Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

I have a strong connection with the Marvel films of the last five years.  I've been wholly engaged since the first Iron Man rolled out of the Marvel assembly line all shiny and rarin' to go.  Iron Man himself, Tony Stark, has been through the ringer in the last five years; gets kidnapped by terrorists, his mentor turns on him and tries to kill him, starts being killed by the one thing keeping him alive, has to fight a dude who was mad at his dad, and oh yeah, there's that little incident in New York where he fought friggin aliens with a super solider from a bygone era, a god from another realm, an irradiated man who smashes things...and two other people.  It's this last event that has the greatest impact on Tony as a character, and helps to make Iron Man 3 the darkest and most dire of the franchise yet.

Quick note: most of IM3's plot is twisty and turny and therefore, I'll keep the spoilery bits for the end.

We catch up with Tony not too long after the events of last year's The Avengers.  He's a bit of a changed man.  Long gone are the "billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" days (he's still a genius).  Mr. Stark now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or some amalgamation of it; he endures crippling panic attacks that grind the strong, confident man we know and love to his literal knees.  His one driving force is to protect the "one thing he can't live without:" Pepper Potts.  Tony can't sleep at night because of panic-enducing nightmares about his travel through the wormhole in New York.  He spends all of his waking hours toiling away in his garage, trying to perfect his Mk. 42 armor.  Robert Downey Jr. puts in his most complex and impressive performance yet as the now-troubled Tony Stark.  I am thoroughly convinced that no other man, woman, or child on the planet could inhabit the role as he does.

While Tony is trying to deal with his new stresses in life, someone from his past returns to haunt him; the scientist Aldrich Killian (played oh-so-smarmily by Guy Pearce).  Oh, and the leader of a terrorist group known as "The Ten Rings" (the same group that kidnapped Tony in the first film), the Mandarin, begins launching terror attacks across the globe...with one of them hitting Tony right at home, literally.  The portrayal of the Mandarin, as played by Sir Ben Kingsley, will undoubtedly be the focal-point for all discussions about Iron Man 3.  I thought he was superb in the role...and that's all I'll say about that.

It's this attack that sets the rest of the film in motion, with Tony having to MacGyver his way out of some very sticky (and firey) situations.  It's here where we meet the unexpected stand-out of the film (for me) - a young boy named Harley.  It's between Tony and Harley that we get some great "buddy" movie banter.  The two share some of the most memorable dialogue and scenes of the film and were just a delight to watch.

Without getting into too much detail, I felt the story was very fresh and a nice change of pace from the first two Iron Man films; the previous entries follow a relatively similar story-and-character arc for Tony and Iron Man 3 switches that up a bit.  There are most certainly some surprises along the way with regards to the Mandarin's intentions and how the story plays out.  And I loved every minute of it.

While the technical aspects of the film were, on the whole, quite fantastic, there were some instances of iffy CGI - namely with Iron Man himself.  There were several wide shots of IM walking across a room that didn't quite look right.  I'm not quite sure why this wasn't done practically; we know RDJ can act in an actual suit, as evidenced by his birthday party scene in Iron Man 2.  Perhaps he can't walk distances in the real thing.  Regardless, this is just one minor gripe in a sea of incredibly well-done digital effects, with several mind-blowing action sequences that make especially Iron Man feel very small in comparison.

I may seem to be praising Iron Man 3 quite a bit, and that's because I enjoyed it immensely.  If I had to pick one aspect of the film that doesn't stand out to me as being fantastic, it would have to be the film's score.  I find it troubling that out of now six films, I can barely remember any of the score from any of the films (Captain America and The Avengers have one or two memorable songs but that's about it for me) and unfortunately IM3 is the same.  There are two moments where the music swells, eerily reminiscent of Danny Elfman's score for Tim Burton's Batman...and those are the only two musically-memorable moments of the film.  Well, that's outside of the excellent use of "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" early in the proceedings.

There are a few other missteps along the way, including various plot holes or things that just make you stop and think, "now wait a minute..."  A big missed opportunity lies with Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen.  An old fling of Tony's, Maya doesn't get all that much to do in the film and as a result, her character isn't nearly as fleshed-out as say, Guy Pearce's Killian.  Maya serves a specific role and that's about it.  James Badge Dale's Savin meets a similar fate; he's just the muscle of the baddies and pretty much just serves that role...although it is nice to see the man getting work.  He had a small but memorable role in Flight and is simply fantastic as the main protagonist for most of HBO's The Pacific.

That about sums up my thoughts on Iron Man 3.  Despite some minor gripes and complaints I've gotta say that I almost unabashedly love this film.  Maybe I still have PMH (post-movie awesome term coined by a friend of mine), but I think this may be my favorite of the franchise (of Iron Man films).  But we all know big decisions like this (where to rank films you like) take time.  It takes a little more thought and processing and movie-watching (like, seeing the film ten times).  You don't need me to convince you to see or to not see this film - if you've seen the rest you're probably already in for the long haul on this franchise.

If you don't want to be spoiled on anything, you'll probably want to stop here.  Like, for reals.  Don't scroll down.  The first thing you'll read will spoil the crap outta the film....just go watch it!

********Spoiler Alert*********

Still with me?  Ok...HOLY CRAP THE MANDARIN ISN'T THE MANDARIN.  The marketing and trailers for this film did wonders into portraying Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and the brains behind the Ten Rings.  I had to pick my face up off the floor after the reveal that he's really just a British actor that Killian hired to be a terrorist leader.  Having never read the comics I don't have any attachment to the history of these characters, and as a result, it completely blew me away that Shane Black (directing and co-writing) would have the guts to give us a villain and then halfway through the film just pull him out from under our feet.  In all of the Marvel films so far, the villain is the villain is the villain.  No crazy switcheroos like this!  I can wholly understand the nerdrage that will emanate from this: as a friend of mine put it, imagine if the Joker wasn't the Joker.  Messing with iconic characters like this can be stirring the beehive, especially when the repeat viewers are the hardcore fanbase that this will piss off.

Tony's myraid suits showing up for the final battle was spoiled in the trailers for the film, but were still quite a sight to behold.  Going into the film I thought it'd be a bigger deal about the suits' differences, but that wasn't even brought up.  I didn't expect Tony to go "oh, there's the space one.  And there's the underwater one.  And there's the Hulkbuster armor," but I was just hoping and expecting something...anything!  And now they're all gone!!!!!!  I've gotta give the writers credit again for not only destroying the things that make Tony Stark Iron Man, but for also removing the one literal thing that started the entire franchise.  Tony's personal arc reactor is gone, and with it the shrapnel that was oh so close to killing him back in the first film.  The implications of both of these actions will undoubtedly be explored in further detail in Avengers 2, but I don't wanna wait till 2015, dammit!!

And Pepper's Extremis-ified!!!  This was totally spoiled for me by the trailers, considering we see her, post-fall, in every trailer the was released, but I still thought it was incredibly badass.

Regardless of what you think about the Mandarin or how some of the characters were handled, Iron Man 3 is without a doubt a blast of a time at the theater.  This year so far has been just okay...nothing too spectacular (well, I thought Oblivion was), but hopefully this film is the start to a very, very incredible summer of films.  Just go see it.  You know you will.

And I'll leave you with a parting thought...was Killian really the Mandarin?  Or were we and Tony duped into believing the swticheroo, when Trevor really IS the Mandarin?  Perhaps this was an elaborate Joker/Loki plan and he wanted to be captured all along and Killian was just playing the part of the martyr for the cause of the Ten Rings?  Who knows....

Iron Man 3 is wham bam of an action film and a fitting end to the trilogy.

The Bearded Bullet.

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