Thursday, May 9, 2013

Summer Movie Review - Iron Man 3




When I heard that Shane Black was hired to replace Jon Favreau as the director for Iron Man 3, I wasn’t too sure of what to make of it.  Black’s directorial resume isn’t exactly robust.  His first and only time taking the helm was in 2005 when Black directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a film which co-starred Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr.  Sure it was a pretty damn good flick but was it really all that wise to hand the reigns of a billion dollar franchise over to someone with such little directorial experience?

Well, when I dove further into Black’s career I discovered that he was part of the writing team that gave us the Lethal Weapon franchise, The Monster Squad, and The Last Boy Scout.  Ok, so his writing history makes up for his lack of directorial experience, even if he was ultimately responsible for the screenplay to the grand disaster that was The Last Action Hero.  Well what do ya want, nobody’s perfect.

I review films in two ways, the first being my initial gut reaction while I’m seeing the movie and the other is usually a day or two later, when I’m tearing the story a new a-hole.  Knowing that Shane Black’s filmmaking background is more heavily weighted on the writing side makes me both intrigued but also very discerning of his work on Iron Man 3.  And after I researched his film history, I could see how he uses certain themes throughout his writing career.  I’ll get to that later on.

Iron Man 3 takes place not too far removed from the events of last summer’s, The Avengers, as we find Tony Stark suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from what he experienced in New York.  He ends up suffering from insomnia and fills his time building a massive army of Iron Man suits for just about every possible threat – simultaneously alienating his love, Pepper Potts, again played by Gwyneth Paltrow.  Tony begins to struggle with the question, “is he just a man in a tin suit” in a world with dangers far more deadly than he could ever imagine or handle?

Early on we’re introduced to main baddie in the film, The Mandarin, played by Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley.  In Shane Black’s world he’s essentially an amalgam of every enemy the United States has ever faced – be it Al Qaeda or the North Koreans.  It’s a total deviation from the canon of the comics which had him more as an Asian mystical sorcerer; not exactly something that can be easily translated onto the big screen at least not with today’s savvy audience.   Therein lay one of the really outstanding issues I had with this film and that too I’ll explain later on.

The Mandarin is threatening the world with an undetectable type of IED essentially.  The technology known as Extremis, earned rave reviews when it was first introduced in the iron Man comics back in 2005.  It’s a bio-weapon of the super soldier variety that makes whoever is injected with it invulnerable and apparently a mini human microwave oven set to overload and explode if let uncontrolled.  The plot device wouldn’t exist without the secondary(?) baddie in the film, Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce.

As the film starts it takes us back to 1999, and shows us that if anything, Tony Stark has consistently been a social SOB.  In fact he runs into Killian at a Y2K New Years Eve party, who tries to sell Tony his idea of Extremis only to be dismissed by Tony as a kook.  You begin to see the web that is being weaved here if you’re keen enough to notice that in one scene at the party is the man who was a prisoner with Tony in Afghanistan.  If you remember from the first film, it was this man, Yinsen, who saved Tony’s life by constructing an electro-magnet keeping shrapnel from entering his heart.  It seems Tony has been set up by the Mandarin all along.

Everyone, from Downey to Kingsley, Cheadle and even Paltrow all give excellent performances here.  I single out Kingsley because Black took an absolutely HUGE chance with his character that has upset the die-hards to no end.  I warned you there would be spoilers so; stop reading RIGHT NOW if you don’t want to know.  Too late… the Mandarin in Shane Black’s world is a total manufactured fraud.  He’s an actor hired by Killian to be used as a pawn fueling everyone’s fear but essentially he’s a straw man.  I found it hilarious when and how it was revealed in the film.  It was pretty damn witty.  Kingsley is just such a great actor and I can see why they wanted him to play the Mandarin.

Now even though I found it a funny use of misdirection to have the Mandarin portrayed as a drunken English actor, I can totally relate to the hardcore fans of Iron Man who find this to be absolutely sacrilegious.  To explain it better, how would fans of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy feel if he gave Heath Ledger’s treatment of the Joker the same (in)justice, and turned him into a useful fool?  Initially I chuckled but later on I found it disrespectful of the canon. I hope Zach Snyder doesn’t have any smart ass ideas up his sleeve regarding Lex Luthor in Man of Steel.  The Sector WILL have issues if he does.

What I liked about Iron Man 3 was how it dealt with Tony Stark’s past and how he’s basically been the same person even prior becoming Iron Man, basically a douche, but fortunately a likeable one at that.  Shane Black shows how Tony Stark has always kept everyone at arms length.  But the thing is he’s not aloof in fact he actually remembers everything and everyone; he uses his faux aloofness as a cover.   It’s interesting because Shane Black uses many repeating themes throughout the films he’s been a part of.  The alliterations to the Lethal Weapon series are incredibly obvious and while it made me roll my eyes when I dissected Iron Man 3, I admit while watching it, I was totally buying it.

The only other main issue I had with Iron Man 3 was literally the final few minutes of the film.  After finally coming to grips with his humanity, Tony acknowledges both his limitations but that HE is Iron Man, not the tech, not the armor.  Here’s where it went south for me.  So with that realization Tony decides to have heart surgery to remove the shrapnel surrounding his heart.  You know the shrapnel that could NOT be removed without causing him a cardiac arrest and that annoying thing known as DEATH.  Really Shane? Really?

Tony had a key line from The Avengers, when he spoke of having this “terrible privilege” that his injury had given him.  Literally in a matter of probably 3 screen minutes, by downplaying Tony’s need for the ARC reactor to keep him alive, Shane Black pretty much took a royal crap on the canon of Iron Man.  And Marvel allowed it.  There are a few other nit-picky things I could bring up such as when the Mandarin sent choppers to destroy Tony’s home and why THEN he didn’t unleash his army of armored suits to take them out.  But I won’t.  You have to come at these movies with an open mind and you have to be able to suspend disbelief to some degree, otherwise you’ll go crazy with the minutia.

I enjoyed Iron Man 3.  It wasn’t perfect and like I said I think it had two really HUGE flaws but it’s impossible to say that the slate isn’t clean for just about any possibility now.  I’m interested to see where Marvel takes this.  The Sector gives Iron Man 3, three out of four.

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