“Iron Man 3” is almost – almost – everything you’d want a lunkheaded summer movie to be.
So here’s what else is on my list: “The Great Gatsby,” “Man of Steel,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Epic,” “Fast and Furious 6” (no kidding), “White House Down,” “After Earth,” “World War Z,” “The Lone Ranger,“ “Pacific Rim,“ “R.I.P.D.,” “Red 2” and “Elysium.”
Those, right off the top, were the big films in this summer’s surefire big megaplex hoo-ha that I was most looking forward to. It’s not that there won’t be small or independent films worth considerable advance excitement.
It’s just that we all know that the big gaudy “tentpole movies” – the blockbusters that keep business humming – are in major season twice a year, when everyone seems to go to the movies and large numbers of young people are loosed upon the land with enough discretionary funds to take in a box office behemoth or 12.
Christmas and summer are those two seasons.
The unintentional rich joke of Shane Black’s uproariously entertaining “Iron Man 3” – which has already come close to earning its budget back by grossing almost $200 million on its opening weekend overseas – is that the film is jammed top to bottom with Christmas jokes and Christmas references. Obviously, the film’s makers expected it to come out at Christmastime for one big jolly present to us all.
It was, instead, a smart move to use it to get summer movie season started in official earnest, despite all of its yule culture gags and gratuitous shots of Tennessee mountain snow. If you want to put a whole country in the mood for huge, nine-figure extravaganzas that aren’t always as dumb as far too many people hope they’ll be, “Iron Man 3” is the surefire way to do it. You can’t help but feel just a little good at anticipating a lot of what’s going to come down the pike.
It’s called Priming the Pump.
That’s because the “Iron Man” movies are the hippest in the comic book franchise biz. The Batman movies are the darkest and most unsettlingly epic; the Spider-Man movies are the ones that offer super powers as a cure for family dysfunction and hopeless dweebiness; and the Superman movies give us the primal comic book fantasy of them all – the noble and invincible secret identity that resides inside mild-mannered inconsequential corporate functionaries everywhere.
“Iron Man” isn’t just Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the billionaire tinkering genius who devised a metal suit that lets him fly and shoot killing rays out of his palm. He’s an overpublicized, overadored public hero who almost always has a wisecrack to pitch at lesser mortals. He’s the Page Six superhero, the infotainment star – world democracy and decency’s answer to evil whose life fits perfectly on the tube between 7 and 8 p.m. “Cheap tricks and sleazy one-liners,” he says, could be the perfect title for his autobiography.
As we meet Iron this time, he’s living with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) but having trouble sleeping. He’s often awake for 72 hours at a crack.
As long as he’s up, he might as well save the world from its mega-terrorist of the moment, a nasty televised fellow who calls himself The Mandarin and is played with rollicking relish by Ben Kingsley in rare kick-out-the-jams comic moments. In not-so-comic moments, he says “you’ll never see me coming.” “Some people call me a terrorist. I call myself a teacher.”
He’s no match for a Batman villain, but he’s trying.
His followers call him The Master and are prohibited from looking at him. (Inside Hollywood joke anyone?)
But in Superheroville we know there’s another bad guy to worry about here – another freelance inventor Tony was once mean to on another continent, a fellow who has, a few years later, grown up to be so handsome he looks just like Guy Pearce.
That’s because he’s played by Guy Pearce and we all know you can’t trust a guy who looks like Guy Pearce – even if he hangs out with a genius botanist played by the underemployed Rebecca Hall.
How hip is “Iron Man 3?” Bill Maher and Joan Rivers have cameos. There’s a delightful running gag where Tony is forced to throw in with a mechanically minded little boy he treats with loving contempt (his first wisecrack on meeting him is to tell him how much he loved him in “A Christmas Story,” a Peter Billingsley reference no kid, even in a period piece, could possibly understand).
The special effects are dandy, which means “Iron Man 3” takes care of the cheap tricks handily enough. The movie is full of funny “cheesy one-liners” too – all that one could hope for (the director and co-writer, after all, is Shane Black, the screenwriter who gave us those much-loved wisecrack festivals, the “Lethal Weapon” movies.)
I wish movies of the past 25 years hadn’t learned to depend on blurred violence during big action scenes because, frankly, I’m beginning to loathe a little every director who relies on visual blurring and careening cameras to disguise CGI and an inability to stage big action scenes. But let’s not ask for too much here.
It is, if you must know, probably the most enjoyable “Iron Man” movie so far, even if its final half hour lulls a bit with all its incoherence and Michael Bay-style noise.
Come now – Robert Downey Jr. with one-liners to toss off, Gwyneth Paltrow to say sexy things, Rebecca Hall to tempt and Ben Kingsley to have a wild, good-old-boy Monty Python time not usually found among Knights of the Realm.
How much more would you want from the official beginning of movie summer season?
IRON MAN 3
Rating: 3½ stars
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow,
Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall.
Director: Shane Black • Running time: 130 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense action,
some language and sexual references.
The Lowdown: Tony Stark can’t sleep so he saves
the world from dangerous biological experiments
and an evil villain called The Mandarin.