Saturday, May 4, 2013

DAMN Good Movies -- IRON MAN 3

Time once again for another of my movie takes, this one on the film Iron Man 3, based on the classic Marvel Comics superhero.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...get ready to armor up...

After a successful first phase of Marvel's cinematic universe that culminated in last summer's The Avengers, Phase Two opens with the third Iron Man solo film.  The previous movie, Iron Man 2, was decent enough, but lacked the impact of the first and felt somewhat creatively disappointing.  This paved the way for director Jon Favreau to step aside to an executive producer role, with Shane Black coming in as his replacement and co-writer of the screenplay with Drew Pearce.

The film borrows elements primarily from the comics storyline "Extremis" by writer Warren Ellis and artist Adi Granov while picking up on events from The Avengers.  Tony Stark, our self-glossed "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist," is experiencing a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after almost checking out in the process of stopping the Chitauri invasion of New York.  He's not sleeping and secretly obsessed with designing multiple versions of his Iron Man armor, to the point of surgically implanting small remote control devices inside his forearms.  Naturally, this causes friction with his love interest Pepper Potts, who isn't down with empty suits of Iron Man armor looming over her bed whenever Tony is having nightmares.  Go figure.

Meanwhile, the world is apparently going to hell thanks to global terrorist The Mandarin, leader of the Ten Rings organization that was teased briefly back in the first film.  After his longtime security chief Happy Hogan is injured during an attack on the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Tony throws down the armored gauntlet and dares The Mandarin to come over to his Malibu mansion, even going so far as to include the full address.  So to the surprise of no one, The Mandarin sends his hired goons over to knock on Tony's door with some air-to-ground missles launched from several attack helicopters.

As large chunks of Tony's home crumble spectacularly down a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, we begin to see how overwhelmed he truly is.  He passes out from the battle, but his pre-programmed armor rockets him off to rural Tennessee and he crash-lands, stranded during the winter with his armor in pieces and without power.  At this point, we see Black's main goal as a storyteller, to strip away Tony's technology and explore the man inside the can.  Physically exhausted and suffering from anxiety attacks, this is Tony at his most desperate since he was held captive by the Ten Rings in an Afghanistan cave in the first film.

Black also seems to be fond of walking into someone's house and abruptly kicking their dining table over just to see what happens next.  Characters you think are good do unexpected heel turns and random things just happen to send events in a completely different direction.  This sort of unpredictablility is good for the most part, keeping things moving, but the overall chaotic nature of the script results in a series of jumbled sequences instead of a smooth, flowing film.

One particular highlight however, is the mid-air assault on Air Force One that features seventeen people falling helplessly without parachutes.  Lacking the speed and strength of Superman to rescue these people with no problem, Iron Man is forced to grab them one by one and build a "chain of monkeys."  It's a fantastic action sequence, perfectly shot, until all at once, Iron Man flies across a nearby bridge and is hit by a speeding truck.  See what I mean by random?

With the help of a his best bud Rhodey and a kid named Harley, Tony battles his way back literally piece by piece as you would expect.  He uncovers the true nature of The Mandarin, grinding the movie to an embarrassing standstill and pissing off a number of comics fans in the process.  As the focus shifts to Tony's real threat, everything builds to a final showdown atop a Roxxon Oil platform with Black throwing everything at the screen no matter what.  Dozens of Iron Man armors controlled by J.A.R.V.I.S. battle dozens of orange glowing henchmen powered by Extremis, while Rhodey rescues President Ellis (Yeah, a Warren Ellis shout-out) and Tony faces The Real Mandarin.  And then out of nowhere, Pepper saves the day instead of Tony.  Because.

The movies closing scenes are perhaps the most interesting for Iron Man fans.  Everything is tidied up neatly and all the debris is swept away, as if emptying the house for the next family to move in.  With his multi-film contract with Marvel ended, there's no telling for certain if Robert Downey, Jr. will appear in The Avengers 2 in 2015, let alone an Iron Man 4 in 2016.  (Okay, he's probably doing The Avengers 2, but still...)  One thing we do know?  According to the very end of the credits, Tony Stark will return.  Just like James Bond.

So what about the performances from the cast and the characters they portrayed? Well, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts...

IRON MAN/TONY STARK -- The role of Tony Stark fits Robert Downey, Jr. like a year-old pair of blue jeans by now, so it would be so easy to phone things in.  Thankfully, Downey continues to refuse, showcasing the character's fragile emotional state and bantering with everyone he encounters along the way.  If this is indeed Downey's last outing as Tony Stark, which I highly doubt, he certainly gave his all once again.

