube, and you’ll have seen everything worth seeing in Iron Man 3.
The film poses the question: What is Iron Man without the suit?
The answer: Bland. Uninteresting. Empty.