Iron Man 3, or Guy Pearce Just Needs A Hug.

So, before we get cracking I’ll direct you now to Robert Berg’s review of Iron Man 3 which is a) great, b) touches on most of the points I wanted to cover (essentially making most of what I was going to write redundant), and c) isn’t technically spoiler free but is sufficiently subtle about it that you’d have to be wound up really tight to feel as if it spoils the movie for you.

I, dear reader, suck at dancing around spoilers so I’ll just put the tl;dr version here. Go see Iron Man 3. It is mostly excellent. Enjoyable and in some respects (but not others) sufficiently challenging to rise above the base level of popcorn-munching explosion porn that is the de facto standard (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*). A lot of effort has gone into it, and there are a lot of lovely little moments for the keen-eyed that you can list to your other half on the way to the car.

I repeat: spoiler alert.

So. Iron Man 3. It gets a lot of things right, and first among them is Tony Stark. What could easily have been a one-note character (he is snarky and rich, lol!) is written and performed with depth and nuance. Underneath the layers of acerbic, exasperated curtness, Tony is all heart, and it is a credit to the film and RDJ that this is shown not as an epiphany, but as something that shows through the cracks all the way through.

And those cracks aren’t just in his armour. There’s a reason Tony leaves himself out of the roll call when he faces Loki in the Avengers, and it’s not simple cinematic bravado. He feels small – he feels weak – and at the beginning of Iron Man 3 he’s not trying to come to terms with this: he’s trying to beat it. The armour is up to Mark 42 (and there are some great cameos by other variants during the film) but even more than that he is training. Stark has never been out of shape but he’s visibly broader, more muscular, and we see him both working out, but also feinting attacks at a Wing Chun dummy. Tony’s first response to his imagined inadequacy is to defeat it, and the effort is destroying him.

Needless to say, things get worse before they get better, but throughout it Tony doesn’t really change – it’s more that he remembers there is value in the qualities he has. Eternally crushed by the shadow of his own doubt, Iron Man 3 is about how he learns to come out from under all that weight.

Where the movie falters, though, is in the challenge he faces.

There’s a bit in Night at the Museum 2 where Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) meets Darth Vader:

This is how I feel about the antagonists in Iron Man 3. They’re just too busy, and by the end of the movie you’re left wondering what the hell they actually ever wanted. There are four or five really great villain concepts in there, but rather than just pick one and really going for it, they have them ALL and it starts to feel like a bit of a mess. The Extremis treatment starts off quite scary – the idea of a literally unkillable soldier (but they are really, really hard to make and keep stable – although there are other applications for the failures) is terrifying, but then it gets ruined by that not being enough.

Unkillable with impossible strength and agility? Okay. Right. Even more than simply being unstoppable, the Extremis soldier is one-on-one capable of immediately overcoming any normal human foe and can fight an Iron Man suit. That’s fine.

Wait, no. There’s more. They can create human torch levels of heat. And spit fire.

Oh, and there’s a fucking army of them.

I can appreciate the desire for a big multi-player set piece, but I switched off for five minutes while the battle played out. The Extremis soldiers had stopped being scary and were just background pyrotechnics. Instead of being thrilled I sat there feeling the same kind of awkwardness I felt while watching the last episode of Sherlock – how could the conspiracy operate with so many people involved? Moriarity manipulates/bribes/threatens a LOT of people and the idea that in an age of widespread instant communication not one would give the game away beggars belief. Likewise with the AIM thinktank – how are they able to maintain such an absolute blanket of secrecy?

Given that there are several shots in the film of henchmen doubting their purpose – including one of the chief henchdude looking very uncomfortable when the time comes to attack Air Force One – I can’t help but suspect this was something that they toyed with during shooting, but it never made it out the door. In fact, there are several scenes and ideas that are left to dangle endlessly unfulfilled – most wisely, perhaps, the scene where Tony Stark buys fertiliser from a hardware store and makes a set of kitchen table bombs, clear glass jars filled with Hollywood’s favourite visual device, the binary explosive.

Anyway. Scrappy editing and baddies that become dramatically less threatening by the endgame aside, Iron Man 3 is a good movie, and worth going to see.

Three-minute Flash Fiction.

Following delivery at Alt.Fiction, here is the three-minute piece I wrote for the open mic panel.

Mr Ipkiss, and the monkey who poops pomegranates

“I’m so glad you could come, Stanley.”

The man’s name was Ipkiss, according to the nameplate on his desk, and Stanley was so overcome by the strangeness of him that he had quite forgotten about his toothache. There was nothing spare about the man, as if all the excess that could afflict a human being had been winnowed clear. He put Stanley in mind of a stalk of wheat, albeit a giant, talking one that was standing over him wearing a look of polite apprehension.

“I’m…glad I could make it?”

It was, apparently, the correct response, as Mr Ipkiss clapped his hands together in satisfaction.

“Excellent, Stanley. Quite excellent. Now, if I might trouble you with a question, do you know what we do here at the office of fair trades?”

“You throw the book at shopkeepers who fiddle their books?”

“Ha!” said Mr Ipkiss. “The book! That’s very good, but not quite it. We at the OFT are concerned with maintaining balance.”

“Like a bank balance?”

“More universal, but essentially, yes. We work very hard – strive, one might say – to keep the natural accounts of our world in the black.”

Whatever it meant, he sounded very passionate. Stanley wondered how far it was to the door. “That sounds…complicated,” he said.

“It is, Stanley. I agree. Sometimes the fate of everything can depend on one small item. Empires have crumbled on the turn of a playing card. Imagine the chaos that could result from a single, tiny seed.”

“A seed?”

“Yes, Stanley. The seed that’s stuck between your teeth right now has a destiny, and we’ve asked you in to help us realise it.”

“Well, I was going to see the dentist…”

“Oh, there’s no need.”

A strong, long-fingered hand gripped Stanley’s jaw, expertly popping his mouth open. He jerked in surprise, trying to come to his feet, but discovered he was unable to move. As his head was tilted back, a pair of gentle, simian eyes met his own.

“I’d like you to meet Charlie,” Mister Ipkiss said. “He’s one of our agents in the office.”

Charlie the monkey reached into his open mouth. There was a strong tingling sensation and a twist, and as quickly as the operation had begun, Stanley found it was over. He prodded weakly around the inside of his mouth, expecting to find a gap. Instead, the tooth had been replaced, and the ache was gone.

The monkey hopped onto the desk, popped the seed into its mouth, and appeared to swallow. Stanley found his voice.

“All that for a monkey to swallow it?”

“Ah yes, well, normally, of course, we grow our fruit, but in this case expediency demands a different course.”

A burbling gastric rearrangement rang out from the belly of Charlie the monkey. There was a moment of tremendous, terrible pressure, of expansion and release, followed by a thud as something round, dark, and ripe landed on the desk. Mister Ipkiss produced a handkerchief and moved deftly to sweep it up, before presenting it to Stanley with infinite courtesy. Foolishly, Stanley accepted, and was treated to a sensation he would never forget; the warm, tacky weight of a freshly-laid pomegranate, heavy against his palm.

“Thank you again, Stanley,” Mister Ipkiss said. “It’s been an absolute pleasure. I’d shake your hand but-” he cast a look at Stanley’s hands, “-well, you understand.”