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iron_man_3_movie-wideIron Man, the heaviest of the heavy metal Marvel superheroes, undergoes a transformation in the latest installment of the popular franchise. He’s less self-assured, anxiety ridden, but at least he still looks good in a suit—the giant iron suit that turns him from mortal to immortal hero.

In this installment the sins of Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) past come back to haunt him. In a flashback to 1999 we meet a biochemist (Rebecca Hall) turned Stark one-night-stand and a meek scientist (Guy Pearce) who both feel the sting of the billionaire arms designer’s arrogance. Cut to years later. Stark is troubled by the recent battle in New York (see “The Avengers” movie) and is having trouble sleeping.

Meanwhile an Osama bin Laden wannabe named The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) is terrorizing the planet, promising a violent finale on Christmas Day. With just days to go the situation becomes personal for Stark when his girlfriend, Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow), and longtime bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) are endangered by the madman.

This is a darker, talkier “Iron Man” than we’ve seen before. The thing that was so appealing in the first movie—RDJs quick wit and way with a line—had, over the course of a disappointing second movie, become tired and predictable, so writer-director Shane Black modified Stark’s behavior, stripping away some of (but not all) of Stark’s arrogance in favor of a dark character study that sees him on the verge of a breakdown.

“Iron Man 3” is still a huge action movie but between the big blow ‘em up scenes there’s more sturm and drang than usual for a big summer blockbuster. Downey handles Stark’s ups and downs well enough, although you get the feeling that the limitations of the form—tentpole summer flick—prevent him from pushing the envelope performance wise into as dark a place as he might have liked. Really exploring Stark’s turmoil might not sell as many tickets as Marvel needs to break even, but it would have been interesting to see Downey stretch his wings a bit more.

Stark is a troubled guy. Always has been in the comics, but he’s a troubled guy with a cool suit and that’s why we pay to see the “Iron Man” movies. So it’s a little hard to understand why he’s not in the suit more of the time. Imagine a Hulk movie where Bruce Banner doesn’t get angry and you get the idea. “Iron Man 1 & 2” took every opportunity to put Stark in the iron suit, while this movie takes every opportunity to take him out of the suit.

The hodge podge of hot button topics—terrorism, computer hacking, disabled war vets, ecological issues and even a “Downton Abbey” gag—push the story forward, but the core of the thing that makes these movies fun seems to have been pushed to the background.
Of course there are iron suits in the film, lots of them, they just don’t seem to fit as well as they once did.

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