While this franchise has been one of lasers and robotics that we doubt the world will be able to recreate within the next two decades (whether they’re trying or not) somehow it’s always remained a discussion industry and capitalism. With the third installment it somehow becomes more typical of a comic book villainy scenario than any of the others, and that’s a good thing.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), now in a seemingly good place, picks a fight with an international terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) after he seems to be pointing his rifle in the direction of America and all things ‘good’ in the world. The initial confrontation doesn’t go so well for Mr. Stark and he must spend the rest of the film retaliating against this new power.
What works most about this film is it’s return to the things that worked in the starting point of the franchise, we get to see Tony Stark not just being entertainingly elitist but he’s also being smart along the way. After his fall from stardom he has to almost rebuild himself completely and that forces him to focus more on the human side than the technology. We even get a really fun section of the film where he must rely on his own physicality rather than being a guy in an amazing robotic suit that lets bullets deflect off of him, very much like when we saw him design the Mark 1 in the caves in Iron Man.
Otherwise Robert Downey Jr. is the most Tony Stark we’ve ever seen. Early in the film, with Tony in his workshop testing new equipment, we see him dancing and doing his ‘thing’ and we can’t help but be amused. It’s a trope of the comic book to have its hero be the cockiest thing that ever existed, including quippy one-liners as well as generally not knowing when a bad situation has gone disastrous so that he keeps on fighting and more importantly laughing. Some would even question if a lot of the heroes that DC and Marvel (as well as other publishers) have given us are even brave or just downright unable to understand how much they’re coming up against when the finally face down with the ultimate baddy on the screen/page.
Where this film falters is in the realm of side characters. Previously we had Happy (Jon Favreau), Lt. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) — and they’re all still around doing their best to win in scenes against Tony, but with the addition of new characters, like Maya (Rebecca Hall) and Harley (Ty Simpkins) I’m not sure they hold up even to the level that our previous characters do. I would like to blame this on some ‘Temple of Doom‘ style child sidekick syndrome but the moments that work between Tony and Harley don’t outweigh the ones that don’t, and for the most part it feels like Downey Jr. is acting circles around the child and he’s just merely existing in the scene so that Downey has something to read the other set of lines with.
Lastly to talk about the villain himself, I’m happy to see Marvel pushing the series — as I alluded to in my into paragraph — into a more comic book style direction with the villain here. Previously Tony could’ve defeated all of his enemies with economics, but here it feels a much more idealized bad guy who has a point to prove, and a few screws pulled loose, than anything else. Throw in a but more science fiction fun and you’ve got yourself an ultimate fight scene that has so many elements rolling around that it just comes off perilously fun.
The title promises a lot but really is barely an allusion to the genre blending madness that is present on the screen. Westerns and outer space science fiction are two genres of films that have barely ever been able to reside within the same story without being a complete mess of a movie. I’ve seen properties such as Cowboy Bebop and Serenity where they do it, but it’s more the spirit of the cowboy being transplanted into the futuristic space land that we want to be. We’ve never really seen John Wayne have to take a break from keeping the apaches at bay so that he can fight off aliens. If you’re asking yourself why no one had ever thought of doing that, it’s because it’s for good reason.
Jon Favreau is a director who resides on shaky ground. I liked to mock him for all of his lighter films, Elf and Zathura, but he’s become a geek favourite ever since the first Iron Man movie was released and has been riding the coat tails of that fame ever since by staying within the same PG-13 comic book genre of film that seems to finally be meeting its own level of mediocrity that every other genre has to deal with week to week.
This film wasn’t so much bad as it was the median effort any movie can give you. The strength of the film is that it’s a western, and fans of the genre have pretty much tunnel vision after being deprived for so many years of the classic tale of the cowboy who doesn’t like to play by anyone’s rules but his own. All the aspects of a regular western are there and are just as enjoyable, but eventually (actually really quickly) we have to deal with the odd addition of science fiction and that just muddies up the rest of the film.
Daniel Craig and Sam Rockwell do really well to fit into their roles in the film. Who sticks out like a sore thumb at every opportunity, unfortunately, is Harrison Ford. Ford finds a way to make everyone in the audience stop thinking about how amazing it would be to live in the wild west and wonder why Indiana Jones is in this movie. However, the best actor in the film is Paul Dano even if he’s only in the film for about fifteen minutes in total. Dano creates a sense of the western world faster than Craig is able to turn a fight to his advantage.
Favreau, as the patern is emerging, lets story sit sidesaddle following the slightly uninteresting action sequences that never feels important. There’s never a true sense of danger or wondering who’s going to live and who’s going to die. The cast is stacked high enough that we know who’s alien fodder and who’s the one that’s going to be hugging their loved ones just before the end credits roll.