Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed May 22, 2013 8:58 pm 
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Another victory for CGI

Shane Black, primarily a screenwriter, especially of actioners, also previously directed a little verbally fast-paced 2005 noir comedy with Robert Downey Jr. called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Getting more into directing now apparently, he has two more movies coming out and co-wrote this third iteration of the Iron Man movie franchise and directed it. But writing can hardly be said to triumph here. Though there is a big bad evil enemy to conquer, with an elaborate explosion-filled finale and a touch of renewed love between Tony and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), sadly this is little more than an uneasy mixture of quips and CGI, with the CGI winning out by a mile.

There are some good bits, when warm characters enter the scene, and if you're not tired of Guy Pierce's kind of cold slickness, he's good too, as the treacherous Aldrich Killian. But I'm thinking of Jon Favreau, retired from directing the series, now modestly entertaining us as Happy Hogan, Tony's loyal security guard, who gives pleasure for a while; then the very appealing Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener, the little boy who befriends Tony when he's down and out. That period is a welcome respite from all the machinery and noise: Stark dragging the carcas of an Iron Man across a field of snow is the movie's most memorable image. Finally we get Ben Kingsley, a villain looking like Bin Laden but sounding like a mean country bumpkin, later revealing a funny, surprising secret. However, the development of Tony Stark is no longer a theme here, nor his relationship with Pepper, nor, really, much of his debonair, outrageous personality or his genius with gadgetry. CGI has taken over, and Tony just commands a British-voiced computer Jeeves (the name reiterated as Jarvis--voiced by Paul Bettany) and Iron Men shell parts appear to cover his body at will. There is no pretense of mechanical grafted on the human, really: it's all just computer images attached to the screen, or, without much explanation, to people.

Of course, the Iron Man series was always about CGI, but in the first two the big gadgets and Tony Stark's making of them had a fabulous physicality. This time, despite lots of satisfying clanking iron sound effects, not so much. They seem more ephemeral and notional (and computer-generated), like the room-filling holograms Aldrich Killian delights in showing off of his own egocentric brain to impress the ladies -- and there are two new ladies (Stephanie Szostak and Rebecca Hall).

With this victory of the computer-screen visual over tactile quality, Iron Man 3 becomes another example of the victory in Hollywood of effects over story. Instead of an arc, which parts 1 and 2 had, this movie is really just a series of episodes. There is a kidnapping of the President (of the US, where else?), with Tony Stark as a major government weapon and Don Cheadle back as Col. Rhodes, the military liaison and sometime Iron Man suit-wearer himself. No need to explain the suits and how they work any more, but that's not really a good thing. No need, apparently, for us to get to know the President or to care much about him. At one point he's hung out to dry, but we care more about the fate of Pepper or Rhodes or little Harley Keener, with whom Tony has an amusing tough-and-tender relationship. The personality of Tony Stark isn't completely lost, nor has Downey lost his deft delivery of Tony's ADD repartee. It's just that, since relationships get so little time to develop, all the human stuff is just sketched in.

Ultimately the heavy use of CGI seems (in heavy hands) to end in fires and explosions. In fact Tony's Malibu lair is blasted apart in a big early shock-and-awe sequence. If this is what you came for, you get it, and then you get it again. And along the way you get some quick verbal humor. Kingsley has a few droll moments, and the scenes between Downey and Simpkins have a fresh charm. There are flashes of narrative ingenuity here, but they are lost in the moment, because structure, unifying narrative, a story to care about, you do not get.

And furthermore, though he still has his verve and energy as an actor, as an action hero Downey is beginning to look a little old.

Iron Man 3 debuted in London 18 April 2013, opening in the UK the 25th. It opened in the US 3 May.

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