Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3

This film needs little introduction.

Marvel has been whistling a happy tune all the way to the bank now for the better part of five years; basically since the first Iron Man movie was a smash hit at the box office and opened the floodgates for the series leading up to The Avengers. The Iron Man series has been my favorite thus far, and that's largely due to Robert Downey Jr.'s perfect portrayal of the inimitable Tony Stark.

Iron Man 3 opens on a Tony Stark who is suffering from what appears to be some mild PTSD after the events of The Avengers. He can't sleep, he's beginning to experience panic attacks, he spends even more time than usual "tinkering," and his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is visibly shaky. And right as Stark is battling his own personal crisis, the world once again falls victim to the chaos of another supervillain: The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). It's a familiar setup with familiar faces and familiar visual effects; so how does it stack up both as its own movie and part of a larger series?


Again, Downey's performance is perfection. In the same way Tony Stark "owns" the fact that he is Iron Man, so too does Robert Downey Jr. own the fact that he is Tony Stark. It's as if he doesn't even really act the part, because he is the part. His dialogue here is as caustic and humorous as it's ever been, and even amidst some of the more crippling crises in the film he brings the usual aplomb. All of the returning cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle, the voice of Paul Bettany) does a marvelous job with their roles, as can be expected. Newcomers to the franchise include Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian and, as mentioned before, Ben Kingsley. Both of them supply performances worthy of the franchise, and not in ways you might necessarily expect. Without giving anything away, there's a small twist in Iron Man 3 that requires both these actors to approach their characters differently before film's end - and they handle the transition flawlessly.

During a temporary setback in the course of the film's events, Stark finds himself stranded in a small town in Tennessee where he finds something of a sidekick in a kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins, of Insidious notoriety). The banter between these two provides some of the film's (maybe even the entire franchise's) most memorable moments, as Simpkins and Downey evince an easy chemistry.

What's an Iron Man film without lots of fun explosions and visual effects-laden action sequences, right? Iron Man 3 delivers the goods in that department with the usual craftsmanship we've come to expect from this genre. We've entered an era in visual effects where they're both so recurrent across genres and so well polished that we don't even really notice them any more. By that I mean I caught myself not even really inspecting the visual effects the way I often do because they fit right in with everything else going on in the film. Not a huge surprise there, to be honest, but still worth noting.

A number of subtle but appropriate references to the previous films (including The Avengers) help Iron Man 3 fit into the growing mythology of this series, but the film still has an identity independent of the other entries. That identity, however, still isn't quite what it once was...


Remember the rock-n-roll swagger of the first film? To me, that's what sets the Iron Man movies apart from the other Avengers flicks, and I was sad to see it largely cast aside. There's no AC/DC in the soundtrack, the iconic Black Sabbath ballad isn't musically mentioned, and Brian Tyler's soundtrack barely resembles the aggressive confidence of Ramin Djawadi's - and to a lesser extent, John Debney's. This isn't a true flaw, to be fair. But it was something that I missed not having this go 'round.

Another element that isn't an actual flaw but just something I was disappointed to experience was the tone of the film. The trailers and ad campaigns surrounding the release of Iron Man 3 have billed it - directly and indirectly - as a sort of "dark chapter" in the series. You've seen the commercials; Stark's home destroyed by helicopters, Stark - broken but undefeated - dragging his suit through a lonely snowfall, shots of Pepper Potts in seemingly impossible situations of danger, the works. I went into this expecting something like an Empire Strikes Back moment - where the plight of our heroes is more grim than ever before. But, for better or worse, that doesn't really describe the film at all. True, all of the events shown in the trailer happen in the film, but they're tied together by an almost comical whimsy. This isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong; I laughed along with the rest of the theater time and time again because Iron Man 3 is probably the funniest of the trilogy. But I expected something a little more dark and gritty. Yes the Hollywood rhetoric surrounding those buzzwords has rendered them almost meaningless, but I was still a bit disappointed.


Don't let my personal disappointments with the film dissuade you, because Iron Man 3 is still a worthy installment to the franchise and a solid film in its own right. While I wish I could have had a different set of expectations going into it, I still enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

In a lot of ways it works better as a post-Avengers film than a true Iron Man sequel, which makes complete sense given the direction Marvel is going with their entire brand right now. All the right Marvel touches appear, including Stan Lee's cameo and a brief post-credits scene. But with that territory comes the loss of a few things that really endeared me to Iron Man as its own franchise when this whole thing began. They're minor complaints, I know, but ones I left the theater unable to shake.

Still, the heart of this franchise is Robert Downey, Jr.'s singular portrayal of the title character, and that heart is preserved true to form. During an interview on the Daily Show, Downey indicated that his initial contract for three films is up and he is currently renegotiating. Here's hoping the head honchos at Marvel know better than to let him slip away.

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