Back in the old days, the kickoff for summer movie season was always Memorial Day; once the three day weekend rolled around, Hollywood would begin unleashing all their fun popcorn movies full of special effects and explosions. It was kind of a hard and fast date. Now things are much more fluid – much like how the buildup to Christmas now starts at Halloween, the beginning of summer movie has crept up before the traditional holiday weekend start date. Now one of the totems for summer movie season is whenever the first movie featuring a superhero pops up. With the release of Iron Man 3 last night, the 2013 summer movie season has officially launched.
Iron Man isn’t my favorite of the Avengers (what up, Thor), but he is definitely the most amusing of them. Back when the original Iron Man debuted in 2008, I began my journey down the Avengers rabbit hole; I didn’t know anything about any of these characters or how they were all interconnected. Smart aleck Tony Stark was something of a revelation to me – I was used to my superheroes being a little more brooding or weighed down by responsibility and obligation. Tony Stark didn’t seem too affected by anything beyond when to unleash his next one-liner. It was kind of refreshing change of pace from what I was used to. I will also admit that I find Iron Man the most confusing of the Avengers characters; because his character relies so much on technology, the films are often full of a lot of technobabble that I can’t say I always fully understand. I really enjoyed the first Iron Man movie, but was fairly disappointed in the second installment. Coming off the mega-success of The Avengers, I was hopeful that Iron Man 3 would be something of a return to form.
Iron Man 3 is quite enjoyable and is definitely an improvement from Iron Man 2. It is extremely funny and there are a lot of cool action sequences. However, this is a franchise that is beginning to show some fatigue; what felt fresh and original in the first Iron Man film begins to feel a bit forced and predictable. The plot of the film was also a bit problematic, especially when it comes to the villains. These faults don’t completely overpower the film; I left the theater thoroughly entertained. Iron Man 3 is a rip roaring good time, just as long as you don’t think too much about what’s going on.
Iron Man 3 takes place after the events of The Avengers; that brush with things that he doesn’t understand has changed Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr). He now has trouble sleeping and suffers the occasional panic attack. He fills his time in his workshop, tinkering with his Iron Man creations, which has begun to put a strain on his relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). A terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is wreaking havoc around the world with explosions that can’t be traced and a handsome former colleague of Pepper’s, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), has suddenly reemerged. Stark is, in his own words, a hot mess. When one of the Mandarin’s attacks hits close to home, Stark publicly calls the evil mastermind out and sets in motion the conflict for the remainder of the film.
Downey, Jr. continues to do a great job in giving Stark/Iron Man his trademark swagger. He has a rapier’s wit and Iron Man 3 is full of plenty of one-liners that he delivers with relish. On more than one occasion, the audience’s laughter drowned out the next line of the dialogue. There are some particularly great scenes when RDJ is paired with a kid, who is on the right side of precocious. Unlike many other superheroes, Iron Man’s suit limits the overall physical demands of the actor portraying him; traditionally Downey, Jr.’s main contribution to the role has been the personality and humanization of the hero. Iron Man 3 is a little different in that Tony Stark (and therefore Downey, Jr.) is forced into more conflict outside of the Iron Man suit and RDJ rises to the occasion. He is more than capable of bring more athleticism when needed.
The rest of the cast is more than solid. Paltrow and Downey, Jr. have good chemistry together and Pepper is given more to do in this movie than just roll her eyes at Stark. Ben Kinglsey is slumming it a bit by appearing in a superhero franchise, but he seems to be having a really good time as the Mandarin. The writers gave him some really fun dialogue and he makes the most of it. Guy Pearce will always be Leonard from Momento to me, but I am constantly surprised as how he can change his appearance so drastically for different roles. When Aldrich Killian makes his first appearance, I knew that I knew the actor, but couldn’t quite place who it was or where I knew him from. He’s kind of a chameleon. It still feels weird for Don Cheadle to be in these films, but he does his usual good job. Jon Favreau, director of the first two Iron Man films, makes the most of his limited screen time. Rebecca Hall (Vicky in Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is wasted in this film as she is saddled with an underdeveloped character that just doesn’t have much of anything to do.
Despite the stellar cast, however, the story that Iron Man 3 is trying to tell is a little problematic. There is a fun twist with the Mandarin that is very unexpected, but once it is revealed it becomes very vague about what the end game of the villains actually is. I’m still not 100% positive what they were trying to accomplish. A lot of what you are watching doesn’t make a ton of sense with any real reflection. This is a film that is way more interested in blowing things up than explaining why they are blowing things up. It’s all a lot of laughs and explosions and cool special effects, but not a lot of actual storytelling.
I’m also not sure where the Iron Man stand-alone franchise can go after this movie. While the quips are funny, they are now predictable and at times they felt a little forced. Iron Man, in my opinion, in much easier to maintain as a character as one part of a larger ensemble. The conclusion of Iron Man 3 felt kind of final to me; I’m not sure how much new territory there is to explore without the franchise beginning to repeat itself.
Some other thoughts:
- The handful of you that watch Happy Endings will want to keep an eye out for a familiar face popping up in Iron Man 3.
- I really wish that there were some kind of clear guidelines as to what is an Avengers situation and what is not, other than the obvious fact that they are trying to get as much money out of this franchise as possible and each actor probably wants their own stand-alone series of films. Because otherwise, I’m not really sure what the point of being a member of The Avengers is if you can’t count on these people to have your back. If I was Iron Man and my house was destroyed and I’m facing off with an international terrorist, I’d be a little ticked off that Hulk or Captain America aren’t stopping by to see if I need some help. What’s the protocol here? Membership should have privileges and one of them should being able to call people to assemble when you need some assistance. Otherwise the Avengers are about as useful as the UN.
- I’ll be really curious to see what fan boys think of how the Mandarin is handled. That’s all I’ll say.
- I like this apparent new edict that all super villains have to have weird voices; last year everyone was talking like Bane (“I’m Gotham’s Reckoning”) – this year everyone will be talking like the Mandarin (“I consider myself a teacher”).
- There is a really minor character in this film named Heather, which automatically bumps this movie up in my esteem. She turns up in the scene on Air Force One.
- You don’t need to have seen The Avengers to see Iron Man 3, but what exactly are you waiting for? The Avengers is amazing.
- Going to see a comic movie at its first screening is always an interesting crowd. As I joked on Facebook, it felt like I was trapped in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
- The previews before Iron Man 3 were definitely geared to the audience; there are an alarming number of superhero movies coming out this summer. The kid sitting one row in front of me practically had a nerdgasm when the trailer for the new Star Trek movie came on. He is clearly looking forward to that film.
- People love to make fun of Gwyneth Paltrow’s healthy living, but whatever she is doing is paying off – the girl has some killer abs.
- After the final battle scene – I understand the gesture and it was visually cool, but I don’t know that it was a very prudent move by Stark.
- Per usual, stay after the credits for a bonus scene.
Iron Man 3 is a perfect movie for summer – a lot of fun but not a lot of substance. If you can turn your brain off and just go with the flow, you’ll probably enjoy the film more. The more you think about the story, the easier the whole thing kind of falls apart. I don’t hold superhero movies up to the same standards of other genre of film, but I do kind of like things to make sense and I wonder if they wasted a golden opportunity with the Mandarin. Still, I left the cinema entertained and sometimes that is all you can really ask for.
Iron Man 3 opens nationwide today.