I think, sometimes, people who review movies review them right after one viewing so they can get their opinion out there as quickly as possible; either to help people decide if they want to go see it, or to be the first one to publish their idea(s) about a new piece of media. That’s cool, I guess. But to formulate a review with depth and criticism, ya gotta let the film sink in a bit. Let it marinate. Think about it for a while. It’s been over a month since “Iron Man 3” was released in theaters, so I’ve had time (and three viewings) to figure out what I thought about the flick. Here it is.
BEWARE: “Iron Man 3” MASSIVE SPOILERS HEREIN (it’s been a month. If you haven’t seen it, what are you doing with your life?)
I feel like two mammoth Hollywood genres are completely dead: the western and the musical. Sure, you see a successful, Oscar-nominated pic released every once in a while (see Django and Les Mis), but gone are the days of monthly John Waynes and Stanley Donen must-sees. The genres that used to fuel studios have gone the way of disco and floppy discs. And ya gotta wonder how it ever came to that; how the standards of generic filmmaking slowly fell off the map; how audiences no longer gravitated towards the expectation; how slick, good looking, popcorn musicals like “Newsies” couldn’t make back their craft service budget.
Before he was POTUS fighting an alien invasion, Bill Pullman stopped
the box office in its tracks in this immensely unsuccessful musical from the
early 90’s, “Newsies”
The thing is, it all starts to feel the same until someone puts a bit of a twist on it. And everything around here started to feel like the same ol’, didn’t it? Musicals and westerns are gone from the summer movie scene, replaced by zombies and superheroes. But are we (or were we) on the cusp of—like the latter—over-saturation? How many reboots and origin stories can we take before originality and accountability outweigh dark and broody rewatchability? It seems like yesterday I was walking out of a James Bond movie, satisfied, blown away, but unable to stop myself from wondering how much EON and Sam Mendes owed to Chris Nolan.
My point is: “Iron Man 3” is awesome. Why is it awesome? George Lucas once said about Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner that he was the right man for the job because he knew everything about how to make a Hollywood movie, but he wasn’t Hollywood. “Iron Man 3” is the Irvin Kershner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—it’s everything that a superhero movie is supposed to be while managing to do everything a superhero movie would never do.
More Star Wars analogies: a wise podcaster once said that seeing movies is like entering “The Cave” in Empire Strikes Back. What’s in there? Only what you take with you. “Iron Man 3” is definitely “The Cave”. If you’re a huge comic book reader, if you’ve spent years of your life wondering what Iron Man’s most storied arch rival might look like on the silver screen, you’re going to experience this movie a helluvalot differently than a filmgoer who doesn’t know General Zod from Mystique. But to the former viewer, I have to offer you one more bit of Star Wars wisdom: unlearn what you have learned. Try to go into this movie and just watch it for what it is, you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more. Don’t expect it to be a carbon copy of “Iron Man 1” or an epic saga like “The Avengers”, and don’t expect it to be a rehashing of old superhero formulas. This film is a different kind of animal.
Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way. Hate or love The Mandarin twist, you’ve got to respect Marvel and their huge balls. And you’ve definitely gotta respect how Marvel doesn’t stray away from being Marvel. The film doesn’t succumb to “Nolanism”; which isn’t to say that a dark, deep, brooding and grimy superhero movie is a bad thing, but it’s not the kind of environment conducive to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. I recently read the Iron Man series “Devil in a Bottle” about Tony’s battle with alcoholism. That stuff is dark and scary. It’s legit, straight up alcoholism, warts and all—and more. But I could never see RDJ’s Tony Stark dealing with it in the way 1970’s comic book Tony deals with it in “Devil in a Bottle”. In Iron Man 3, Tony actually does have another dark addiction that ruins relationships and puts his loved ones in danger, but RDJ Tony deals with it in a fashion that mixes the witty humor of Fletch with James Bond confidence and Lethal Weapon fearlessness. My point is: this movie is everything it was supposed to be—Tony Stark kicking ass, taking names and then making a mockery of all of it.
The same goes for The Mandarin. The twist is genius. The film sets it up so that we believe The Mandarin is another typical aughts movie villain. He’s got all of the staples: causes untraceable mayhem, kills ruthlessly, has a strange voice and accent that no one can really put a finger on. He seems so much like The Jokers, The Lokis, The Silvas of the world, you half expect him to get captured by Iron Man just so he can break out. What’s not to love about the twist? They got us. They tricked us. We thought one thing, and it was the other. And it’s hilarious! Sir Ben Kingsley kills it in the revelation scene.
Let’s be honest, did we really want to see this politically incorrect
superhero villain on the big screen? I know Disney didn’t!
