Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

It wasn't as bad as Iron Man 2 (2010) but not quite up to the original Iron Man (2008) film. Of course, it's trying to tell a more complicated story than the original film and it's trying to show us the humanity of Tony Stark. So who is Iron Man: man or machine...or both?

That's really the main question this film is asking and trying to answer, which is why we don't see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in his armor for most of the film. However, when this movie finally gets rolling, we have armor up the wazoo!

But first things first.

The movie starts in the dark with Stark's narration, "A wise man once said: we make our own demons." This is important but you don't realize it right away. I'll get to that.

Stark decides to start his story on New Year's Eve 1999 in Bern, Switzerland. He's trying to get a brilliant research scientist named Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) into bed for a one-night stand and all she wants to do is talk about her latest experiment in reprogramming the human brain to amplify a person's ability to self-repair dramatically. Tony seems too drunk to notice or care, but he's brilliant enough to not let that stop him, either in his quest to get her into the sack (which he does) or to help her with her technical problem (which he also does, but we don't find out until later).

OK, she's interested in bedding Tony too, after they get rid of the overly attentive Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Tony's also promised to meet with the newly minted inventor of AIM (that's right, Advanced Idea Mechanics...the bad guys) Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce with a really bad haircut and a hopelessly fan boy attitude in the 1999 sequence) on the roof of the hotel, but that was a total lie. Booze and sex drive Tony Stark at this point in his life.

All this is to set the stage for the present where we pick up the loose threads left dangling on the morning of January 1st, 2000.

As a nice homage to the first film, we get to see the brief appearance of a very beloved character (at least to me) in the opening few minutes of the 1999 sequence. Watch for him.

Shift to the present or close to it: the Christmas season 2012 (presumably). Happy has been upgraded to Chief of Security at Stark International, Pepper is handling the day to day running of the empire, and Tony...Tony's a mess.

He has been ever since the end of The Avengers (2012), but then again, escorting a live nuke into another dimension and almost getting stranded there, and then, having gotten back out, almost falling to his death, all have a way of negatively impacting a person. In Tony's case, he's prone to panic attacks (they don't last long enough to qualify as anxiety attacks).

Pepper's moved into the Malibu mansion with him, but that only helps a little. Night after night he can hardly sleep and he spends most of his time building a wide variety of super-powered armor prototypes. The latest is Mark 42, which on command, will leap into the air in pieces and slap themselves onto Tony's body (it's not a perfect process).

But then he finds something to focus on besides the past, his anxiety, and his uncertainty. The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). The Mandarin seems to have it in for America in general and the American President in particular. So much so that he needs to blow up lots of American stuff, including the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Long story short, the formerly dweeby Aldrich (with a much better haircut and tons more confidence) visits Pepper at SI to pitch "his" technology for hacking into the human brain to enhance healing and performance (sound familiar). Pepper turns it down since it can all too easily be weaponized (something SI doesn't do anymore). Security Chief Hogan gets suspicious of Aldrich and his henchman Savin (James Badge Dale) and follows them to the aforementioned Chinese Theatre...

...where he discovers how the Mandarin blows up things...not with bombs but with genetically altered people...

...and ends up in a coma (don't worry, he gets better by the end of the movie).

This is where it becomes personal for Tony and he challenges the Mandarin on TV to a duel, giving out his home address (as if the entire world could miss that giant half factory/half work of art in Malibu hanging over the Pacific).

Big mistake. The long missing Maya Hansen shows up "coincidentally" to warn Tony about her boss as Pepper is trying to convince Tony to get out of the mansion...just minutes before three of the Mandarin's helicopters blows the whole thing into the ocean.  Tony "armorizes" Pepper just long enough for her to get Maya and herself out of harm's way, then pulls the armor onto himself just in time to go into the water with his house.

So begins Tony Stark's armorless journey to discover who the Mandarin is and the secret behind exploding people.

Cute relationship between Tony (AKA "the Mechanic") and eight-year old Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). Nice and heartwarming, even though Tony is still a dick at heart. The relationship does buy Tony time to start unraveling the mystery and he makes a number of surprising discoveries.

