To have a running time of 130 minutes, and to have Tony actually in the armor & fighting for roughly about 15 of those minutes, I was, to say the least, disappointed. This film tried to do a LOT of things, and has many goals, the main one being, be Iron Man’s version of The Dark Knight Rises, bringing Tony somewhat full circle & concluding Tony’s arc up unto this point.
This movie succeeds well in meeting some of its goals, but in my opinion, it succeeds at the wrong ones.
To give you a quick plot summary, a former one night stand of Tony’s has invented Extremis biotech, which gives the recipient super enhanced abilities, regeneration powers, and some sort of heat/flame abilities, but is also extremely unstable, causing some of its recipients to explode. Killian, at first a male Stark science groupie, has founded AIM, and becomes a rival by using this tech to cure himself and then recruit others. Meanwhile Tony & Pepper seem to find things to complain about, even though they both have more than most people could dream of having in 10 lifetimes, and the Government wants its own version of Iron Man under control, so they rebrand Rhodey, formally War Machine, as Iron Patriot. Tony is suffering from PTSD, from his experience in The Avengers, dealing with the scope of what happened, how he almost died, and what kind of beings actually exist in the world. Lastly, The Mandarin is presented as a Bin Laden type terrorist leader figure, but is later revealed to be a schmaltzy shmuck of an actor, who is just the face Killian created to cover his own wealth building activities, and more specifically, the times when his Extremis warriors self-destruct. And Killian wants to eliminate The President to get the Vice President, whom he owns because of money & a chance to cure his disabled daughter, into power so he can greatly profit from both sides of the War on Terror. There’s a big fight at the end, Pepper has become infused with Extremis and becomes Super Pepper, and Tony calls on a cavalry of secretly built Iron Suits to fight in the final sequence. Oh and he also gets his heart fixed, having the shrapnel removed, eliminating the need for his arc reactor. Did you follow all of that?
Just like that seems to be convoluted and all over the place, that’s exactly the way movie presents it, and itself as well. The editing of the film alone is always full of misdirection, and tonal shifts after almost every line, those shifts always going back to one liners & comedy. There’s so much to say, but I don’t want to make the review too long, so I’ll just make my main points.
-Without question, the best scene in the movie is the airplane rescue sequence. Even more fun when you see the end credits crediting the Sky Diving Team that made it possible, you realize they did a lot of that for real. It was breathtaking, and the kind of live action/wire work/CGI mix that makes you breathless as it’s unfolding, and cheering when it’s over.
-The fan winks. From AIM, to the various armors that we see including Iron Patriot, to the inevitable Avengers 2 setups, to the fun scene at the end with the now bonded Tony & Dr. Banner, there was a ton of geeky goodness to behold.
-This wasn’t a total win, but let’s just say that the laughs that needed to be there were really well done.
-The fact that Tony had consequences from The Avengers movie. I didn’t like everything about it, but it made total organic sense, and was completely relatable to see Tony struggling with those experiences.
-Tony’s scenes with the kid, Harley. Like many hardcore sci fi/fantasy lovers, I’m not a fan of the introducing-a-kid-to-appeal-to-the-younger-audience trope, on any level. Plus he disappears back into obscurity once his purpose is accomplished, which makes him more of a function than a character.
-The Extremis operatives. They were kind of cool to look at, but their motivations seemed kind of thin if you ask me.
-The editing was fast & furious; visually stunning, but felt more like it suffered from ADD, because it didn’t create emotional connection between the scenes, just a lot of activity. And the movie dragged on, FAR too long, in the middle.
-The Extremis powers….what were the parameters or limits of their abilities? Because breathing fire was just silly. How did it decide who to bond with and who to blow up? And Thor’s hammer in The Avengers, discharging lightning, supercharged Tony’s armor….so how did the Extremis lightning cripple it?
-I didn’t care, one way or the other, about Nick Fury not being it.
-Biggest one? The plot itself. Because it undermines its own established gravitas by making The Mandarin a paper villain, and Guy Pearce, while a great actor, is not threatening as Killian at all. Killian is also no more than another greedy businessman; nothing we haven’t seen before, especially in Obadiah Stane, who basically did this same scheme, just on a smaller scale. And having THE FREAKING VICE PRESIDENT implicated in this whole thing? And then that’s just glossed over, like that wouldn’t tear the country apart with fear & anger? Just no.
-Second biggest fail? The fact that this had more comedic moments than absolutely anything else. This was a comedy that featured a superhero subplot, not the other way around. The thing we were expecting, a superhero action movie that had comedic moments, is nowhere to be found here. Unlike the excellent first Iron Man(still the best, and still my favorite).
