Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

Last summer audiences were treated to an epic superhero team-up smackdown. You may have heard of it – The Avengers? Of course you have since it was only one of the biggest movies of all time! It wrapped up what Marvel would eventually call “Phase One” of their big screen master plan for cinematic domination and kick off “Phase Two” with a teaser of things to come during the end credits (THANOS).

So with this huge movie basically kicking the shit out of all the individual characters’ escapades in the series that came before it (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America) one has to wonder exactly how Marvel planned to move ahead with the standalone films. Would they go bigger? Add as many new characters into each installment as they could? Go off the rails with crazy comic book shenanigans? In the case of Iron Man 3 they decided to go smaller and more intimate. It proved to be the right choice.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), aka Iron Man, finds himself plagued by nightmares and panic attacks due to his near death experience during the alien invasion in New York. A number of terrorist attacks orchestrated by The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) prompt Tony to come out of his funk and take a stand. When he is targeted he begins an investigation into the mysterious terrorist organization and discovers a conspiracy that could cost him everything he holds dear.

I want to say in advance that I don’t read the Iron Man comics and don’t really have an interest in doing so. These movies are good enough for me, so anything that goes down in these flicks that is contrary to the source materials is completely lost on this guy. Get it? Got It? Good.
Writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) smartly decided to dial back the scale and make the movie more about what makes Tony tick as opposed to cramming in as many action scenes as possible. We see Tony truly vulnerable for the first time since before installing the arc reactor in his chest. He’s also without the use of a suit or any of his extravagant toys for a good chunk of the runtime. He has to rely solely on his resourcefulness to survive and discover what is really going on with The Mandarin and the terrorist attacks. The movie becomes more like a Tom Clancy thriller than a superhero tale during the second act which is a welcome change-up.

I don’t think I need to tell you how great Robert Downey, Jr. is in the title role. He has always seemed so comfortable in the part and this is no exception. In fact he shows off another side of the character altogether – being a father figure. Yes, there is a child added to the cast in the form of little Ty Simpkins (Insidious) as Harley. Usually when a writer drops a kid into the mix it means that they have run out of story options. That is definitely not the case here. Harley actually serves a purpose, and that is to help Tony overcome his fears. He also shares a number of classic moments with Stark that are hilarious (“My Mom’s at the diner working. Dad went to the store to buy some scratchers. That was six years ago.”). Gwyneth Paltrow is awesome as well and gets some of the best individual moments in the entire flick. Don Cheadle is tops as well as Rhodes, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot. I really enjoyed Guy Pearce as the slimy genius Aldrich Killian who ends up being the best villain this series has ever had. Rebecca Hall is decent as scientist Maya Hansen, but is given nothing of note to do. Out of all the wonderful actors in this film it’s Sir Ben Kingsley that steals the show as The Mandarin. I’ll not go into spoilers about the character, but he provides some of the greatest moments of any Marvel film as far as I’m concerned.
The use of the Extremis storyline from the comics (I was filled in on this after seeing the flick by a comic book geek friend) can be taken as somewhat silly in nature, but ultimately in the end provided a great plot point that thankfully kept the movie from falling back onto what I felt was Iron Man 2’s greatest sin… the villain having an Iron Man suit of his/her own just like in the finale of the original film. A DNA enhancer that allows the user to regenerate damaged tissue making that person virtually invulnerable? It’s a comic book movie, so therefore I bought into it completely. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the special effect used to sell the process was kind of rad. The only flaw I saw was that if the woman that Stark fights with in the diner was infected with Extremis why did she still have extensive facial scarring?

While the story doesn’t focus on action instead of its characters doesn’t mean that there isn’t any to speak of. On the contrary, there is a lot of it and all of it is awesome. From the destruction of the Stark home to the fight in the diner to the battle at the shipyard involving super soldiers vs. 50 or 60 Iron Man suits of varying designs. While it’s not as epic as what we all saw in The Avengers it’s still fantastic in its own right, especially when Tony is hopping from one suit to the next, sometimes unsuccessfully. Plus all the cool things the new suit can do, from being controlled remotely to each individual part being a viable weapon are kick ass! Although by the third time I saw one of the Iron Man rigs fall apart or break into pieces as if it were made of ceramic I was doubting the build quality of these supposed suits of armor and wondering how Stark was still alive after all the damage he seems to take while wearing one of these apparently fragile things.
The pacing is the biggest flaw as far as I can tell. The story is chock full of plots and sub-plots and conspiracies and revelations and ass kicking, yet at times I was surprisingly bored. Not Iron Man 2 bored, mind you, but it slowed down a little too much in the middle for what is supposed to be the first big movie of the summer of 2013. It just felt like the filmmakers wanted to pad the runtime a little too much. I think a good 10 minutes could have been chopped out and nothing of note would have been lost, especially everything involving the Maya Hansen character. The only reason she exists in the film is to give Pepper someone to talk to.

Also, the scene that takes place after the end credits was a bit of a letdown. I was expecting something that would begin to set-up the main storyline for Phase Two, but all we got was a goofy scene that’s all about a random cameo by another character from a previous film. Disappointing.
Outside of those issues I had a blast with Iron Man 3. It’s not this dark, brooding superhero flick that the trailers were making it out to be. It’s funny, exciting and thrilling; chock full of great character moments, some shocking and some defining. Everything about it is well done from the score to the FX to the costume design. This is top notch filmmaking in most regards and I hope that Shane Black continues his directorial career. Dude’s got skills.

Regardless of your feelings toward certain events that transpire here for die hard comic book fans or not, this is a great start to Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man 3 is truly entertaining back to front (for the most part) and a wet dream for fans of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character. I’d tell you to rush out to go see it, but from the grosses it looks like most of you already have. Although it still pales in comparison to the original film.

3.5 out of 5

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