Movie Review: Iron Man 3

The first Iron Man was an unqualified hit, featuring a terrifically witty and sly Robert Downey, Jr. The second Iron Man was merely tolerated because the first was so good. Good or not, the movies banked an impressive $1.2 billion in box office receipts. With that much money in play, a lot is riding on this latest release. Is the suit still strong, or has it become a rusty relic?

Leslie: After suffering through Iron Man 2, I swore I'd never see another Iron Man movie.

Ken: I feel your pain. IM1 was a moving and fast-moving origin story, but IM2 was just plain boring. Seriously, I've had prostate exams that were more enjoyable. There was this one time....

Leslie: TMI, Ken, TMI. Walking into the advance screening (kicking and screaming) I was wondering which Robert Downey, Jr. would show up: the edgy charismatic one, or the I'm-being-paid-lots-of-money-to-phone-this-in one. The question going in was: Does the man make the suit, or does the suit make the man? After IM2, I really didn't care.

Ken: Which brings us to Iron Man 3. It's co-written and directed by Shane Black, well known for his original Lethal Weapon screenplay. He also directed Downey in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and wrote that as well. When a valuable franchise is in jeopardy, you bring in a pro like Black.

Leslie: For starters, IM3 is more of a sequel to The Avengers than it is to IM2. We see Tony Stark suffering from insomnia and anxiety attacks after "the events in New York." It was a good premise for IM3.

Ken: I agree. It was smart to forget about IM2 and reference The Avengers instead. Even better, the anxiety stuff lets us see Tony Stark's vulnerable side. He's still a jerk, but he's a vulnerable and loveable jerk, and that human side makes him more interesting. Along the same lines, the Iron Man suits seem more vulnerable too. That's key to any action film; if the hero and his toys seem largely invulnerable, there's no dramatic tension. Are you impressed by my movie-critic lingo here?

Leslie: Not really, since you probably read it in Wikipedia first. The storyline was certainly a notch above standard action fare. I was also mightily impressed with the plot twists, even with its gaping holes. At last! A little fresh creativity from Hollywood.

Ken: Ouch! The story kept me fully entertained. But I thought the plot was surprisingly messy and unnecessarily convoluted. There were some awfully creaky storytelling devices, and a lot of it just made no sense at all. I was also hoping in the end that Pepper Potts would be more than a damsel in distress. On the other hand, Gwyneth Paltrow does make a terrific Guinevere in this knight-in-shining-armor tale.

Leslie: She started out with some powerful scenes, but even when she does have a chance to take charge, she backs down afterwards. Girlfriend, kick ass and own it!

Ken: I enjoyed Ben Kingsley's Bin-Laden-like bad guy. As usual, the villain gets to have all the fun. Some of his acting and dialogue is priceless. Although Downey isn't hurting for memorable quips either.

Leslie: Totally agree. The film was perfectly cast. Director Shane Black is known for his buddy flicks. I can't think of a better buddy for Downey than Don Cheadle or, for that matter, child actor Ty Simpkins. But some of the best interaction is between Downey and Jarvis, voiced by Paul Bettany.

Ken: Thumbs down on a particular Shane Blackism - setting the story at Christmas time. That added nothing to the story, and all the Christmas trees were just more clutter on the screen.

Leslie: Christmas trees? How do you know it wasn't a Hanukkah story? I spotted a menorah. It's a special time of year for everyone.

Ken: Amen.

Leslie: There were lots of clever touches. For example, when Tony is having lunch, his Iron Man suit gets rock-star parking right outside the front door.

Ken: Well, I always valet-park my Iron Man suit. But you're right - I LOLed a couple of times. I've never seen a musical instrument used as an anti-aircraft weapon before.

Leslie: Loved that too. On the other hand, the exploding microwave oven was right out of Burn Notice.

Ken: I know you're not a big fan of 3D, but I thought it looked pretty good in several scenes. It helped us viewers appreciate the various three-dimensional computer displays used by the characters. And, I thought it added tremendous excitement to an already-thrilling mid-air sequence.

Leslie: Well, I find that in really fast-paced action scenes, details get blurred in the background. With hundreds of names credited to the digital effects crew (yes, you must sit through all of the closing credits...) it's a shame that so much of their work gets lost because of the 3D effect. With a movie that already has so much going on, I don't feel the need to gild the lily.

Ken: Any comments on the music score? When I left the theater, I wasn't exactly humming any melodies. Aside from the usual poignant/calming/action/heroic stuff, the score seemed pretty innocuous.

Leslie: I'm surprised a classical-music guy like you didn't notice the Dies Irae riffs. Simple and effective.

Ken: As you'd expect, the sound design was top notch. I was bummed that the preview we attended wasn't in a Dolby Atmos theater, but the effects still worked well. Most important, the effects weren't over used. For example, when Downey is talking to someone while in the Iron Man suit, we hear subtle whirring noises as he moves, and the effects on his voice are spot on. Details like that could get really annoying if they were too prominent, but they were mixed just right.

Leslie: Sometimes less is more. What you don't want is a movie that calls attention to the effects. With so many visuals created digitally, every sound has to be recreated in post, and it would be so easy to go overboard. I thought the sound effects were used realistically. I also thought the surrounds were used judiciously. Not too much, but there when appropriate. I particularly loved the way sound panned around the theater when there were gunshots ricocheting around a concrete room.

Ken: Did you notice that the different Iron Men had different sounds?

Leslie: Exactly! The sounds of the servo motors and other body parts are cool identifying features for the different suit iterations. I could identify Mark 42 with my eyes closed. What I liked even more was the sounds used for the regeneration of the human body for the Extremis project. It had an organic, growling slurpy sound that must have been fun to create.

Ken: Always the engineer, aren't you?

Leslie: Hey, it's my calling. It was exciting to see how the sound engineers approach different scenes. Keeping sounds distinct is a challenge. When Tony Stark's house is attacked, we hear massively powerful and deep explosions and rumbles, but when the scene shifts underwater, the sound of the cables groaning and slicing underwater convey what is happening with great clarity.

Ken: Speaking of great clarity, let's get to the bottom line. I thought the film was a thoroughly-enjoyable, mindless, summer action film. And at the end of the day, what more do you want from a guy in a flying rocket suit?

Leslie: I thought it was a blast. I liked the buddy-flick aspect that Black brought this time around. The crowd certainly loved it. I would almost want to see it again because some of the best lines were covered up by the audience's laughter.

Ken: Would you see Iron Man 4?

Leslie: Bring on the popcorn!

Ken: Mmmm, movie theater "butter." I hope this early-summer release portends good things for the rest of the summer schedule. On the other hand, I can always have my prostate checked again.