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Josh Reviews Iron Man 3!

Iron Man was a magical film, a movie that caught a very specific, crazy sort of lightning in a bottle.  I remember seeing it in a theater that very first time and realizing immediately that it was something special.  It was intense and bad-ass but also incredibly funny and light-hearted.  The special effects were terrific, the character arcs were compelling, the ending was magnificent and the post-credits epilogue blew my mind, promising a whole new universe of possibilities (one that I still find it hard to believe came to such spectacular fruition with The Avengers).  Yes, I remember seeing Iron Man for the first time (click here for my original review), and I also vividly remember seeing it for the second time, about 24 hours later, because it was a movie I just had to see again, immediately.

The filmmakers stumbled with Iron Man 2, a listless film that seemed to re-tread a lot of the same ground the first film had covered, while at the same time promising us hints at other story-lines and characters (S.H.I.E.L.D., the Black Widow, Howard Stark) that would only come to fruition in future films.  (Click here for my original review of Iron Man 2.)  But I am pleased to report that Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three, as written in the closing credits — and good god do I love that) is a triumphant return to form, a thrilling, action-packed romp that is a true sequel to the first film and a rollicking, riveting start to the Marvel movie universe’s Phase Two.  It’s not as perfect as Iron Man — there are a bunch of niggling plot holes that bug me, which I’ll discuss at the very end of this review — but it’s a pretty terrific super-hero adventure film, one that I hope to see again very soon.

Although the heroes won the day in The Avengers, Tony Stark is shaken by how close he came to death during the big battle in New York City.  Faced with the existence of aliens, not to mention super-soldiers, gamma-irradiated behemoths, and Asgardian deities, Tony has had to face the brutal truth that he’s just a mortal human being in a metal suit.  He’s tried to find solace and comfort by building new Iron Man suit after new suit, trying to prepare himself for any eventuality, to give himself some sort of guarantee that he’ll be able to protect himself and Pepper, the woman he loves.  When his buddy Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, returning to the role of Happy even though he’s no longer behind the camera as the film’s director) is injured by a terrorist attack by the mysterious Mandarin, a fragile Tony angrily challenges the Mandarin on live TV.  Bad idea.  Things go bad quickly, and Tony finds himself alone, without friends or allies, and without his armor, forced to contend with a brutal new enemy.

I adore Shane Black’s 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring Robert Downey Junior.  If you’ve never seen it, run, don’t walk, and go find a copy and watch it now.  You can thank me later.  When I first heard that Shane Black was reuniting with Robert Downey to take the helm of the third Iron Man film, I was ecstatic.  Mr. Black has tremendous skill as a writer in crafting a story that is intense but also very funny — a delicate tone that the first Iron Man film nailed so perfectly — and as a director he’s proved to have tremendous chemistry with Robert Downey Junior.  Both attributes are on fine display in Iron Man 3.

One of the main problems I had with Iron Man 2, that I alluded to above, is that they basically gave Tony the same character-arc that he had in the first film.  He sort of fell back into being an asshole, and had to learn again to be a super-hero, and had to again woo Pepper Potts.  It was pretty much the same story for Tony.  But in Iron Man 3, they have very cleverly given Tony a very different character journey.  The idea that Tony is suffering from post-traumatic stress following the events of The Avengers is a genius-level idea, and that Tony’s mounting desperation to control and protect everything and everyone in his life leads him to begin driving his friends away from him is a terrific, compelling notion, and a great hook for the film.

Sir Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce are terrific as the film’s villains, the Mandarin and Aldrich Killian.  Mr. Kingsley is magnificent — his interpretation of the classic “yellow-menace” Iron Man villain is perfection.  The voice, that beard, the perfect costume — it’s a slam dunk.  And where he takes the character in the third act — brilliance.  Mr. Pearce is also a lot of fun as Stark’s rival smart-guy businessman.  It’s sort of a bummer that he’s basically playing exactly the same role as Sam Rockwell did in Iron Man 2 — in the trailers, I actually thought Mr. Pearce’s character WAS Mr. Rockwell.  (I loved Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2 — his casting as Justin Hammer was brilliance — I just wish the character had been better written.  I hold out hope that Mr. Rockwell’s character will some day return to the Marvel movie universe.)  But Mr. Pearce is so good, such a great oily villain, that I didn’t mind the familiarity.

Gwyneth Paltrow gets to finally kick some ass in this movie, so that was fun, and she continues to have marvelous (no pun intended) chemistry with Robert Downy Jr.  I love their scenes together.  I still miss Terrence Howard as Rhodey (Mr. Howard played the role in the first film, but was recast for the sequel), but I think Don Cheadle (after being a bit stiff in Iron Man 2), has really grown into the role, and I was thrilled how involved Rhodey was in the film’s climax.

