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Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun!  Just as Phase 1 began with Iron Man in 2008, old shell head is here to bring us into the next step.  So how do we come back from Avengers?  That was a question on the minds of so many a year ago as we watched our heroes go their separate ways.  Would these characters be able to hold their own in a solo movie now that we have seen them together?  Will there still be interesting stories to tell despite Thanos being an impending threat?  Like it or not we have our answer with Iron Man 3, the first of four films which will take us into Avengers 2 in 2015.  Does Iron Man still hold interest now that he his on his own again?  More importantly, is this movie better than the much-reviled Iron Man 2?  For that you are going to have to read on to find out!

After the events of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 gives us a much different Tony Stark; he is a changed man from the individual who comfortably ate shawarma next to a god a year ago.  The experiences in New York have given Tony a heavy case of PTSD, forcing him to constantly build new Iron Man suits in the hope that he will, eventually, feel secure once again.  Bring in The Mandarin, a terrorist threatening America with a series of bombings, or, as he refers to them, "lessons".  This, coupled with the sudden return of Aldrich Killian into the lives of Tony and Pepper, causes Stark to be forced into a larger conflict that he may not be fully prepared for no matter how many armors he has built.

While watching this movie, it was a very odd feeling to see Tony Stark on his own once again.  Throughout the build up to Avengers we were treated to two Iron Man films (one far superior to the other) which eased us into this expansive world of super heroes.  Now that we are dealing with a post-Avengers series of solo films, it is initially very weird to come back to such an encapsulated world when you know that there are larger things happening just outside of the camera's field of vision.  This feeling continues through the film until one stops to realize one thing: the comics do this all the time.  Sure, Iron Man can be seen on the pages of any Avengers comic each month, but he also has his own solo series too.  It may not contain any larger hints as to an Avengers reunion, but Iron Man 3 in many ways feels like picking up that first Iron Man solo book after reading a huge crossover event.  It may feel a little odd at first, but, once this feeling is gotten over, the movie becomes a lot more enjoyable.

The first act of Iron Man 3 is a little bit rocky, but it does not take too terribly long for the film to find an even footing.  As the song "Blue" by Eiffel 65 accompanies the Marvel logo at the beginning of the film, all doubts that this movie will be the dark, foreboding piece the trailers promised are completely cast aside.  Co-writer and Director Shane Black brings the humor big time in this film, with none of the charm of star Robert Downey Jr. being lost in the switch to a new man in charge.  After being treated to a short sequence setting up how Tony Stark has a history of ruining relationships that come back to bite him, we are able to see the state Tony has been left in after the Battle for New York.  Initially, everything seems fine, but it quickly becomes apparent that Tony is not the same...his near death experience of sending a nuke into space has left him with a serious case of PTSD that causes panic attacks at any mention of the words "New York" or "Avengers" or "portal".  These are the more interesting aspects to the opening act as well as the film overall and make for some great character development further on.  Despite being ousted as director, Jon Favreau returns to the role of Happy Hogan (there is even an ironic comment that there have been "some complaints" about him) and his role starts out funny, but the jokes eventually become very forced.  In fact, much of the humor of the first act starts to feel a bit over-bearing, only being stopped by the more fascinating PTSD sequences as well as the first big action piece: the destruction of Tony's house.

Action is the name of the game in this movie.  Though there are many long, drawn out periods between some of the action in this film, none of that ever feels like a burden.  Each of the action scenes feel quite natural and are so distinct that they never feel repetitive.  In fact, there is so much great action in this movie that it would ruin some of the fun to spoil too much of it, so let's focus on just one that was featured prominently in the trailers.  Halfway through the third act, there is an attack on Air Force One which results in several passengers falling from a plane that is mid-air.  As per usual in such a scenario, Iron Man comes to the rescue.  What follows is a breath-taking sequence where Iron Man must figure out how to rescue all of these people while they are in free-fall.  A line from Toy Story is perhaps most appropriate to describe this scene: "It's not flying, it's falling with style!"  Not only is this one of the more thrilling action sequences of the entire film as it makes you truly question whether or not Iron Man will be able to save everyone, but it is also greatly helped by the fact that much of the scene was done practically.  It could have been very easy for the filmmakers to have this entire scene blue-screened, but, as set videos prove, the decision was instead made to dangle quite a few people from helicopters over a body of water.  Using practical effects in this day and age is quite refreshing, and only improves this stunning sequence, which ends with one of the funnier parts of the entire film.

