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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVD: Iron Man Three

IRON MAN THREE (Three Stars) U.S.: Shane Black, 2013
(Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

In Iron Man Three — capstone of the trilogy of films in which Robert Downey, Jr. plays brainy CEO Tony Stark a.k.a. the robo-suited super-hero Iron Man — Downey spends far more time out of his Iron Man suit than  in it. But that’s okay.  Downey, one of the most  brilliant movie actors around, also has one of the most interesting faces (a sardonic deadpan and soulful dark eyes) and he’s even more compelling when he’s not swallowed up in effects and hardware.

Iron Man Three may well be the last of the “Iron Man” series, but that’s okay too. After the series opener, 2008’s surprisingly good Iron Man and its not-so good sequel, Iron Man 2 (2010),  Downey has probably been encased 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. 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 click.

The new arrivals in the cast include four effective villains: Ben Kingsley as the Bin-Laden-ish terrorist 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 brutal bad gal Brandt.

Favreau (Swingers, Elf) directed the first two Iron Men, but here 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) and graduated to 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 Three cast ( a huge one that also includes some last-minute surprises) has 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 best action scene and a smart-alecky kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins), who gives Tony some good joke set-ups.

Anyway, after Iron Man 2, Three is not bad—though the best thing about it is not the expensive-looking 3D action sequences, but Downey’s acting in the lead super-hero role. With this franchise, along with The Avengers and Sherlock Holmes, Downey is not only the biggest box-office movie star in the world right now (at least for a while), but a great comic actor with a face that effortlessly registers irony, ambiguity and a soulful sarcastic glee. Downey can be as funny and engaging a spritzer as anyone since Robin Williams in his prime—and though he makes fun of some of the movies he makes, including this one,  he does it with a quiet gusto that’s more playful than mean.

But even though the Iron Many movies and  The Avengers made him a star—a superstar—and even though they he may eventually get deeper roles in more brilliant (if not as popular) movies, superhero pictures are not exactly what you want to see Downey get trapped in. Iron Man was a surprisingly terrific movie, Iron Man 2 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. Any Downey movie is worth seeing, even when they‘re bad, which they sometimes are. But, if it’s not neo-con, Iron Man Three is maybe neo-comic, because Downey, hasn’t been fully unleashed. And, though Black pulls a number of zingers, in the dialogue and elsewhere, the movie is  as repetitive as most late-chapter super-hero franchise movies—even Marvel’s which are usually 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