Iron Man 3 is a great - nearly classic - summer blockbuster, filled with awesome special effects, stellar performances, fewer plot holes than explosions and a heartfelt geek message at its core: technology drives and inspires us, enables us to save the world - and how we control our tech ultimately determines our humanity.
Iron Man is the role that Robert Downey, Jr. was born to play, though Ben Kingsley nearly steals the show, deliciously playing the dual roles of evil terrorist and drunken British footie fan. The film's entire lead cast is spot on, in fact, with each character able to stand out amidst the many loud rockets very bright red glare.
The story is surprisingly well-constructed, if a bit boilerplate Hollywood: America is under siege - only, this time it's personal. Media-savvy terrorists have turned humans into walking bombs. But not even Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, can save us. In this third installment of the series, we require not one but a battalion of Iron Men, some human, some not - it's not always so easy to tell - to vanquish our enemy.
In the end, superior technology - or at least the tech with the fewest major bugs - wins the day.
We Are Our Tech
Iron Man 3 doesn't just revel in all its high tech wonder. High tech is its purpose, its reason for being, and the driver of the plot. Terrorists have developed, with Tony Stark's unwitting help, something called "Extremis," which can re-grow limbs but also turn people into walking bombs. It also creates a battery of super-strong villains able to take on the well-suited Tony Stark, though at the cost of their sanity.
In Iron Man's world, we are each the tech we put in or around our bodies - so choose wisely.
Tony Stark may be a "genius, billionaire, philanthropist" but he is also most definitely a geek. Stark's sanctuary is his basement, where he relentlessly tinkers - creating voice-activtated Iron Man suits and relying upon what might be Google Glass 2.0 to help construct his visions.
Stark builds several Iron Man suits, expertly repairs them when needed, hacks into a news truck's satellite feed, heroically soars above the clouds and commands computing power likely still a few years away from today's reality. His newest suit wraps itself around him at will. Think the rumored iWatch, only for the entire body and with military-grade weaponry standard-issue.
Hollywood Follows Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is leading the charge to construct the programmable world. With Iron Man 3, Hollywood follows, expertly dramatizing these changes.
Tony Stark, himself, is the stuff of Silicon Valley dreams: even smarter than rich, witty, equal parts computer programmer and mechanical engineer. He quit running his own mega-company, Stark Enterprises, to concentrate on the more visionary stuff and, Sergey Brin-like, spend his time building cool new gadgetry.
Offered without irony, Stark inadvertently places his life in danger - and threatens the future of America - by turning down one hell of a start-up opportunity.
Spoiler alert: The man Tony turned down, the smart, nerdy, hapless and ultimately evil Aldrich Killian, well-played by Guy Pearce, possesses a product - Extremis - that can “hack into the hard drive of any living organism." If there is any cautionary message in the film, it's that technology that surrounds us is acceptable, but tech we put inside us remains to be feared.
The Whole World's Gonna Be Watching
In Iron Man 3, the female characters - yes, there are more than one - are badass, smarts are highly valued, terrorists are as stupid as they are evil, technology absolutely can make us better, children can do much more than we suspect, the good guys always have someone at their back, and you get better as you get older.
All that plus the gadgets, the rocket attacks and the big finish, makes Iron Man 3 the perfect start to the summer blockbuster season. It's fun, loud, action-packed, well-written, well-acted, filled with awesome special effects that almost but do not quite overwhelm the characters.
You probably want to go see it again.
ReadWrite will provide reviews of other summer blockbusters. Next up: Star Trek: Into Darkness.