Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iron Man 3 - Theatrical Review

Release Date: May 3, 2013

'Iron Man 3' finds new and uninteresting ways to give us even less Iron Man in our Iron Man movies.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Edwards 21 Irvine Spectrum
Time: 7:00 pm May 4, 2013   
Projector Type: IMAX 3D  
Film Rating: PG-13

Film Runtime: 2 hr 15 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Loves: The first Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce
Likes: Gwyneth Paltrow, Shane Black
Neutral: Iron Man 2
Hates: The noticeable lack of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the other Avengers   
Christmas time: Director Shane Black once again uses Christmas as the backdrop to his action flick

After helping the Avengers thwart an alien invasion in New York City, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has retired to his Malibu home with his now live-in girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Haunted by what he experienced after crossing through the worm hole into another universe, Tony has been keeping himself busy in the workshop while a new evil arises in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a maniacal terrorist who has his targets set on the United States of America as well as Tony Stark himself.

With Marvel's phase one initiative all wrapped up with last years cinematic (and financial) behemoth "The Avengers", phase two has officially been kicked off with writer/director Shane Black's "Iron Man 3", the pseudo sequel to "The Avengers". Make no bones about it, last year Marvel and Joss Whedon created one helluva tough act to follow. There was no way they could possibly top the greatest super hero mash-up in film history, let alone with the fact that the super hero count has gone from around 6 larger than life personalities back down to just one. But if there were one person who could still hold his own without the others there to back him up it would have to be Tony Stark.

It's safe to say that by this point Tony Stark the man has become more popular than Iron Man himself. Most of that is due in thanks to Robert Downey Jr. who has not only become synonymous with the mogul Tony Stark character, but is near inseparable from him. This turn of events where the actor has overtaken the popularity of the character he is portraying is an interesting problematic equation that has resulted in a rather unbalanced third chapter in the Iron Man/Tony Stark saga. Although Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is the best thing about "Iron Man 3", he is also the symptom as to what is wrong with not only this film, but what has become an epidemic of the super hero movie genre itself. 

First of all, "Iron Man 3" is a much much better film that "Iron Man 2". No longer sidetracked by all that S.H.I.E.L.D. nonsense and no longer in danger of dying from a faulty power source that forces him to become a raging alcoholic, Iron Man gets to have a lot more fun this time around and in turn we also get to have a lot more fun. Things in the Stark household aren't all that rosy though as even though Tony has battled against alcoholism, his daddy issues, metal poisoning and his own image as an arms dealer who has unknowingly supplied terrorists around the world, he now faces down an even greater threat...anxiety.

Apparently the events in New York where he faced off against aliens from another world with his fellow Avengers and was temporarily transported to another dimension were a bit too much for the cocky playboy to handle and he has since been unable to sleep and when he does get some shut-eye he has some interesting sleepwalking habits. Exploring Tony's inability to handle the reality of what all went down in "The Avengers" is an interesting topic to explore, that this larger than life figure is unable to cope with the idea of other dimensions, Nordic gods and one very large green man.

The problem in this case isn't with the concept, but with with the lackluster execution. Neither the script nor the usually capable Robert Downey Jr. are able to convey in a realistic manner what kind of toll this has actually taken on Tony Stark. We see him begin to panic and hyper-ventilate at any moment where anyone even hints towards what happened to him in New York but these attacks last only a few seconds and are quickly discarded which just reeks of a lame attempt to saddle Tony with a new handicap.

We are at the third chapter in Tony's story, do we really need to gimp him some more? He should be at full strength, free of the ailments that have limited his many talents and free to fight off whatever threats come his way. But no, instead we are once again dealing with a Tony that has to battle some more inner demons before he is battle ready. What's worse is that the film fails to address the issue in a satisfying manner and concludes without ever showing that Tony has overcome the anxiety that has plagued him the entire film.

This all leads into the number one problem with "Iron Man 3", which is that there just isn't enough Iron Man. Much like last years "Dark Knight Rises" which had a distinct lack of the caped crusader, the Tony Stark to Iron Man ratio is severely unbalanced with us only getting about 20% of Iron Man while we see Tony Stark running around suitless for the majority of the film solving crimes, raiding compounds, driving across the country and otherwise performing many other tasks better suited for...well, a suit...made of iron.

In conjunction with the anxiety attacks we also have to deal with Tony's new prototype armor that just by chance is the only one available to him despite an army of other suits at the ready. This new suit also has consistent operational problems that inhibit his ability to be Iron Man essentially. If it isn't a weapon malfunction, a lack of power or the boosters failing to ignite, it is that the suit has this very nasty habit of falling apart when a gust of wind hits it too hard (well, that is a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

Simply giving Tony reasons to not put on the suit doesn't make up for how the film seems to want to keep that power out of his hands and keep him hot footing it all over the place. The handful of times we are privileged enough to see Iron Man in battle aren't even guaranteed to feature Tony Stark in the suit itself as one of the new features of this suit is that it can be remotely controlled. Now, if you love Tony Stark then you will likely be able to see beyond this major oversight (the film is called Iron Man ya know) since Tony is still just a fantastic character to watch and Downey just owns every scene he is in. But none of that changes the fact that somehow we got more Iron Man action in "The Avengers", a film comprised of 6 other super heroes besides him, than we do in a film that has him as the central character.

Then you have the villains of the film, with The Mandarin providing quite possibly one of the most unique foes to come across any super heroes path in some time (and likely to spur on endless debates on how his character was handled here) and the painfully bland Killian (played by the always fantastic Guy Pearce). Both have a central role to play in how this story unfolds and both have secrets that are best left unknown until you see the film for yourself. But how do they stack up as proper villains though? Unfortunately there is no way to answer that without giving away the few surprises left, but suffice it to say that you will either love what is done with them or you will hate it, there really is no middle ground on this one.

The rest of the cast, which includes Don Cheadle appearing once again as Col. Rhodes, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot and Rebecca Hall in a role that seems important at first but quickly fades away into obscurity the further the film moves on. But once again the real tragedy is the handling of Rhodes. It has nothing to do with Cheadle who does exactly what is asked of him, which isn't much, but of how little significance he is to the overall story. He is quite simply used as just a plot device here and that is a real shame because Iron Man could have really used some back up in the early and middle parts of the film. Even Happy (Jon Favreau) gets to help out more than Rhodes! Speaking of someone lending a helping hand...

There is one last, but equally important, point that needs to be made that is unique to this film and the Marvel universe in particular. After setting the stage so well with "The Avengers" for a world where all these super heroes now exist in each others universe and are also teamed up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to take down any threat that befalls planet Earth and its populace, Marvel has really dropped the ball on this one. Besides the infuriating lack of references to the last film (which is only ever mentioned when it is time to give Tony an anxiety attack), no mention is ever made of the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. which is extremely perplexing given the lengths Marvel went to in order to establish this cinematic universe as cross-over friendly for all their heroes.

"Iron Man 3" is not a horrible film but when compared to the first "Iron Man" and the other Marvel films, it is a far cry from the excellence we have come to expect from the studio. It has its entertaining bits (mostly thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s performance) and what little there is of Iron Man is done well, but there just isn't enough of it.

Add in a disappointing villain, a lack of Avengers tie-ins and an ending that discounts nearly everything the character of Tony Stark has been about since the first film and what you are left with is a muddled mess of a film that seems to despise that it is about a man who wears a suit of armor and does everything in its power to keep him out of it. Fans will likely still rally to the film's defense (especially Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. fans), but the rest of us, those who came out to see Iron Man in action need not apply.





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