By Chaz Lipp

Upon my third viewing of Iron Man 3, and my first on home video, I realized that the film suffers from what I call “Phantom Menace Syndrome.” Back in 1999, I was so hyper-stoked for the first new Star Wars film in 16 years, I was primed to accept just about anything. While the first in George Lucas’ spectacularly misguided prequel trilogy has some winning elements (and isn’t as terrible as Episode Two), it was hardly the Second Coming we fans expected. Yet I went multiple times, convinced it was all that and more. Because I couldn’t accept the plain truth: it’s a mediocre film at best.

While my expectations for Iron Man 3 weren’t nearly as stratospheric, like millions who were wowed by The Avengers, I expected at the very least a return to form after the just good-enough Iron Man 2. I convinced myself that was the case following my opening-night theatrical screening, but in the back of my mind was a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. After waiting a couple weeks, I went for a second viewing and was convinced that, yes, this IS the Iron Man movie I was hoping for.

Now I’m not so sure it truly betters its predecessor. It certainly doesn’t come close to The Avengers, largely because it’s hard to watch the film without longing for Captain America or maybe Hawkeye – heck, even Nick Fury – to show up at a key moment to help out Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). It certainly would’ve been preferable to more of Iron Patriot’s (Don Cheadle) involvement. Nothing against Cheadle (who does feel more natural here than in part two, where he was a jarring replacement for Terrence Howard), but the filmmakers continue their failure to meaningfully integrate the character. I get that this is a solo Iron Man movie, but following the phenomenal success of last year’s all-star team-up it seems like a wasted opportunity to not include any Avenger. But that’s not even the main problem with the film.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The most divisive choice made by director Shane Black and company for this third outing was the handling of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Heading into the third act, we discover the shocking truth about this “terrorist mastermind”: he’s just a drug-addled, clueless, British actor named Trevor, hired by the real brains behind a rash of bombings plaguing the U.S., Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Some found the hard turn into comic territory inspired, while many others (and not just comic book geeks) found it a cheat. I didn’t know exactly how I felt about it at first, but after revisiting the film it’s not so much the out-and-out comedy that bothers me. It’s that Guy Pearce’s Killian is simply not a strong enough villain to fill the void left by the outing of the Mandarin as a phony.

Let’s be honest, comic overtones have been a hallmark not only of the Iron Man movies, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Only The Incredible Hulk was largely missing the crackle of witty one-liners that laced the others (and was worse off because of it). Turning the Mandarin into a buffoon was certainly an unpredictable choice, but the remainder of the film’s third act quickly deflates. Suddenly, instead of a psychotically brilliant terrorist intent on striking fear into the heart of each and every American, we’re stuck with a psychotically brilliant eco-terrorist who wants Big Oil to pay for their polluting ways.

Another big problem that struck me was the telegraphing of key plot points well in advance of Tony discovering them. In other words, Iron Man 3 spoils some of its own key twists. For example, by the time Tony realizes the attacks are in fact suicide bombings perpetrated by soldiers infected with the Extremis virus, it had long since been old news for the audience. Wouldn’t it have been more effective to not know the truth about these horrific events, only to find out along with Tony?

Minor problems that contribute to the overall aura of mediocrity:

…William Sadler as President Ellis, a “movie President” if there ever was one. We’re supposed to feel something for this guy? As written and played, he’s an empty suit.

…Ty Simpkins as the kid befriended by Tony, Harley. I’m not going to bag on Simpkins performance, which is fine for what it is. But why did we need this “empowering of a bullied kid” subplot? To pander to the youngest audiences members (all of whom were JUST FINE without a little kid tagging along in any of the other Marvel films).

…Tony getting his chest arc reactor removed, just like that. Huh? I thought that operation was too risky, if not impossible? Otherwise wouldn’t he have done this in one of the previous films? Isn’t the arc reactor what makes him Iron Man? It certainly isn’t the suit anymore, since everyone and their uncle demonstrates the ability to operate it in this one.

As for the Blu-ray presentation, it should surprise no one that the disc excels both in terms of audio and visuals. The 1080p image has no reason to be less than perfect, as it was a mega-budget, digitally-shot film. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 needs no defense either, with robust music and effects utilizing all channels while never overwhelming dialogue.

Special features are admittedly a little light. There’s a “Second Screen” experience that I didn’t bother with (never have, probably never will – sounds like more hassle than it’s worth). Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes only reveal that some wise editorial decisions were made (there was a multi-scene subplot involving Harley’s bully that would’ve sunk an otherwise riveting section of the film). A five-minute gag reel is notable only because it gives the impression that Downey was assuming directorial duties at times (unfortunately there was no outtake that made me even crack a smile).

A pair of brief featurettes are non-essential, but much meatier is the audio commentary by director (and co-writer) Shane Black and writer Drew Pearce. There’s also a “Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter” that feels out of place on an Iron Man disc, considering it focuses on Captain America’s Hayley Atwell, reprising her role as Peggy Carter. And hey, wouldn’t this release have been the ideal place to finally let us Americans see the extra scenes included only in the Chinese theatrical cut?? I’ve heard they weren’t very good, but it flat-out SUCKS that they’re not included.

Oh, and anyone hoping for something substantial in the “Exclusive Look at Thor: The Dark World” will be non-plussed by the two minute EPK. But based on the little we see, The Dark World certainly does look thrilling. I can’t wait for November to see if the second entry in Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more inspired than Iron Man 3.

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