Despite their being some absolutely massive action sequences in this film, it is actually quite an intimate piece.  After his house is destroyed by the forces of the Mandarin, Tony finds himself in the middle of Tennessee without his armor or JARVIS to help him.  While he does get some help from a little boy named Harley (ably played by Ty Simpkins), the story really shifts to focus on just how Tony can survive without the lifeline of his suit.  On the whole, the film does a much better job than its predecessor of exploring the character of Tony Stark.  There are any number of character-delving story arcs from the comics which could have been utilized in this film, but the route that Shane Black and crew take is very worthwhile.  Not only does Tony's story feel more focused, but the entire film is much more intimate, with only about four or five big characters.  This is a nice change of pace from Iron Man 2, which introduced so many characters it lost much of its focus.  Focus is no issue at all with Iron Man 3.  In fact, Shane Black does such a masterful job of fleshing out these characters that one almost wishes he could help out all of the Marvel Studios films on this front.  The balance between intimacy and heavy action is incredible to see here.

In terms of story, there is not too much which can be discussed without giving a majority of the film away.  Having never read Warren Ellis' popular Extremis storyline, it is difficult to tell how accurate the film is to the comics, but it makes for any interesting story-telling move.  The numerous Extremis-infused thugs that Tony and company fight in this film are perhaps more comic-book style villains than even the Chitauri were in The Avengers.  This is more meant as a compliment, however, as Iron Man 3 continues the trend that Joss Whedon began last year in making Marvel's cinematic endeavors feel more like the comic books they are based on.  Another addition to this story which has been highly-anticipated by fans is The Mandarin.  Despite being considered Iron Man's arch-nemesis, the Mandarin has never hard a truly defining arc in the comics.  The character is used sparingly, but very effectively in Iron Man 3 and there is a twist in his story line that will perhaps be the largest talking point of this film in the months and years to come.

Robert Downey Jr proves for the third time that he was always meant to play Tony Stark.  As this film is so much more of a character analysis than even his first outing in the armor, it is great to see that RDJ can pull off the more serious material as well as the charismatic.  Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle are excellent in their roles as Pepper Potts and James Rhodes respectively.  While both of these actors do a good job while on screen, it is somewhat a detriment to this film that they are not utilized to their full potential.  Both Pepper and Rhodey have a few shining moments (the Iron Patriot armor is particularly great), but they are very much so scaled back in this film to make it all more focused on Tony...which maybe is what this series really needed.  Ben Kingsley is quite fantastic as The Mandarin, a villain who comes off as incredibly intimidating mostly due to his mysterious nature and screen presence.  Guy Pearce does a good job as Aldrich Killian in both his forms as needy geek in the film's opening and the more conceited business man we see later on.  Killian is a decent enough villain in the film, but the part does feel a tad under-written.  Again this is not too much to complain about as much of the writing in this film is wisely focused on Tony's development as a character. Rebecca Hall does a decent enough job as Tony's ex-fling and Extremis creator Maya Hanson, but she appears so briefly that her character will not be too memorable in a few years.

Overall, Shane Black does an excellent job of giving the Iron Man franchise the jolt of life that it needed.  While it is difficult to say if the film surpasses Iron Man, it does make for a very nice bookend to the original film...with Avengers serving as the middle piece instead of Iron Man 2. Though the humor is a bit forced at times, there are still quite a number of laughs to be had, with many of them coming at rather unexpected times.  As the ending credits begin to roll, one gets the sense that Iron Man 3 is meant to be more in the style of an 80's action thriller (yet with better character development)...and this is not a bad thing by any means.  What we end up with after this film is a deepened understanding of the inner-workings of Tony Stark and a revitalized confidence in his abilities to save the world as Iron Man.  The bar has been set quite high for the rest of Marvel's Phase 2.  We will find out in November if Thor: The Dark World can match the level of entertainment and introspection seen in Iron Man 3.

