As we check in with inventor/zillionaire Tony Stark at the beginning of Iron Man 3, he's having anxiety attacksapparently brought on by the alien invasion that was the focal point for The Avengers, last year's mega blockbuster that, in Grand Hotel fashion, put together all the stars of the various comic-book movie franchises into one super-duper extravaganza.
I didn't see that movie but whoever put together Iron Man 3 assumes that I did and that when the alien attacks are referenced in this outing I'll understand what the characters are shuddering about (Tony in particular). And why not? With the nosebleed grosses these behemoths usually rake in, it's only fair on the part of the filmmakers to assume that audience members for this new spectacular saw last year's hybrid edition and will see next year's, too.
What they (and by "they" I mean the studios, the filmmakers, the marketing folks and whoever else has their hands in the pot) haven't taken into account, based on the evidence in this new spectacle, is that there might be a random person here, a dissatisfied customer there and perhaps lots of us in between who might just, maybe want to have one of these planet-sized pictures veer off course every once in awhile. Do something unpredictable. Go off the grid. Take a walk on the wild side. Do anything other than follow the tenets carefully laid out in Screenwriting 101.
I can't be the only avid filmgoer, albeit a professional one, that is a tad, shall we say, blasé about yet another by the numbers Marvel Comic Studios movie. Robert Downey Jr.whose career was reignited by his sensational turn in Iron Man way back in 2007is still in there doing his job, bringing his megawatt personality (and I do mean that sincerely) to a franchise that is giving him less and less of a return with each sequel. Downey is what made the character so fast, smart and likeable in that first moviewith his droll humor, his keen intelligence, his overwhelming confidence (not to mention his cute looks and hot bod).
But that ring-a-ding playboy mentality was tamed at the end of the first movie when Stark hooked up romantically with his personal assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who then took over Stark Industries. And his inventiveness, too, has been curbed ever sinceor maybe we're just not seeing much of it. The filmmakers apparently realize this, too, as they start the movie back in 1999, when Tony was still a randy dandy, before his mad inventor days. But it's just a tease. The plot gives us Guy Pearce as an easily telegraphed villain, Rebecca Hall as his possible accomplice and a lot of stuff about human DNA turning men and women into universal soldiers. (Hmmdoes that sound a little familiar?)
The villain has a bad case of revenge envyover Tony's success in business, in famedom and in bed (with Pepper, whom he dated at one point). Now the plot is ominously close to Pixar's The Incredibles and when Tony's nifty Malibu lair is attacked during the Christmas holidays by a terrorist group fronted by a madman (the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley), it brings to mind other movies, plots and formulas from many other movies. Of course, everyone in the audience knows long before Tony, Pepper and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle as the Iron Man wannabe) who's really behind all this nefarious action. Familiarity is essential in movies. Like Christopher Reeve in Superman 2, Tony loses his access to his nifty super toys and has to rely on his wits (stuff like a borrowed Dora the Explorer child's watch) and the sass of a lonely kid he meets in Tennessee to get things back on track.
There are laughs. There are explosions (lots of them). There are those universal soldiers. There are dimwitted henchmen. There is the aforementioned terrorist leader and a supervillain. There are sexy times (Rebecca Hall shacking up with Downey). There is a comical subplot (with Jon Favreau as the bodyguard/chauffeur who is injured and, while in the hospital, loves watching episodes of Downton Abbey). There are gleaming cars, shiny weaponry, action-upon-action set pieces, Paltrow breathing a sigh of relief when she gets to momentarily take off her ever-present stripper heels and Downey doing his best to stay engaged (sometimes not succeeding). Everyone hits his or her marks, the sets are beautifully lit, the thing is gorgeously shot, the music is typical action movie stuffcheck, check and triple check.
What's missing from this middling, sorta entertaining movie is one single moment of surprise or real feeling. Not one special effect feels "special." Not one scene really rewards the headache induced by wearing the essential 3-D dark glasses. Iron Man 3 is certainly a well-oiled machine, just like so many of its compatriots are. But it's a movie only in the way that Domino's Pizza is pizza. You order it because it's fast, convenient and fairly inexpensive. You eat it because you are hungrynot because you want to dine. And certainly not because you want to feed your soul.