VIRGINIA "PEPPER" POTTS -- Usually relegated to watching Iron Man getting pounded by a supervillain and screaming "TONNNNYYYY!!!", Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper gets do this once again...and finally some other things as well.  For a brief time, we get to see her inside a suit of Iron Man armor, possibly hinting as her future as the superheroine Rescue.  And then at the very end, we get an Extremis-charged Pepper taking out the bad guy only to be cured later on by Tony...somehow.

IRON PATRIOT/JAMES "RHODEY" RHODES -- As the rebranded and repainted War Machine, Don Cheadle is something of a non-presence for the film's first two acts and only gets to cut loose in the third.  He looks considerably fitter than he was in Iron Man 2 and throws himself in the military role when Rhodey and Tony storm the Roxxon Oil platform.

THE MANDARIN/TREVOR SLATTERY -- Sir Ben Kingsley starts off so good in this movie as The Mandarin.  He gives the character a truly menacing Osama bin Laden feel, speaking with a deep, unsettling voice that makes you think that yes, YES, it was totally worth waiting until the third movie to finally see Iron Man taking on his arch-nemesis.  And then the unthinkable happens...

ALDRICH KILLIAN -- The evolution of Guy Pearce's Killian in this movie makes me wonder if it should've been called Iron Man 3: Revenge of the Nerd instead.  Because that's basically what this movie is -- dorky, awkward Killian being snubbed Tony Stark on New Year's Eve 1999 and then showing up fourteen years later as Mr. Smooth Supervillain.  Of course, if Black and Drew Pearce had stuck to the comics source material, Killian would've shot himself dead within the movie's first ten minutes.

DR. MAYA HANSEN -- Another significant deviation from the original comics, Maya Hansen is still the scientist behind Extremis but in this version, she doesn't help Tony adapt it as an upgrade to integrate his body with Iron Man tech.  Rebecca Hall has considerable screen presence that almost makes you wonder if Pepper could be sidelined as Tony's love interest until a heel turn blows that idea completely out of the water.

HARLEY KEENER -- Ty Simpkins could've easily been the Annoying Kid Character as Harley.  As soon as I read an early plot synopsis, I was dreading the scenes of Tony forced to rely on a kid for help, but Simpkins' interaction with Downey plays so well that it works.  Tony and the audience both see Harley as a young Tony Stark, which seems to give Tony an "inner child" to help him work things out.

HAPPY HOGAN -- Despite not directing the third film, Jon Favreau thankfully returns in his acting role as Happy.  In his best scenes since "teaming up" with Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Happy gets to be a significant plot point early on with his suspicion of Killian and there's even a fun flashback of him wearing a mullet.  Best of all though, you find out that's he's a Downton Abbey fan.

HO YINSEN -- Shaun Toub has a brief scene during the New Year's 1999 flashback where we finally see him encountering Tony Stark years before saving his life in the Afghanistan cave.  A fun Easter egg for Iron Man fans.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" has a "blink and you miss him" cameo as a beauty pageant judge during the scenes in Tennessee.  So now you know, True Believers.

DR. BRUCE BANNER -- Continuing the tradition of post-credits Avengers tie-in scenes, we learn that the person that Tony has been relating his story to at the beginning and ending of the movie is none other than Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner.  It's a fun appearance, but doesn't exactly hint that Thanos is coming.

All in all, Iron Man 3 isn't as good as I had hoped but was at least an improvement over the second film.  There are a number of things to love about this movie and some incredible action sequences worthy of the screenwriter of Lethal Weapon.  Unfortunately, there's a bit too much emphasis on humor and the "What a twist!" revelation of The Mandarin is such a disappointing waste of one of Marvel's biggest bads.  If Tony Stark does end up going the James Bond "new actor as the same character" route, let's hope we go from Sean Connery straight to Daniel Craig instead of Roger Moore.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Watchmen (2009)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Batman Begins (2005)
8. Iron Man (2008)
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
10. X-Men: First Class (2011)
11. X2: X-Men United (2003)
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
13. X-Men (2000)
14. Thor (2011)
15. Iron Man 3 (2013)
16. Batman (1989)
17. Superman II (1981)
18. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
19. Iron Man 2 (2010)
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,



  1. It’s a strange angle they decide to take with Stark, but it’s one that works in showing him as a true hero. Good review Charles.