Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

Is it possible to be a superhero movie, but then not really be a superhero movie, but really be a superhero movie all at the same time?  Confused?  Don’t be.  After watching Iron Man 3, this will all be crystal clear and so will the direction of Marvel Phase 2.   It’s easy (and lazy) to label movies like Iron Man 3 as “superhero flicks” because their protagonists are born from the funny pages, but Kevin Feige and his Marvel cohorts are about to challenge you on such preconceived notions.  Iron Man 3 is not a movie about Iron Man per se but more a whodunit tale driven by a really smart protagonist that happens to have a really expensive suit.  With Game of Throne’s Alan Taylor directing Thor 2 and the political intrigue storyline framing the plot of the next Captain America, what you’re going to see is Marvel immerse their characters in very specific subgenres.  It’s a clever move designed to give these characters a longer shelf life.

As for Iron Man 3, the plot finds our quit witted protagonist dealing with the aftermath of the events that unfolded in The Avengers. Struggling with some form of post traumatic syndrome, Stark is forced to deal with a mistake from his past that may or may not have some connection to the Mandarin, a ruthless terrorist who is hell bent on unleashing attacks against the United States.  With the lives of those he cares about hanging in the balance, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) must find a way to discover the mystery behind the Mandarin and put an end to his reign of terror.

It’s seems like a pretty straight forward action premise, but what is most striking about Iron Man 3 is that it feels strikingly different than its predecessors.  Writer/Director Shane Black brings his brand of storytelling to the franchise and gives it a feel reminiscent of his work with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Lethal Weapon movies (think whodunit with some elements of buddy cop flicks mixed in for good measure).  That Downey Jr. spends more time out of the suit weaving his way through the plot is a surprise – one that pays off nicely.

Any discussion of this film cannot go long without talking specifically about the work of Robert Downey Jr.  It has gotten to the point where one must ask the question of whether Downey Jr. is portraying Tony Stark or if Tony Stark is just an extension of Downey Jr.  He is quick witted, quirky, and able to oscillate between humor and gravitas seamlessly on the turn of the dime and these qualities may have been the biggest drivers of success for not only the Iron Man franchise but also he entire Marvel cinematic universe.  That he is no longer under contractual obligation to the company no doubt has a few Disney executives losing sleep.

Once again joining RDJ onscreen are Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, and Don Cheadle as Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, and James Rhodes (Iron Patriot) respectively and each is given heavier lifting this time around.  I am not sure if it’s the business casual suits or the snappy chemistry she shares with Downey Jr., but I have never found Paltrow more likeable than I do in these Iron Man films.  She tends to embody the heart and sentimentality in each of the movies, but in this outing Paltrow does a decent job of flexing a bit of muscle. 

What Jon Favreau brings to the film is a decent measure of the campy but endearing humor that we have come to expect from the actor/director.  Sometimes bumbling but always good-natured, Favreau’s portrayal of Hogan won’t make any highlight reels but he capably keeps the tone light while advancing the plot.  As for Cheadle, he plays Colonel James Rhodes to satisfactory results and nothing more.  While I like Cheadle as an actor, I have always found his work in this franchise less than stellar.  It may be the result of acting choices or his chemistry with Downey Jr. but I don’t think he has really hit the right pitch with the character. 

As for the newcomers to the franchise, Guy Pearce is fair but unremarkable as Aldrich Killian – a man with questionable intentions.  He doesn’t hurt the movie by any means, but I could also have envisioned any number of people stepping into the role of an eccentric unbalanced scientist to produce the same if not better results.  Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin is solid and makes some very interesting choices, but his actual screen time is not hugely robust as it is more his characters “presence” than his actually being present that impacts the plot.  Bringing up the rear for this trio is Rebecca Hall as genetic botanist Maya Hansen.  I found her performance weak and unconvincing and at times she felt painfully out of place in this movie – most glaringly in the second act.  There are many other ways the creative team could have gone with this character (and plot thread) and I can’t help but think one of the other choices would have been better.

So what you have then is an Iron Man film that is more about the man than the armor – one that wisely lets RDJ occupy the driver’s seat.  It’s not a perfect film as at times the pacing loses its way and there are some logic leaps and character decisions that have and will infuriate the overly zealous comic book purist.  But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself what you expect from a summer action movie.  If you are looking for a decent plot with big visuals that is fun to watch, then this is a movie you should definitely run out to the cinema to watch.  If you are looking for something more than that, then Iron Man 3 may be a roll of the dice for you.  Regardless, this is easily the best movie thus far in what has been a somewhat weak year at the cinema.  Up next on the Marvel slate is Thor: The Dark World (November 8, 2013).

Standout Performance: Robert Downey Jr. - plain and simple.  


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