The trailers for “Iron Man 3” definitely had people buzzing about the prospect that Marvel was trying to go with a more Nolan-esque film this time around. As if Marvel was out to prove that they could do dark and brooding, instead of just fun and awesome. As if the Iron Man films would get over the hump of pretty lackluster villains in their two first films, and go with a weird-talking, over-acting Nolan-esque villain in their third film. But they didn’t do that! And you have to give Kevin Feige and crew a lot of credit. They went with what they were. What’s funny about the Nolan Batman’s (and I love them, don’t give me wrong. I absolutely, freakin’ love them, [but—]) is that by the end of “The Dark Knight Rises”, I think what we started to realize was we didn’t really care much for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. In fact, I don’t know if anyone cared at all. One of the gripes about “The Dark Knight Rises” was that we saw less of Batman and more of Bruce Wayne. Same goes for “Iron Man 3” and Tony Stark. But no one complains about seeing too much Tony Stark, because as far as superheroes go (or just film characters go), RDJ’s Tony Stark is just about the coolest. He has set the bar at its highest.
But what about lack luster villains? I actually buy that; that the “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” villains were the weakest parts of the films. They just—we just don’t care for them. They’re boring and too similar to Iron Man, it’s just not a whole lot of fun. On the other hand, Nolan’s Batmans are basically moved along by their villains. There are many that believe that a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, which is why Nolan’s films are so successful. “The Dark Knight” could have been called “The Joker”, so much screentime was devoted to Heath Ledger’s incredible incarnation, that the film was about him and Harvey Dent more than it was about Batman.
The villain from “Iron Man 2”
So how does “Iron Man 3” deal with the villain issue this time around? Well, for one, as stated above, the villain in this film ends up being a patsy to the real villain, Guy Pearce. But is guy Pearce still the real villain here? Or is “Iron Man 3” actually more deep and brooding beneath the surface than we thought? “We create our own demons,” Tony Stark says throughout the film. And he’s right. He’s telling you right there that in this film, our favorite character is—in more ways than one—battling himself; battling his mistakes from the past and his hurdles of the present.
See, there’s a really weird underlying theme in the film that I’m not sure comes across so clearly, but it’s something that I saw throughout the film. That is; that Tony’s character in this film is literally ADDICTED to Iron Man (or being Iron Man). Robert Downey, Jr. and writer/director Shane Black both have a history of addiction. RDJ being addicted to just about everything and Shane Black having gone through a “Demon in a Bottle” phase of his own. Both sober now, the two know the dangers of substance abuse and how it affects one’s friends, family and well-being. And, from a certain point of view, that’s exactly what “Iron Man 3” is about. In the beginning of the film, for example, Tony is LITERALLY shooting up “Iron Man” into his arm. He is injecting himself with these pieces of, like, computer chip that allows the Iron Man metal to attract to his body. Moreover, throughout the film, we see Tony experience literal withdrawal. While Tony attributes it to post-traumatic stress over the events in “The Avengers”, his anxiety is only settled when he is able to get back into an Iron Man suit. Let’s face it, he’s addicted. And it’s problem. It’s ruining his work life, and his home life–so much so that he is in danger of losing the one he loves, Pepper.
Yet, it manages to be light and funny! I mean, really funny. Like: there’s four or five one-liners in this flick that will have you laughing harder than you might in any comedy that comes out in 2013. That’s impressive. Because you’re not laughing at it like you did when you saw “Spider-Man 3”. You’re just enjoying the quick wit of the characters and the 90’s action movie feel that Shane Black and company have anointed this superhero flick with.
The movie isn’t perfect. Its script isn’t as tight and near-flawless like the first Iron Man movie. There’s some plot holes; a lot of things left unexplained and unanswered. Like, why can some people survive extremis and some can’t? Why does Guy Pearce breathe fire? I donno. But the movie moves so quickly and is so full of character that the plot holes can be forgiven.
It’s all capped off at the end by a wonderful explosion of Iron Man suits that symbolizes Tony’s full sobriety from Iron Men. This film is great! So much to it, and it’s not boring. The Malibu Mansion sequence, the Barrel of Monkeys sequence and the North Carolina for Miami port fight scene at the end is just spectacular. I saw this movie three times and loved every moment. It’s a good bookend, too. While “Iron Man” was about Tony Stark becoming a metallic superhero, “Iron Man 3” was about that same chunk of metal becoming Tony Stark. Uh–I don’t know what that means for “Avengers 2”, but I’ll let Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige worry about that. Their track record makes me believe they’ll figure something out.
I can dig it!
Also, I heard the production assisting on this film was top notch.