Most aren't all that surprising to the audience but one came at me out of left field. I loved what Kingsley did with Trevor. I had no idea it would turn out this way but in retrospect, it was brilliant. It goes completely off canon which is probably good, since you can't do The Mandarin the way he originally appeared in the 1960s Marvel comic books. The Mandarin in the comics was actually a throwback to the 1930s pulp fiction stories and comic strips and in no way could that "Fu Manchu" character type ever play in the 21st century. Nice twist and kudos to the writers.

I was disappointed that the armored suits, including James Rhodes's (Don Cheadle) seemed to be taken out so easily by the "Lava people." Even though Rhodes inside Iron Patriot (the War Machine armor with a Captain America paint job) was taken by surprise, once Rhodes regained consciousness, none of the armor's toys were put into play to get him out of his mess. The best he could do was eject himself out of the armor and run like hell.

In fact, Rhodes was a far more effective fighter without the suit than he was in it. He could totally kick ass with nothing besides a sidearm and lots of athletic skill, which is how he manages to rescue the President.

Tony manages to do derring do, including saving about a dozen people in free fall who were forcibly blown out of a crippled Air Force One, but finally it's Rhodes who saves the Pres and it's Pepper who defeats the real bad guy and saves Tony's ass (never mind that she came just that close to buying the farm herself).

Good Stuff

What they did with the Mandarin. Ben Kingsley puts in a surprising performance once Tony comes face to face with who he thinks is the mastermind behind the international terrorist organization AIM.

The finale where thirty or forty remotely controlled suits of armor are all flying around fighting the bad guys. JARVIS is the main hero here, although Tony shows masterful coordination at getting into and out of different suits of armor literally on the fly. Pretty good for a guy who has panic attacks with very little provocation.
For once, the female lead saves the day. She kind of blows it by immediately being shocked at how violent she could be (having just blown the bad guy into millions of superheated pieces).

Tony finally gets rid of all of the shrapnel around his heart, eliminating the need for an electromagnet in his chest powered by a mini-arc reactor.

He blows up his armored suits. All of them. It's a way for Tony to grow up and realize that he is he hero behind Iron Man, not a bunch of technology.

Bad Stuff

For a guy who has panic attacks when you just mention "New York," he can do lots and lots of really risky, heroic stuff that should either have put him in a fetal position or sent him to an emergency room. Even without his armor, he's leaping  thirty feet to come down on precarious perches, dodging flying debris, explosions and one really super-heated and pissed off bad guy. If he was that prone to debilitating anxiety, she should have ended up dead.

The film seemed uneven. Yes, I know the point was to show Tony outside his armor and what he could and needed to do without depending on "the suit," but the name of the movie is "Iron Man," not "The Adventures of Tony Stark."

The armor was shockingly ineffective against a crew of super villains whose only real power was getting hot enough to melt metal and exploding. I can see where that could catch you by surprise the first time, but once you expect it, the armor and all its gadgets should just kick ass. I think the film makers tried too hard to make their "man over machine" point.

The worst disappointment though has to go to the after ending credits scene. Normally these scenes are meant to show secrets into the next Marvel films, little surprises, teasing easter eggs. This time it was a cheesy joke between Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Totally not worth wasting seven minutes of my life sitting through the end of film credits. This is where we see that Tony's narration is part of a dialogue with Banner.

The movie is watchable. It leaves us with the feeling that Tony has outgrown Iron Man and is leaving the armor behind along with his blown up and sunken Malibu mansion (guess he's moving to New York). If I didn't know Downey had signed on to do two more Marvel films, I would have interpreted this movie's ending the way The Dark Knight Rises (2012) ended. Batman dies so Bruce Wayne can live.

I had thought that the after end credits "teaser" might have been used to introduce Ant Man (2015) or at least his alter ego Henry Pym. No such luck (unless he was in the scene but too small to see).

Yeah, I'll watch this movie again, but not until it's out on DVD. It was a nice ride, but not a fully satisfying one. The Avengers is still top of the heap of super hero least until I see Man of Steel (2013) next Sunday and then review it.

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