News, Views, and Reviews
Iron Man 3 takes some bold risks, but it has to, as it has to follow both Iron Man 2 AND The Avengers, and meet some pretty high expectations. In my opinion, those risks paid off, and Iron Man 3 exceeded my expectations. The main risk was to replace two-time Iron Man director Jon Favreau with buddy-cop director Shane Black. Would Black be able to match the tone and characterizations established in the first two Iron Man movies? More appropriately, should he? At this point in the Marvel-Movie-Universe, we don’t need more of the same, we need something bigger and better. If not bigger, at least deeper, and that’s exactly what Black delivers. For a super-hero often referred to as “The Invincible Iron Man” this is the most vulnerable Tony Stark, and the best performance from Robert Downey Jr, we’ve ever seen. Physically and mentally shaken from The Avengers movie, Stark goes into a manic-overdrive-tailspin. He doesn’t sleep, he’s iterating Iron Man suits and attachments non-stop, and even breaking down into anxiety attacks. Ironically, the next threat he has to face doesn’t have anything to do with Norse gods or alien invasions, or even the Army or the Government trying to copy/steal his Iron Man designs, and as such, he’s completely unprepared to face it. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that this threat is more personal and more dangerous than anyone was expecting, and it will push Stark and his inventions to their extreme limits.
Story: Clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, Iron Man 3 is an epic, classic hero adventure. Tony Stark has it all: money, fame, power, and a great girlfriend. Just as he fears, though, it all gets torn away from him. Even though he’s surrounded by amazing technology, and spends literally every waking moment preparing for battle, Stark is not prepared for this. What’s worse, is these enemy machinations are more or less Tony’s fault. His care-free, jet setting, glory days – before he became Iron Man and changed into a more responsible person – have come back to destroy him. Like a classic hero adventure, Tony will have to hit bottom before he can build himself back up, but even his latest inventions might not be enough to overcome this new enemy. The movie is pretty long, but it is very eventful, and I hardly noticed the time going by. I don’t think the “Iron Man Trilogy” could have ended any better than this.
For me, the character of Iron Man/Tony Stark is just as much about technology and escalation as it is about heroism and responsibility. What makes Iron Man unique, is that he IS responsible for that technology. He IS responsible for the escalation. Tony made a bold decision in the first Iron Man movie, to shut down his company’s production of weapons, but he also created THE super weapon: Iron Man. Those decisions were put to the test in Iron Man 2, as everyone came after Stark to get their hands on that weapon. Rival companies, the military, even his friend, Jim Rhodes, literally stole an Iron Man suit from Stark. Iron Man 3, then, could have taken the safe route and dealt with even more rivalry and escalation. In some ways, it does, but in ways I wasn’t expecting. The solution seems easy enough: what happens if his rivals come up with something far superior to Iron Man? But it’s the execution of that simple premise that elevates Iron Man 3 beyond most super hero movies.
Characters and Acting: Clearly, the biggest strength in Iron Man 3 is Robert Downey Jr. This is the most intense, layered, complex, yet totally relatable and accessible super hero character ever presented on film. Period. All super hero characterizations should be held up to this standard from now on. He has his Tony Stark swagger, but this time, its mostly a mask to hide how vulnerable and afraid he really is. This is what Iron Man 3 is all about: a character study of Tony Stark. Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit? If Stark is best known for his inventions, who is he if those inventions aren’t good enough?
As great as Downey is, the film would fall apart if it weren’t supported by other great performances. The returning characters, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, Jim Rhodes, and even Jarvis each have their moments to shine (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle, and Paul Bettany, respectively). They also deliver some developments of their own, and show us what it’s like living in Tony’s shadow. The new characters fare almost as well, with standouts Aldrich Killian, the Mandarin, and the young Harley Keener making up for Maya Hansen’s weaker performance (Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Ty Simpkins, and Rebecca Hall, respectively). Shane Black directs some of his funniest “buddy-cop” scenes with Stark and Harley, and gets some brilliant “super villain” scenes from Killian and the Mandarin. In a way, the movie benefits from two strengths: RDJ’s acting ability and director Shane Black’s ability to establish chemistry with the other characters. That’s not meant to take anything away from those actors, but one of the main successes of Iron Man 3 is its careful combination of fun, action, and humor with serious issues and character development. If Iron Man was a comeback for RDJ, Iron Man 3 could be a comeback for Shane Black. Who would have thought that Black, best known for writing, nay, creating the action-comedy genre, would be so great at directing a super-hero movie?
Visualization: I want to give Iron Man 3 high accolades for its visualization, but one thing holds it down, in my opinion: it’s too fast. The enemies are established right away as super-fast, but give us some slow motion sequences to help the audience keep up. In some ways, it suffers from the same problems the first Transformers movie had, in that its hard to keep track of everything going on. Sometimes. As part of his epic hero journey takes Tony Stark out of his comfort zone, and out of his suit, we get more than a fair share of action sequences sans suit. As seen in the trailers and commercials, Stark develops a way for pieces of his armor to fly at him and attach themselves automatically, which is really cool. During some very cool fight scenes, though, it happens so rapidly, we have to rely on the auditory clues instead of the action on screen. It’s a minor complaint. I really appreciate the generous use of practical stunts and effects. IF there is a lot of CGI in the film, it’s hidden well. One particular sequence, the mid-air airplane passenger rescue, apparently was filmed with actual stunts in free fall – and is amazing! The ending credit sequence includes scenes from all three Iron Man movies, and these (unintentional?) side by side comparisons show us how far the special effects have come since 2008. Overall, this has some of the most believable special effects in any action movie, super-hero or otherwise.
Sound: As mentioned, the sound effects actually helped some of the action sequences make more sense than the visual effects. To elaborate, there is a specific sound effect used to indicate the Iron Man suit is attaching itself to Stark, and another sound effect to indicate when it is coming off. During some frantic fight scenes, the suit comes on and off very rapidly, and those sound effects help establish what is happening. If anything, this is a great demonstration of how sound effects should compliment an action movie. The musical score is another fantastic compliment, and is exactly what I’ve asked for in other blogs. There is a recognizable theme, and a few variations of that theme during appropriate moments. Gone are the cheesy, obvious heavy metal riffs used in Iron Man – and other action movies – giving us a more timeless experience. I’ll even call out the musical writer, Brian Tyler, and hope his work shows up in other movies. Unfortunately, sound is often overlooked in movie reviews, so I want to bring as much attention to Iron Man 3’s sound work as possible. Really, it’s that good.
Conclusion: I didn’t want to risk any spoilers, and discuss the unfortunate reactions some fans are having to Iron Man 3, but I will conclude with a suggestion: get over it. Iron Man 3 is easily in the highest heights of super hero movies, and action movies in general! Iron Man 3 is a fantastic, epic, heroic journey, carried by extremely capable actors, directed by THE action-comedy creator himself, and complimented by outstanding visual and sound effects. What more could anyone ask for? I will caution potential viewers that viewing the first two Iron Man movies and The Avengers movie are pretty much required for full appreciation. I will also remind everyone to stay in theaters for a short scene following the credits!
Iron Man 3 hit theaters May 3rd, is rated “PG-13” for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content, and runs 2 hours and 20 minutes.