Gwyneth Paltrow has always been my favorite part of "Iron Man."
Oh sure, Robert Downey's Tony Stark has more, uh, issues than other action heroes, and delivers more clever quips sorting them out. But the role of Pepper Potts seems Paltrow's crowning achievement, even better than her Oscar-winning turn in "Shakespeare in Love."
Pepper's face is so glossy, so radiant on the big screen. While she ably matches Tony in the dialogue department, it's her thankless acceptance of his obnoxious ego that endears her to the audience, as well as to Tony. It's easy to see how she makes that gizmo he's got for a heart beat.
So when I saw her sharing the new Entertainment Weekly cover with Iron Man himself, I was excited. Now I'm not so sure.
"Iron Man 3" is what you get when you add 1 and 2, and throw in some subtext about the media's role in creating terrorist evil-doer superstars like Osama bin Laden. Ben Kingsley plays "the Mandarin," a bearded devil holding the world's airwaves captive, in a bravura performance that's easily the best thing about "Iron Man 3." Better than Gwyneth even.
Unfortunately, he's not in the movie enough to save it from the sort of mindlessness that defines "summer blockbuster," making $175 million its opening weekend by numbing its audience's brains instead of inspiring or challenging them.
Shane Black takes over directing duties from series-shaping executive producer Jon Favreau, who settles for a funny supporting role. Black also shares a screenwriting credit. His trademark is clever dialogue between the explosions, and the film has plenty of both.
Considering that Iron Man - as opposed to other men whose names begin with adjectives like "Super" or "Bat" - has always been a brilliant but deeply flawed individual with a cool wardrobe, it's the iron suit, complete with its artificial intelligence named "Jarvis" (voiced by Paul Bettany), that's the real star this time around.
Almost everyone in the cast - Downey, Paltrow, Don Cheadle, the villain Guy Pearce, the actor playing the president of the United States - winds up wearing the suit at some point in Black's fast-moving, surprise-laden script. Sometimes the suit is a weapon, sometimes it's a torture chamber.
Before we're through, there's a whole army of Iron Men to save the day, despite the realization that there's no one inside the suits.
Black's script cleverly sneaks in little messages about the dehumanization of us all, embodied by Pearce as the megalomaniacal but very good-looking head of the corporation engineering humanity's end. "Iron Man 3" winks at the audience, reminding us that although it's selling lots of popcorn, it's really an allegory about technology's dangerous, ever-increasing role in today's world.
Unfortunately, the movie ultimately delivers a different message. After many years and billions of dollars turning two-dimensional Marvel Comics heroes into living, breathing humans, movies have come full circle. Now a lot of very talented actors are turning themselves into flat, two-dimensional fantasies, reducing movies to comic strips, and taking it to the bank.
At the other end of the moviemaking scale, thanks to all of you who graciously voiced your support for the regional Emmy Award nomination bestowed on "When the Mountain Calls" as best cultural/historic program. Having been fortunate enough to contribute the script to this Maui-produced project, we're all reveling in the glow of the nomination.
The movie is about lessons learned by Maui's Tom Vendetti over 30 years of trekking around the Himalayas. When he started, he had aspirations of being a mountain climber. Over time, he became more interested in the happiness and contentment he saw in the eyes of the people who live high in those mountains.
It's not about a superhero, it's just about a guy. There are no special effects. Just human ones.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org