-Wanna know why comic fans are howling in disappointment at this misuse of The Mandarin? Not only because he is Iron Man’s Joker in a sense, one of the greatest and oldest and most logical villains, but take a look at this picture:
This right kids, that’s The Mandarin. Any single one of his rings are deadly, but he’s got TEN. And the same reason to hate Tony that the terrorists did in the first movie. How cool would that movie have been to bring Tony full circle? Going back to the place that Iron Man was created, and following a trail to China to face a villain that has magic based power, full of contempt for American tech & the Western way of life? Do you see where that could have gone? But instead, we get a waste of a classic villain, and a classic actor.
-Disrespect for Iron Man himself. I mean, every single time we see the Mark 42 armor, it’s being destroyed. Swatted, even. Falling apart like so much tin, and being made fun of. This completely undermines any sense of power or badassery we get from Iron Man, and makes him a joke. Also, even though Tony invented the remote control tech, it makes us now one step removed from it as a character. It’s him in the armor that we like to see, that we emotionally resonate with. What this movie does is basically turn Iron Man’s operation into a big video game for Tony. Just think about that. And by doing so, emotionally disconnects us from him, and alleviates any sense of real danger or peril. Even right after the excellent airplane sequence, the armor gets crushed by an oncoming truck. Just no.
-Iron Patriot. I wasn’t as invested, so hence not as disappointed, in the fact that this was Norman Osborn in the comics after Civil War; moreso that the buddy cop thing between Rhodey & Tony? It just isn’t working. I felt it more with Terrance Howard in the role, but Cheadle? I’m sorry, I just don’t care about him. These two have not, even after two movies, sufficiently established a believable bro bond for my taste. And Rhodey always, always, just seems jealous. Just ugh.
-Super Pepper. Even though I know it happened in the comics, you know I’ve never been a fan of the everybody-gets-the-hero’s-powers-especially-the-girlfriend trope. On Smallville, everybody had experienced Clark’s powers before it was all over except Martha and Chloe. Ugh. Plus, we never get a real sense of Pepper being in danger, sealed by the fact that when she fell to her supposed doom, we knew that the Extremis tech was going to save her. So again…no real peril. Plus her delivering the killing blow to Killian was just…ugh. Anti-climactic. And everything on her burned but her bra. Anyway. Who is Pepper supposed to be to Tony now? She whines about everything, non-stop, that seems to be her only remaining function. She’s mad at the man she fell in love with, and if anyone had full knowledge of what they were getting into, it was her. And what does Tony do at the end? Destroy all his armor, I assume in an attempt to prove to her that he’s disconnecting from his work more? What?
-Tony’s arc. Or lack thereof. Did he really have one in this movie? Every single obstacle is met with his exact same glibness and dismissive narcissism. That’s funny more often than not, and Downey nails it perfectly, but it disconnects us from him as a character, because he really has nowhere left to go. They rushed the alcoholism arc in the last movie…that would’ve made more sense here. And what in the world is up with his heart surgery? Was it the Extremis tech that allowed him to do that, because if not, why did he wait until now to fix himself?
-Lack of a clear villain. By doing this three pronged villain approach, Killian, The Mandarin, and the Extremis soldiers, there wasn’t really a strong reason to hate any of them by movie’s end. And thus any fighting that the hero does against them will lack any real emotional weight, as opposed to Smith vs. Neo, Vader vs. Luke, Terminators vs. Sarah Connor, etc.
As you’ve heard me say many times, I tend to judge a piece’s overall merit very heavily weighted towards if I want to see it again or not. Just my personal measure. I have watched the first Iron Man movie over and over again, because I love it. I don’t have that feeling here; I didn’t feel emotionally satisfied or connected in any way by movie’s end. Tony’s still Tony, and other than the PTSD, did we really learn anything new about him? Pepper’s still Pepper. She hasn’t changed since the first movie. So I kind of don’t see a point to a rewatch, once you know this movie’s twists, because you know that your emotional energy is wasted in most places that the movie misdirects it toward. I would’ve loved to see Tony fight the real Mandarin, and to realize that he’s still responsible for a certain level of the War on Terror. Pepper should’ve either died, or they should’ve broken up, and she got with Happy, like in the comics. And something as completely pivotal to the character as his heart surgery, i.e., removing the reason he had to become Iron Man in the first place should’ve been dealt with in more than one quick scene. It could’ve been the decision he was struggling with all movie long. That would’ve made more sense to me. As well as, more screen time with Tony actually in the armor, and us as an audience feeling like he improved it, not that everything under the sun was wrong with it, and that only his soulless Iron Minions and Super Pepper at the end were up to the challenge of beating the villain.