It probably goes without saying to stick after the credits of the film for something a little extra.  The scene in question does nothing to set up the next film(s), but is a nice little coda to the rest of the movie  (with a very fun cameo).

Rating: A

Summary:  Iron Man 3 proves that, yes, the characters of The Avengers can come home again and steal the spotlight in their solo adventures.  A film that is quite intimate in focus, but massive in scope balances humor, action, and character development very well for a third film in a superhero franchise...a rarity these days. 
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  1. So, instead of providing a full-out counter review, I'd just thought I'd add my own assorted ramblings about the film at the bottom as Shane and I took it in at the same time.

    On the whole, I found it to be enjoyable enough. The biggest positive I can take away from the film is that its script is fairly clever in places, particularly related to The Mandarin which is probably the most memorable character in the film and is probably the best way to handle that particular character (who in the comics unfortunately fell into the "yellow peril/red menace" category. There are also interesting implications for the first Iron Man film if one puts the pieces together.

    The humor is sharp throughout, but possibly overabundant at times. There's a potential diminishing returns factor on jokes when the main focus of your film isn't comedy, and the potential to undermine the action floats in the background. We get it, Tony is having trouble with his suit...but there's a crispness to the proceedings that can only be credited to Shane Black, and certainly his contributions here have a big impact, I was actually disappointed anytime Tony put the suit on, because the best parts of the script are when Tony is on his own and has to rely on himself without any of more expensive gadgets. There's a tiny disconnect between the more intimate scenes and big action set pieces, I preferred the former.

    I also did not care for the villain motivations, which were weak at best. There was a bit too much happenstance with his ties to Pepper as well, and the fact that Pepper falls into "Damsel in Distress" mode by the movie's end is disappointing for a script that was at least attempting to go interesting places. On that note, the entire third act was a bit of a bore. I give Black credit for breaking with formula and not having an Iron Man vs Iron Man fight, but the action was just dull and when logic begins to take over, you start to wonder why Tony didn't make this decision when all hell broke loose in the first place.

  2. The existence of the blockbuster team-up film before it is also a problem for the average film-goer. The question everyone in my theater seemingly asked afterward was...so where was Captain America? The argument could be made that all the films are occurring at the same time, and perhaps will be but film release schedules don't allow for that kind of elaboration until after the fact and it becomes a narrative hole.

    But not to make my thoughts sound totally negative, Downey is completely in his element as always and its nice to see Don Cheadle get a little extra to do beyond what he was give in the train-wreck that was Iron Man 2. Pearce, Kingsley, and Hall all do good enough work with no embarrassing spots (though the makeup put on Pearce in the beginning of the film was questionable).

    I found the Extremis concept quite enjoyable in a "turn your brain off" kind of way. The film is a bit of a mix between the Iron Man storylines "Extremis" and "The Five Nightmares" and they're blended well enough that it doesn't feel like two pieces forced together (ala Iron Man 2 or X-Men:The Last Stand). The action was quite strong whenever it involved any of the Extremis-enhanced thugs. There were also enough moments that called back to Iron Man 1 that satisfied me as a fan of that film.

    Iron Man 3 may also have the only kid sidekick in history (short of Charlie Chaplin's) that isn't annoying. AND there's a twist that will likely leave people talking, I found it be a beautiful piece of social commentary and had a very "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" feel, and elevated Black and Drew Pearce's work.

    It's not a perfect movie, the end of the film (which attempts a form of finality, but also pulls back enough to continue on...they have Avengers 2 to make after all) feels like a screenplay that lacks a little balls, but the ride to get there is a good time.

    I give it a B, not the best film of the series, but certainly worthy to stand with the original film.

    For the record
    Iron Man: A-
    Iron Man 2: C-
    Iron Man 3: B

  3. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. moviesfolks.com


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