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Monday, May 6, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow & Don Cheadle
Directed by Shane Black
Written by Drew Pearce & Shane Black
Original Score by Brian Tyler 

After a brief in media res opening (they're all the rage these days) which establishes the story that follows to be a narrative told by Tony Stark to an unseen someone, Iron Man 3 finds Tony Stark struggling to come to terms with the events of The Avengers. He's become more of a celebrity and hero than ever, even while he's having problems sleeping and clearly suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder. What follows from this setup is a surprisingly introspective summer blockbuster. With the country under attack by a terrorist known as the Mandarin, Tony finds himself pulled out of his comfort zone, stripped of his usual resources and forced to once more rebuild himself from the ground up in order to expose the real threat of the Mandarin.

While this film suffers, as the previous ones did, from a surprising lack of Iron Man, it nevertheless is a ton of fun and a resounding success. Simply put, all of this works because of Robert Downey Jr., who continues to kill his performance as the arrogant, snarky, genius inventor with a (metaphoric) heart of a gold. If you had told me going into it that this film would feature an extended sequence in which Tony Stark pals around with a precocious kid, I'd have rolled my eyes and braced myself for the worst. But that sequence, which eats up a good chunk of the middle act of the film, works, because both Downey Jr. and the screenplay stay true to the character, never allowing the maudlin sentiment that too often seeps into a movie when a hero teams up with a kid to overwhelm Tony (it also helps that the kid in questions manages to avoid becoming a plot-based liability).

This movie concludes Robert Downey Jr.'s initial contract to play Tony Stark, and though it's widely accepted that he'll be at least back for the Avengers sequel, it's unclear what the future holds for this iteration of Iron Man. Without giving anything away, the film ends with a note of surprising finality, recalling the first film while offering up a note of resolution that could, if Downey Jr. does walk away, serve as an effect conclusion to this series of films (a remarkable thing in this day of franchises and sequel after sequel after sequel). There's been talk that Iron Man could be an evergreen character, someone like James Bond, with actors cycling in and out of the role for decades to come. Certainly, anything is possible, but for now, Robert Downey Jr. owns this role in a way few actors have ever owned a specific character. Tony Stark may be Iron Man, but Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, and it's hard to imagine otherwise.

Other Thoughts (Spoilers Ahead)
While the events of Avengers are all over this film in terms of the way Tony is reacting to them, I was a little disappointed by the lack of some more overt shared universe elements. The conversation between Rhodes and Tony near the beginning of the movie was clearly meant to establish why the Avengers weren't involved with the Mandarin crisis, but I still wouldn't have minded some lip service paid to the notion of Captain America being involved (offscreen) in that fight, or maybe an appearance by Nick Fury somewhere along the way, offering Tony the help of SHIELD, only for Tony to turn him down because the fight's become personal (or something).

I thought the ultimate reveal of the Mandarin's actual role in events was fun and a neat little twist (and I'm glad I avoided spoilers, as I was generally surprised by the revelation), but it does leave me wondering about his involvement in the first film. It was hinted at then that the Mandarin was the force behind the terrorists who kidnapped Tony; are we to believe now that Killian was behind them as well, or was that simply a hint that never really developed?

On the flip side of that, I really liked that Yinsen (the guy who helped Tony build the first Iron Man armor in the first film) was at the conference in Bern at the beginning. 

Comic book films in general don't always treat their female characters the best (see, for example, the way Mary Jane did little more than scream her way through three Spider-Man movies), in part because they're taking their inspiration from stories written by men in the sixties, so even though the rescue of Pepper served as Tony's primary motivation in the climax of the film, I appreciated that, in the end, she ended up saving Tony and was the one who ultimately dispatched the villain.

Having Happy serve as the head of security was a nice nod to the comics, as was the offscreen presence of Pepper's secretary Bambi, a reference to Bambi Arbogast, who was Tony's longtime secretary in the comics.

Can I just say how refreshing it is that this series of films is simply numbered? None of this hiding from the number/vague subtitle business here. 

3 Iron Man armors out of 4

8 comments:

  1. We frickin loved it. It was just so funny and so action packed and just so great. And i don't know if it was the writing, RDJ, or a combination of both. Probably the latter. I laughed so hard at a lot of the dialogue between Stark and the kid. It was so perfect and spot on.

    But yes, Anne and i were also talking about the lack of the shared universe elements. Like, everyone believes Tony's dead, so at what point does shield step in? But i'm aware that that's a movie limitation more than anything. you can't really take the spot light off of Tony/Iron Man, but like you said, even if they could have just touched on a reason in a quick bit of dialogue, i would have been super appreciative.
    I'd definitely see it again in theaters.

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  2. @Sarah: you can't really take the spot light off of Tony/Iron Man, but like you said, even if they could have just touched on a reason in a quick bit of dialogue, i would have been super appreciative.

    Exactly. I get why Tony is in the spotlight, and I wouldn't want it otherwise. But the character exists in a shared universe now, and I wanted just a bit more of an overt acknowledgement of that, some lip service paid to why Tony is going to be the central figure in this story (outside of the fact that it's an Iron Man movie).