I loved how connected Iron Man 3′s story was to that of The Avengers.  I am glad they didn’t try to ignore the events of that film.  It feels much more organic that this film’s story flows out of that film’s events.  But I am also glad that, rather than making a film that felt like a direct sequel to The Avengers, or little more than a prequel to the upcoming Avengers 2, the folks at Marvel decided to focus in Iron Man 3 on telling a great, stand-alone Iron Man adventure.  There are connections to the greater Marvel universe, but this film stands on its own.  That was a wise choice.

My only complaint in that arena is that the film doesn’t really give any explanation as to why S.H.I.E.L.D. or Captain America don’t get involved.  I can buy that Thor is back in Asgard and Bruce Banner is hiding out, but with the Mandarin launching a series of terrorist attacks against the United States, wouldn’t Cap  or S.H.I.E.L.D. be involved?  There’s a lot of talk in the film about the President needing Rhodey (in his new Iron Patriot armor) as protection — but why wouldn’t Captain America have been the President’s go-to guy for that?  I don’t think S.H.I.E.L.D. is even mentioned in the film, which really surprised me.  I would have appreciated even just one little scene that made reference to S.H.I.E.L.D. being stymied in their investigations or something like that.  This is the hazard for Marvel, now that they’ve made The Avengers.  In these solo films, they have to give a compelling reason why all the super-friends don’t immediately come to one another’s aid.  I’ve seen several interviews in which Marvel movie universe head-honcho Kevin Feige insists that once we see Thor 2 and Captain America 2 we’ll understand why they weren’t involved in this film, but promising answers in films that are one or two years down the road isn’t that satisfactory to me.

There are some great comic book little nods and connections in Iron Man 3.  My spine went all a-tingly once Advanced Idea Mechanics was mentioned.  I hope to see lots more of them down the line.  Extremis, and the characters of Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce) originate in Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s phenomenal Iron Man story-line, “Extremis,” from 2005-6.  It was neat seeing them brought to life in the film, though I was a little bit disappointed at how far the film strayed from the source material. It’s funny, I have no problem at all with the film’s complete reinvention of the iconic comic book character the Mandarin.  But I was annoyed to see them use the Extremis name while turning the concept into something totally different.  (In the comics, Extremis is described as a “super-soldier solution… a bio-electrics package” — when Tony isn injected with it, it allows him a direct interface with machines, and with his own armor — a fascinating extrapolation of the man-in-armor concept of Iron  Man.) Why use the Extremis name at all, if you’re not going to tell that story?  The chemical used to create fiery super-villains could have been anything.  (For a while, I really thought the film was building to that climax, with Tony getting injected with Extremis, but in the end they didn’t go there.)

As for the Mandarin, I really did love the film’s re-interpretation of the character.  My only niggling disappointment is that I feel like this version fails to fulfill the promise of the original Iron Man film.  One of my favorite little background details of that first Iron Man is that the two villains both wore an elaborate ring on one of their fingers.  This hinted that they were connected — that they were perhaps both members of the Mandarin’s Ten Rings organization.  This promise of a behind-the-scenes criminal mastermind was delightfully intriguing.  But what we learn of the Mandarin in this film means he couldn’t possibly have been involved with the events with film one.  So that story-thread really went nowhere, which is a let-down.

One reason why this film isn’t quite at the level of greatness of Iron Man is that there are a bunch of plot-holes, in my opinion.  Hang around to the end of the review, and for those of you who have seen the film I will discuss a few of my issues.

But let’s get back to what’s great about Iron Man 3.  Forget Iron Man 2 — this is the sequel that we should have gotten right away to that great first film.  The emotional situations are heightened, and the action is kicked up several notches.  There are several staggeringly terrific action sequences in the film.  The violent helicopter attack on Tony’s home is spectacular.  That would be the big climax of many other films.  But in Iron Man 3, that’s just the beginning.  Iron Man’s attempt to rescue more than a dozen people blown out of a hole in Air Force One was in all of the film’s previews, but it’s still spectacular when that moment finally arrives in the film.  (Keep your eyes on the end credits for all of the men and women involved in what they call the “Barrel of Monkeys” sequence.)  And the huge action spectacle big-finish at an oil rig, with dozens of Iron Man armors facing off against a gaggle of fire-breathing Extremis super-soldiers, is a big, bold, confidently executed slam-bang spectacle.  It’s epic in scale, but we never lose sight of the personal stakes as Rhodey attempts to rescue the President while Tony tries to save Pepper.  It’s great stuff.  Whoever had the idea to have Tony constantly jumping into and out of various different Iron Man armors deserves a big raise.

Whenever one talks about fantasy movie sequels, the big gorilla in the room to which films are constantly compared is The Empire Strikes Back.  Iron Man 3 isn’t the Empire Strikes Back.  Not at all!  But one thing I always loved about Empire is that, after Star Wars showed us this awesome new space-ship, the Millennium Falcon, unlike anything we’d ever seen before, Empire makes a whole meal out of the idea that the Falcon is broken for the entire film — it’s never working quite right, thus putting our heroes at an immediate, steep disadvantage.  One of my favorite aspects of Iron Man 3 is that, right from the start, Tony’s armor isn’t working properly.  He spends much of the movie struck in an unfinished, not-quite-perfected prototype suit, and one of the film’s best fight scenes involves Tony taking on a bunch of goons with just one Iron Man glove and one Iron Man boot.  This is a really smart way to deal with the Iron Man armor, and Shane Black and his collaborators draw a lot of humor, but also a lot of tension out of Tony’s constantly having to make the best of his broken armor.

This is the third film in a trilogy of Iron Man films, and in many ways, it forms a nice conclusion to the Iron Man story.  The ending feels definitive, and if there were no more Marvel super-hero films on the horizon, one could imagine that Tony Stark’s story has come to a nice conclusion.  (I love the film’s last line, a wonderful throwback to the end of the first Iron Man film.)  And yet, in many ways, Iron Man 3 really feels like part two of a film series.  Part two is usually the one where things go bad, where our heroes get slapped around a lot.  (There’s that Empire Strikes Back comparison again!)  Tony gets beaten down in this film, and while things do get wrapped up nicely by the end, I am left eager to see where the story goes from here.  I am ready for Part three!  (Even though this was already Iron Man 3!)  Luckily, the film’s closing credits (in a lovely little homage to the James Bond films) promise us that “Tony Stark will Return.”  I can’t wait.

And by the way gang, hopefully I don’t have to tell you this at this point with these Marvel movies, but definitely stay until the closing credits.  The stinger isn’t a tease of future films (like the original post-credits scene at the end of Iron Man was, or like the one at the end of Thor) — it’s more comedic, more in the style of The Avengers’ post-credits scene.  But it’s genius, a perfect final scene for a great film.

I need to go see this one again, and soon!!

 

OK, if you haven’t seen Iron Man 3, get out of here.  If you have, and want to know what plot holes I was referring to above, here are my two cents.  I’ll still try to keep things sort-of-vague, but really, if you haven’t yet seen the film, stop reading now.

So what are the plot holes I was referring to?  Well, I don’t want to over-state my case, but watching the film I felt that there were a lot of pieces that didn’t seem to make a heck of a lot of sense to me.  Why exactly did Killian visit Pepper Potts at the beginning of the film?  (Other than allowing us, the audience, to see his presentation, so we could get a hint of what he was up to, why would Killian have any interest in going into business with Tony Stark’s company?  He hates Tony!)  What are we supposed to make of Maya?  Her character was only on screen for a few minutes (a tragic waste of the great Rebecca Hall), but in that time she had so many I’m-a-good-guy-I’m-a-bad-guy switches that my head is still spinning.  Once Tony realizes that the villain(s) might be located in Tennessee, why doesn’t he tell anyone?  Why not, I dunno, call his buddy Nick Fury??  He didn’t know Pepper had been captured at the time, so it didn’t seem to me he had a strong I-have-to-do-this-myself reason for storming the building alone.  Meanwhile, what exactly was Killian’s plan?  Say Tony Stark hadn’t been able to defeat the Mandarin.  What was Killian hoping to accomplish?  So he would have humiliated and then killed the President of the United States — what next?  I don’t really understand Killian’s motivation or his ultimate goals.  He hates Tony Stark, but ultimately his actions in the film seem to be all about him hating Tony Stark — but if Happy Hogan hadn’t started investigating one of Killian’s goons, Stark wouldn’t have been involved at all!

And then that ending — Tony blowing up his armor makes zero sense to me.  Yay, I’m glad he’s feeling better about himself, but didn’t his forty suits of armor come in pretty handy during the climax of the film?  Doesn’t he just maybe think that he might again need an awesome suit of armor or two?  I am glad that his “I am Iron Man” declaration at the end seems to indicate that he’s not giving up his super-hero identity, so that’s something, but then again that’s all the more reason why it was dumb to show him blowing up all his armor.  (The moment was sort of reminiscent of Doc Brown wanting to destroy the time machine at the end of Back to the Future Part 3, though at least then the filmmakers reversed that just a few minutes later, once you see Doc show up in his time-travelling train.)  If you’re telling me Tony’s not going to be back in the armor for The Avengers 2, you’re a crazy person.

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