The story begins with a broken Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), who is still reeling from the events of The Avengers. He hasn’t been getting much sleep and when he is awake, he suffers from the occasional panic attack whenever New York is mentioned. The last thing Tony needs is any more stress. However, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) doesn’t really care about Tony Stark’s stress levels. The international terrorist has been attacking American interests across the world with bombs that are highly destructive yet leave no evidence behind.
When Tony’s bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is caught in one of the Mandarin’s blasts, Tony decides to make it personal. But the Mandarin doesn’t take threats lightly. It soon becomes a race against time as Tony must find the Mandarin before the terrorist’s genetically enhanced army take away everything Tony holds dear.
That synopsis barely scratches the surface of the convoluted plot , which spans 13 years, involves old flames, secret formula’s that give you superpowers, dramatic transformations and a number of people who turn out to not be what we thought they were. Unfortunately, one of those people is Tony Stark. He bares a superficial resemblance to his appearances the other films of the franchise. He actually bares a closer resemblance to Nancy Drew.
This might be a spoiler that the studio doesn’t want you to know: Tony Stark spends a lot of time out of the Iron Man armor, more than in any other installment. Well, I didn’t have a stopwatch, so I can’t verify that statement, but it seems like it. There is a valid reason for it–the Mark 42 armor is a bit glitchy and doesn’t bounce back quite as quickly as other Marks. But still…
While he is out of the armor, he turns into “Tony Stark, Billionaire Amateur Playboy Detective of the Appalachians.” Even though he has not shown any aptitude for it in any other movies, Tony is able to develop leads, follow them to Tennessee and then Miami, breaking in to TV trucks and palatial estates as needed to get what he needs. And even though he is established as a rather big celebrity, he does all of this investigating without ever once being recognized. It’s like magic.
I just didn’t buy it. I mean, Tony Stark shares a lot of qualities with Bruce Wayne, but being a master detective is not one of them. The whole thing does not flow naturally from what Tony’s characterization in the franchise up to this point. It appears manufactured to either act as a cheap way to advance the plot or to allow Shane Black room to work in the crime genre he is more comfortable with.
The side effect of all this, for me at least, was that it took me out of the film and all of the film’s plot holes, and there are a lot of them, became all the more noticeable. The villain’s motivation seems to change from scene to scene. Is he after revenge? World domination? Money? A mix of the three? All of the above? One from column A, one from column C?
That’s just one example. There are a lot more I could list, but that would fall into heavy spoiler category. But the main crux of a lot of these other plot holes is the way Black and co-screenwriter Drew Pierce present us with complex solutions to the characters’ problems when it is obvious there was an easier way to get the same results. Instead of going directly from A to Z, they meander all over the alphabet, throw in a couple of numbers, and eventually get to Z 15 to 20 minutes later than they should.
This is a shame because there are a lot of good moments, no, wait, strike that, a lot of GREAT moments in the film. The way the Mandarin is presented might infuriate the die-hard fans, but I thought it was a unique take on the character. And by this point we all know that Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) ends up in a suit of armor, but the way she does is a nice touch. Pepper Potts has a chance to play not only the damsel in distress but also the hero in the film, which is a refreshing change.
And the cast is superb. In addition to the actors I already mentioned, there are especially strong performances from Don Cheadle, Guy Pierce and Rebecca Hall. Too bad they weren’t in a tighter script that fit in better with the franchise as a whole.