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  3. I dunno, when we were walking out of the movie, a friend of mine was wondering why SHIELD wasn't combatting the Mandarin, or what Captain America was up to while all this was going on. I assume SHIELD was involved, but probably following their own course of investigation. JARVIS did mention that he reconstructed the holographic crime scene using records from the FBI, CIA, and SHIELD.

    As far as Cap goes, I just assume he's off having his own adventure someplace. Maybe he's overseas or something. Thor is back in Asgard. The Hulk is on the run from Thunderbolt Ross as usual. Black Widow and Hawkeye may have been searching for the Mandarin too, though I got the impression from the end of Avengers that they had possibly resigned from SHIELD, in which case they could be out there trotting the globe as freelance agents.

    In short, I had no real problem with it because that's how it always was in the comics. Except for when a story required Iron Man to be with the Avengers, he usually existed in a vacuum and you assumed the rest of the team was off having solo adventures elsewhere at the same time.

    I was genuinely surprised by the Mandarin reveal, and I found Ben Kingsley's performance very funny, but at the same time I was a little dismayed that Iron Man's (arguably) greatest enemy was reduced to a hoax in the Marvel Films universe. But as I read on another site, Killian had those dragon tattoos when we saw him with his shirt off. It's possible there really is a Mandarin out there, and Killian was his agent or something.

    Overall I enjoyed the movie, but I find myself wondering if I would've liked it as much when I was younger. Tons of kids love Iron Man these days, but there was so little Iron Man in the movie that I find myself wondering if a kid would sit through it. Maybe I was a weird kid, but I would've been bored to death with the "plainclothes Tony" sequences in this movie, even as funny as they were. I had no interest in the non-Superman parts of the Superman movies, and I think my opinion on Iron Man 3, which seemed to have the least amount of Iron Man action of the trilogy, would have been the same.

    I was also a little upset that Tony couldn't even take out the main villain himself. Hooray for giving women things to do in a superhero movie and all, but this is Iron Man's movie. There's kind of a progression in the series for each climactic fight: in the first film, Tony needed Pepper's help to defeat Iron Monger/Stane, but he pretty much beat the bad guy himself. Then in the second movie, he needed War Machine's help to defeat Whiplash/Vanko, and they kind of won the day as equal partners. But by the third installment, he winds up helpless with no armor left, and has to rely on Pepper to save the day by herself. And also, why was she suddenly a hand-to-hand combat expert?

    My absolute favorite part of the movie was the "barrel of monkeys" scene. I was pretty sure it would all turn out fine in the end (even though this was a slightly darker Iron Man movie than the previous two), but just the same, I was clenching my armrests and holding my breath and hoping Iron Man would be able to save all those people. That feeling is why I watch superhero movies -- so the kid I once was can come to the surface and see his heroes accomplish the seemingly impossible and save the day. I just wish there was more of it in this one. I like Robert Downey Jr., but I went to the theater to see Iron Man.

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  4. Oh, also -- the Mk. 42 armor was ugly. Too much gold. Iron Man should always be primarily red.

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  5. @Matt: I had no real problem with it because that's how it always was in the comics.

    Yeah, that's what I tell myself (that it's like it is in the comics). But at the same time, that doesn't mean the movies can't try and improve on it. I also feel like the idea of a shared movie universe is such a rare and unique thing that I hate to see any opportunity to exploit it go to waste, whereas such things are commonplace in comics, so it's not that big a deal if every issue doesn't reference the other characters who exist in that hero's world.

    And like I said, I didn't expect (or really want) Cap or someone showing up in the movie, but a line or two of dialogue or a brief Nick Fury appearance would have been appreciated.

    It's possible there really is a Mandarin out there, and Killian was his agent or something.

    I've also heard the interpretation that Killian was the Mandarin, from the beginning (he pretty much said as much at one point), even back during the events of the first movie, which is an idea I can get behind. And as my brother pointed out, it wouldn't be all that surprising if he popped up again, since regeneration is kinda his whole schtick.

    Maybe I was a weird kid, but I would've been bored to death with the "plainclothes Tony" sequences in this movie, even as funny as they were.

    I was similar to you in that as a kid, I was easily bored by the "normal" moments in a superhero film (like most of Superman II), but I honestly think I might have been okay with Plainclothes Tony in this, just because he is so funny and fun to watch. That's what I find so remarkable about Downey Jr's performance in all three films: he's probably the only actor to make me enjoy the alter ego almost as much as the costumed hero.

    That said, I definitely would have liked to see more Iron Man, in general, in all three films.

    And also, why was she suddenly a hand-to-hand combat expert?

    I didn't see it so much as being a hand-to-hand expert as just getting in a lucky shot. But on that subject, there were times in the movie where Tony seemed to have gained some significant hand to hand combat skills between movies, to the point where I was half expecting a line of dialogue featuring that old "trained by Captain America" chestnut (which of course, didn't happen, but then disappointed me because it didn't. Another shared universe lost opportunity!).

    That feeling is why I watch superhero movies -- so the kid I once was can come to the surface and see his heroes accomplish the seemingly impossible and save the day.

