Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3: Tony Stark's Swan Song?

     After the original Iron Man (which paved the way for the beloved Marvel comic book heroes to experience new and exciting directions) and Iron Man 2 (which--though still plenty entertaining--was a slight step backwards in the series), the mega-million-dollar franchise decided to take a chance with some fresh blood. So Jon Favreau, the director of the first two films, left. Maybe after making the weak Cowboys and Aliens the studios figured they would go in a different direction? Whatever the reason, it was a good decision: enlisting Shane Black, who rose to immense fame in the late 1980's writing Lethal Weapon (and subsequently other high-action films with sharp scripts), to write and direct, Iron Man 3 is an interesting and highly entertaining entry into the comic book film canon, a superhero film with actual tension--and although it's a bit scattershot at times, it's an admirable end to Downey Jr's trilogy as Iron Man, if they don't convince him to make another for tens of millions of dollars.
      At this point, Robert Downey Jr. portrays the character of Tony Stark as easily as the character Tony Stark slips into his Iron Man suit as he gears up to destroy Earth's newest threat--and with Shane Black's script that is so quick with the one-liners and sarcastic quips, the lively laughs fly by faster than Stark's new version of the Iron Man suit that shoots at him piece by piece like he is actually Magneto of X-Men fame. And that's how this Iron Man film starts, with Stark tampering with some new upgrades to his suit. It also ties into The Avengers in important and intriguing ways: ever since he almost died during those events with the alien invasion, Stark has started to notice anxiety creeping into his life, occasionally becoming so severe that he becomes almost completely incapacitated for a moment of time.
     But this wouldn't be a very interesting Iron Man film if the biggest threat to Tony Stark was shortness of breath and thoughts of impending doom. Ben Kingsley portrays The Mandarin, a terrorist that bears a resemblance to Osama Bin Laden but speaks like southern "baptist preacher". You'd never guess that it was the same Ben Kingsley that was so ferocious in Sexy Beast: his vocal inflections are humorous and curious here, and though his role is extremely peculiar in Iron Man 3, he is still a highlight in his limited time. It seems like he is control of a bunch of minions that hold some sort of special power, a regeneration ability that is as far-fetched as it is dangerous. This isn't a comic book film more rooted in reality ala Nolan's Batman trilogy (though its nearly as serious and exciting at points): The Mandarin's henchmen glow red like Hellboy and one shoots fire out of his mouth like a dragon in Game of Thrones.
     And Guy Pearce makes just about any film better: here he portrays Aldrich Killian, a once-geek-now-slick scientist who has a major interest in all of the cronies that are "infected" with the fiery skin. Pearce is a total scumbag in Iron Man 3, and he performs his snake-like maneuvers with a winning smile and violent temper. Him and Downey Jr have some great scenes together, helped along again by Black's script which made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (his first directing effort) so watchable.
     And some of the action scenes are truly phenomenal,  better than most anything (except the climax) that was in The Avengers. To prove to The Mandarin that he isn't scared of him one little bit, Stark airs his home address over television screens, the Iron Man way of saying "Come at me, bro!". And come at him The Mandarin does, in an exciting and impressive scene that involves the destruction of Stark's billion dollar compound. Another great scene: air pressure is lost in a plane, an explosion happens, and people start getting sucked out of the side of the plane like pneumatic tubes,  flying through the blue sky. Sure, it's been done before--Iron Man zooming through the sky, saving falling people. But never to this extent...and never this well done and realistic. And the climax is impressive: Black clearly has a knack for staging long action sequences that have ebbs and flows and different characters performing different feats of excitement. In fact, he would would be a great choice for The Avengers sequel, if Joss Whedon wasn't creating it.
     Like any third act in a franchise, it's very hard for the characters and situations to feel original and innovative. Black manages to here, but he also throws so many ideas at us with breakneck speed that sometimes Iron Man 3 feels like a gigantic entertaining jumble of un-fleshed out plot points and situations. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, whose work with a personal trainer clearly paid off) plays a more significant role this time around, and for once Tony Stark gets thrown into situations where he is truly powerless. It's a film that feels like a good ending point for Downey Jr's trilogy of Iron Man films: and much of the success of all three movies lies directly in his hands, his quick trigger with the witty screenplays, his ability to portray the charming cockiness of Tony Stark. Between The Avengers and now Iron Man 3, Marvel now holds the top two opening grossing weekend records of all time--and it's well-deserved.     (B+)

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