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Patches of rust: Overexposed 'Iron Man' franchise shows some wear

May. 3, 2013 - 09:40AM   |  
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Gwyneth Paltrow, right, as Pepper Potts in a scene from 'Iron Man 3.' (Disney, Marvel Studios/The Associated Press)

‘Iron Man 3’

Rated PG-13 for violence — much more than in previous “Iron Man” films, including some point-blank gun deaths.

Overkill is largely a foreign concept in Hollywood. But it’s an apt description of the current state of the “Iron Man” franchise.

Marvel has now churned the ol’ shellhead through four films (including “The Avengers”) in just five years, a pace that can’t help but water down any stew, no matter how spicy it was when first served.

“Iron Man 3” has all the familiar trappings — rapid-fire quips, impossibly cool tech and lots of colorful explosions. And Robert Downey Jr. remains wryly amusing as gazillionaire genius and mega-narcissist Tony Stark.

But just as Tony’s ticker is compromised, so too is the heart of this film — ironic, since writer-director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce badly want to give the character more heart.

This effort proceeds on two tracks. The main one involves playing up the relationship between Tony and his squeeze, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who now runs Stark Industries.

The other is a superfluous subplot in which Tony takes a trip to Tennessee to temporarily team up with an impossibly adorable moppet (Ty Simpkins).

News flash: No one wants a squishy Tony Stark. His jerkiness is his defining trait; it’s a bad idea to dilute the navel-gazing, supremely self-involved quirks that make him interesting in the first place. Black and Pearce want it both ways, but the results feel consistently awkward.

It hardly helps that the story feels a lot smaller than “The Avengers” or even “Iron Man 2.” It involves the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) a maniac jihadist; Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a psycho scientist; and a plot to create a race of molten supercriminals who can melt things by touch. Killian himself can actually belch fire (because, like, you know, “Game of Thrones” has made dragons really cool).

Kingsley serves up a welcome reminder of versatility — for reasons far different than you might expect — and is the only cast member who seems to be having any real fun.

Paltrow has a fairly large place in the story (and gets a nifty grrl-power moment near the end), but she’s not asked to do much more than look hot, which she does with aplomb, befitting People’s newly crowned “most beautiful woman in the world.” And if you think it’s a coincidence that the magazine gave her that arbitrary title just days before this film’s release, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that may interest you.

There are three big — and progressively less interesting — set-piece spectacle scenes. The first, the utter destruction of Tony’s huge Malibu cliffside mansion, is thunderously awesome.

The second, with Tony making a miraculous midair rescue of 13 people free-falling to earth after being sucked from a damaged jet aircraft, is a decent kick.

But the big finale, which unfolds at an oil tanker port, is a confusing, perfunctory jumble.

Beyond its disjointed story, narrow scope and stunted, half-formed emotions, what’s left is just the usual wall of noise. The suits at Marvel clearly are banking on that being sufficient to pull in the teens who make or break such flicks — sadly, a safe bet.

But no matter how much money this film makes, the Iron Man franchise clearly is suffering from metal fatigue.

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