    Agreed. I loved that sequence. It reminded me of the "nobody dies!" sequence from a random issue of Flash blogger Dave Campbell wrote about years ago.

    the Mk. 42 armor was ugly. Too much gold.

    I don't know if it was the gold for me, but something was definitely off about it. I did like that one of the armors that showed up at the end was vaguely reminiscent of the red-and-silver mid 80s armor, mainly because I have a soft spot for that design.

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  6. a surprisingly introspective summer blockbuster

    That's a very fitting description of it.

    We agree on nearly every point, as usual — RDJ killing it, the kid working surprisingly well (and why), the dearth of even lip service to other MCU/Avengers characters, the Mandarin twist actually working too, Pepper on the whole being used heroically, and just about all the rest.

    Tony Stark may be Iron Man, but Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, and it's hard to imagine otherwise.

    I left nearly that exact sentence out of my review (not on purpose but out of apparent negligence, as it's with the rest of my notes in my follow-up links post).

    Something I didn't give the proper attention, as my friend Arben commented, is the in medias res opening. I'm actually impressed that they not only assumed the audience's familiarity with Iron Man from previous movies, which is to be expected, but that they also threw out The Mandarin as a thing that already existed and had recently been building to a head as the present day of the movie unfolds.

    A major peeve of mine that you didn't mention, on the other hand, is how vulnerable Tony and his friends are. I just can't believe that his home would be without sophisticated defenses, nor that his address would actually be news as strongly implied when he gives it during that impromptu stupid "Come and get me!" curbside press conference.

    Can I just say how refreshing it is that this series of films is simply numbered?

    You can (and obviously did) but we'll actually disagree on something there for once. I hate 'em.

    To be more specific, I find numbered films in general unimaginative; I passionately hate numbered sequels where the first film has not been numbered — and that's pretty much every film series except Star Wars, which is a special case in a couple of ways. I wish every unnumbered first-in-an-eventual-franchise movie would come out with a special edition like X-Men 1.5 because it's all I can do not to add a "1" via Post-It note or marker to my DVDs of Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. When Spider-Man 2 ended up with that name instead of The Amazing Spider-Man as was considered, storm clouds gathered in my soul and wept. I'll take Return to the Planet of the Apes, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and even the preemptive Captain America: The First Avenger any day.

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  7. @Matt: As far as Cap goes, I just assume he's off having his own adventure someplace. Maybe he's overseas or something. Thor is back in Asgard. The Hulk is on the run from Thunderbolt Ross as usual. Black Widow and Hawkeye may have been ... out there trotting the globe as freelance agents.

    I figure all that too, but I'm with Teebore here. Thor's way out of the picture; Hulk/Banner probably isn't needed or available. I want the move to at least meet me halfway in terms of what's up with the rest, though.

    @Matt: I was genuinely surprised by the Mandarin reveal, and I found Ben Kingsley's performance very funny, but at the same time I was a little dismayed that Iron Man's (arguably) greatest enemy was reduced to a hoax

    Honestly, I'm surprised that it doesn't bother me more — or at all, really. No Mandarin was seen or even mentioned in the first movie, but apparently some entity called the Ten Rings was a veiled reference to him, and unless we're told otherwise I think it's up to us to decide whether we want Killian to have been involved in that. Killian does say that he's the Mandarin in this movie, although I believe it's more a reference to how he set everything up as the man behind the man behind the curtain than, like, having been on the phone with his voice disguised and operating under that name himself.

    @Matt: I would've been bored to death with the "plainclothes Tony" sequences in this movie, even as funny as they were.

    @Teebore: as a kid, I was easily bored by the "normal" moments in a superhero film ... but I honestly think I might have been okay with Plainclothes Tony in this

    I'm with Teebore again on this one, although I get where Matt's coming from too. Part of it is that I/we am/are in fact older. A couple of years ago, my sister's kids were completely bored with the first Superman movie when it wasn't Krypton or Superman in action, whereas now the older ones have aged up to really liking it already. Part of it is that Tony's still building and using gadgets. Is Iron Man the suit or is Iron Man Tony Stark (or is he indivisibly both, Tony Stark in the suit)? Part of it too, related to the last point, is that I've always found it neat to see heroes using their powers while in their civilian identities, and making stuff work is basically Tony's power.

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  8. @Blam: I just can't believe that his home would be without sophisticated defenses, nor that his address would actually be news as strongly implied when he gives it during that impromptu stupid "Come and get me!" curbside press conference.

    Yeah, that bugged me too, both the defenselessness of his home and the fact that it had apparently been a secret location until then, which, especially in this day and age, is hard to buy.

    I'll take Return to the Planet of the Apes, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and even the preemptive Captain America: The First Avenger any day.

    Hmm...now you've got me thinking. Let's see, the Indiana Jones movies have never bothered me, probably because they feel more like films in a series than a series of films (if that makes sense). Ditto the original Star Trek films, which were all numbered and named.

    So maybe it's just the named sequels that bug me, and not the named and numbered ones?

    Basically, what I think it comes down is my continued disappointment in Star Trek: Into Darkness as a title.

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