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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Iron Man Three

IRON MAN THREE (Three Stars)
U.S.: Shane Black, 2013

In Iron Man Three — capstone of the trilogy of films in which Robert Downey, Jr. plays brainy CEO Tony Stark a.k.a. the robot suited super-hero Iron Man — Downey spends far more time out of his Iron Man suit than he does inside it. But that’s all right with me.  Downey, one of the most interesting and brilliant movie actors around, also has one of the most interesting faces (a sardonic deadpan and somewhat soulful dark eyes) and he’s more interesting when he’s not swallowed up in effects and robo-hardware, which is the case most of the time here. Iron Man Three may well be the last of the “Iron Man” series, but, frankly I was getting tired of those robo-duds by the end of  the second (worst) one.

After the series opener, 2008’s surprisingly excellent  (and best) Iron Man and its not-so good sequel, Iron Man Two (2010),  Downey has probably been encased in iron long enough. So has Don Cheadle, who’s back as iron buddy Col. James Rhodes a.k.a. (this time) Iron Patriot, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s inamorata/business partner Pepper Potts, who gets some robo-fashions of her own. Rhodes and Pepper are two more returnees from the first two movies — Jon Favreau as driver turned security chief Happy Hogan is another — and also back is Paul Bettany as Jarvis, one of the more distinctive computer voices since Hal in 2000. Favreau, of course, was also the director of the first two Iron Men, and he was probably largely responsible for the antic humor and humanism that made the first one so good.

The new arrivals in the cast include four very effective villains: Ben Kingsley as the Bin-Laden-ish terrorist (and longtime Marvel Comics baddie) The Mandarin; Guy Pearce as the techno-geek turned scientist/business stud Aldrich Killian (who was insulted by Tony 13 years ago, and has now invented a form of DNA weaponry called Extremis), James Badge Dale as Killian’s killer and brutal bad guy Savin, and  Stephanie Szostak as the just as brutal bad gal Brandt.

Favreau (Swingers, Elf) directed the first two Iron Men, but here, though he’s still in the cast, he’s ceded the directorial job to Shane Black — who became a hot screenwriter back in 1987 with the first Lethal Weapon, scripted some big shallow actioners (The Last Boy Scout, The Last Kiss Goodnight) and graduated to seldom-employed cult writer/director of sorts with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a clever neo-noir dark comedy also starring Downey. The rest of the Iron Man III cast ( a huge one that also includes some last-minute surprises) includes Rebecca Hall as sexy botanist Maya Hansen, a   romantic rival for Pepper; a mostly boring U. S. President (William Sadler), who figures in the show‘s best action scene, which is in Air Force One no less; and a gifted but smart alecky kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins), who gives Tony some good joke set-ups..

Anyway, after the disappointment of Iron Man Two , Three is not bad — though the best thing about it is still not the expensive-looking 3D action sequences, but Downey’s acting in the lead super-hero role of Tony/Iron Man. With this franchise, along with The Avengers and the Sherlock Holmes, Downey is not only the biggest box-office movie star in the world right now (at lest for a while), but a great comic actor with the delivery of a stand-up genius, and a face that effortlessly registers irony, ambiguity and a soulful sarcastic glee. Downey, maybe thanks to Favreau, seemed to be doing a lot of dialogue improvising in the last two Iron Men — less so here — but he still can be as funny and engaging a spritzer as anyone since Robin Williams in his prime. In a way, Downey makes fun of some of the movies he makes, including this one, but he does it with a quiet gusto that’s more playful than mean.

I’m glad he lucked into this franchise (and the others as well), and, in fact the first Iron Man is my favorite Marvel super-hero adventure. But when they jam Downey, by CGI or whatever, into those clanking red and blue super-outfits and send him off for more superfights — as they eventually do here — they’re giving us too much of  a good thing. The Marvel gang may be loading up Downey’s bank account and delighting fans around the world. But they’re also under-using a talent that suggests Peter Sellers crossed with Charlie Chaplin (whom Downey has played on screen)  crossed with James Mason crossed with Robin Williams. They’re under-using Gwyneth Paltrow too.

Even though the Iron Many movies and  The Avengers made him a star — no, make that a super-star —  and even though they he may eventually get more brilliant roles in more brilliant (if not as popular) movies, super-hero pictures are not exactly what you want to see Downey getting trapped in. Iron Man was a surprisingly terrific movie, Iron Man Two a surprisingly misfiring sequel, and Iron Man Three lies somewhere between them. It’s definitely a show that delivers, explosively, what its audience wants to see, and it’s already the huge commercial hit everyone expects. But, perhaps because Downey seems more reined in this time, the movie tends to lack that something pungently extra that made the first Iron Man (co-written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby) so wildly entertaining and even moving, and the lack of which made the second (scripted by Justin Theroux) such a disappointment.

Iron Man Three is fun to watch most of the time, and I don’t see too much reason to knock it technically or politically — it’s done very well and it’s definitely Hollywood left wing, not neo-con, and any Downey movie is worth seeing, even when they‘re bad, which they sometimes are. But Iron Man Three is maybe neo-comic, because Downey, though he’s more vulnerable here , hasn’t been fully unleashed. And, though Black pulls a number of surprises, in the dialogue and elsewhere, the movie is  as repetitive as most late-chapter super-hero franchise movies — even Marvel’s which are usually well-cast, well-directed and state of the friggin’ art.

By the way, I usually stay in my seat for all the end-titles, because  I like to get the music and song credits. But this time, all of you should stay, all the way to the end and the last credits, because one of the show’s best scenes and  performances, is one of the very last things we see on screen. It’s one of those Marvel teasers, one of the best of them. Stay. Trust me. It’s Marvelous. (Sorry.)

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon