Monday, May 13, 2013

Iron Man 3 (Movie Review)

After a phenomenal first movie, a less fantastic but still great second movie and being heavily featured in the amazing film experience that was The Avengers, it could have been anyone's guess how Iron Man would do in his third movie. Third movies in trilogies are notoriously bad or at least fall significantly short of the film before them. Blade: Trinity, Spider-man 3, X:Men 3, Batman Forever, and dare I say... The Dark Knight Rises. (Leave Superman 3 alone people. Apples and oranges to the first two movies, but still a great flick!)

The trailers looked dark and thematically heavy. Just my cup of tea. But with a series so known for its humor, would this hurt the experience? Would the story fall victim to "power creep" as compelling writing is replaced by artificially increased intensity? (AKA, more explosions, villains and CGI)

Iron Man picks up not long after The Avengers movie. The frightening scope of the alien invasion and what Tony Stark experienced is finally beginning to effect him psychologically, inducing debilitating anxiety attacks. Tony tries to deal with his stress by throwing himself into work while the love of his life, Pepper Potts, runs Stark Industries. Bottled up both physically in his workshop and emotionally in his relationship with Pepper, the two are drifting apart as tension grows between them.

Meanwhile, the terrorist organization known as "The Ten Rings" (which caused Tony trouble from the background in the first two movies) now has a face in the form of "The Mandarin", their leader. (Who strangely looks more Middle Eastern than Chinese and has a strong American accent.) Attacks by The Ten Rings are on the rise, accompanied by broadcast messages from The Mandarin, warning of more attacks to come.

When the danger presented by The Mandarin hits close to home, Tony makes it his mission to hunt and kill The Mandarin himself. Meanwhile Aldrich Killian, an old acquaintance of Tony's (and old boyfriend of Pepper's) reappears on the scene to stir the pot and make things even more complicated.

The basics you'd expect from an Iron Man movie are all here. Great performances from all involved, fantastic action and visual effects and snappy, funny dialogue that keeps the laughs coming.

Robert Downey Junior is given more time onscreen to explore his character than in previous films and has some wonderful moments of vulnerability. Tony's relationship with Pepper is explored in a few new ways and I felt like I was seeing a romantic relationship progress, as all good ones do, through the ups and downs that eventually make up a rich and maturing life partnership. (Still no wedding vows, but ah well. This IS Tony Stark, after all.)

The introduction of a child supporting role presents a charming side-story that could have gone "cutesy". But even a down on his luck kid can't make Tony Stark go soft, and his unconventional dialogue with this child character provides some of the biggest laughs in the movie.

Not all the attempts at humor work out, though. Especially early on, a number of jokes seemed forced, as though trying and failing to "recapture the magic". This wasn't a huge problem, though, as the number and frequency of jokes seems to have significantly increased with this film, resulting in possibly even more laughs per minutes than the previous two films.

The reason for this may have been to counter-balance the grim tone of the rest of the movie. Iron Man 3 features more deaths than probably Iron Man 1 and 2 combined. Some are "comic-booky" explosive deaths or "energy stabs", but a number of others are grim and very grounded in reality, involving terrorist-like bombs or shootings. If this sounds too heavy, rest assured that the final tone of the film is balanced well by the increased level of humor, ending up neither too grim nor too silly.

In general I was surprised and pleased at how much time character development was given in the script. I can only imagine someone along the way was yelling "less talking more fighting", but I'm grateful that person was told to shut up, as the character scenes in Iron Man 3 were time and effort invested well.

That said, it was also a little surprising how much of the movie found Tony outside of his suit or depending on one that he can barely keep running. There are few moments in the movie where we see Iron Man in shining, powerful glory. The opposition is deadly, and Tony goes through more suits than ever before by the time the movie is done. Still, even out of his suit Tony utilizes Iron Man-based technology and other inventions to do exciting things that scratch the itch until the next time he suits up. And the climactic battles of the movie are a very nice payoff, with lots of metal and mayhem flying around.

I know very little about The Mandarin as a character, aside from what I learned in the Sunday morning Iron Man cartoon from the 90's. But I know that for at least awhile he was something like Iron Man's Lex Luthor. With both that in mind and the way the character is presented in the first half of this film, I was very surprised, and a bit let down, with where they take the character in the second half of the movie. It also doesn't feel like what the writers had in mind when they used The Ten Rings as a plot device in the earlier films. If you're looking for The Ten Rings concept to culminate in The Mandarin's presentation as the ultimate threat to Iron Man... you'll be very disappointed.

The ending gives a strong sense of closure to the trilogy. It seems clear there are no more Iron Man movies intended after this one. However the door is also left wide open for Iron Man to be featured in future Avengers movies. A very satisfying end that also avoids limiting the future.

Like the previous two films, this movie doesn't spend time trying to say much philosophically. There is a brief moment where a neuro-scientist observes that a "slot" left in our brains indicates we are destined to be "upgraded". This was interesting to me, since upgrading requires an upgrader, and in Biblical teaching, believers will eventually be "upgraded" with new, immortal bodies. However I doubt this is what the writer was thinking about, as an evolution metaphor is used to describe the same thing a few scenes later.

There is a theme presented in the beginning of the movie regarding the tendency of reckless choices to come back and haunt us. But it isn't consistently or heavily worked into the film in a way that stands out to me, so I doubt it will lead to any meaningful thought or conversation.

Iron Man 3 has a few unusual choices in it, but in the end the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. A great Iron Man movie which caps off what I now consider to be the best Superhero Trilogy ever made.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 6.0/10

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