Iron Man 3, It's Been a PleasureIf you haven't seen Iron Man 3, may I ask why? Maybe like me you avoided opening weekend because you'd rather not have to sit on a stranger's lap, the following Saturday and Sunday were completely taken over by Mother's Day, and the rest of your time was spent working. I went on the third weekend and the theater was still nearly full. With good reason. Iron Man (#1) was incredibly enjoyable and surprisingly emotional. With that and The Dark Knight in the same summer, I suddenly started expecting far better of comic book adaptations. The second film has somewhat less impact, but it features more relatable villain, one you could almost root for. And the latest is a superb close to this arc. It's not just a great superhero movie. It's a great movie that should appeal to anyone of any age who knows that fun and depth aren't mutually exclusive. Iron Man 3 has big battles, quiet moments, lively dialogue, and talented actors all mixed together in a pretty package that reminded me why I get excited for summer blockbusters. It should be experienced at least once in a theater with a couple hundred others who's laughter and cries of appreciation are contagious, so don't let this one slip by.
Before Marvel took control of some of their best properties and created the Marvel Cinematic Universe of related films, I was thoroughly disappointed in superhero movies. Their execution was typically embarrassing, and I learned to avoid them unless I wanted to spend two hours wondering why any person could do such a thing to their fellow man. Batman Begins, Superman, and Hellboy were the only ones I cared for and thought a director should be proud of. I quite liked Raimi's Spider-Man when it came out. It was better than what I had come to expect from comic book-inspired fare, but when I thought about it over the years, what I tended to remember was stilted and awkward. Now I realize that what I liked about it was the potential it had to be amazing, which is exactly what happened to me with Watchmen. Considering the last seven Marvel-produced films, ranging from the good in The Incredible Hulk (not the Bana abomination) to the superb in Iron Man and The Avengers, Spider-Man is still enjoyable, but it's also unrealistically cartoonish. (Haven't seen the remake yet.) The same goes for the subsequent Maguire outings, though I enjoyed Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Similarly, the saving grace of Burton's Batman was Jack Nicholson. I always found it more creepy and oddly done than anything. ((And I don't acknowledge the existence of the bat men that came after until Nolan's incredible reimagining. If a live action movie is ridiculous and devoid of realism in actions, situations, or dialogue, I won't be invested in the characters.
It's a special thing when a gifted actor doesn't turn his nose down at a story for its genre. Robert Downey, Jr. sells every wounded look, every pained grunt, every charming smile, every snarky comment, portraying a plausible and flawed human being, not just a surreal version of a person as is so often the case when studios try to make a quick buck. I adore Iron Man because Jon Favreau, Downey, et al had a genuine passion for the material and a desire to make people happy. Now with Shane Black at the helm, the trilogy closes on a very high and unbelievably entertaining note. The fun started off with Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)"! I was expecting AC/DC or Black Sabbath, both musical cues to Tony's personality that are always welcome. Confession: I loved Eiffel 65 far beyond those two months in '99 when the radio played out their only hit. There were some other wonderfully quirky bits like this, such as the perfectly done comic style retrospective end credits showing clips of all the movies, and the seemingly strange choice of narration, which comes together in the now standard after credits scene. These are moments that served to make IM3 more bubbly and humorous than the somewhat dour previous installment.
It wouldn't be the Iron Man I know and love without a lot of laughs, but I wasn't expecting to be so richly rewarded. I feel more for and have a greater appreciation of people who can make do a spit take, so it was definitely the right way to go. A perfect example is Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who was more integral to the plot this time around and thankfully got more screen time. Favreau is a funny guy with a big heart and a gruff teddy bear look. He's great comic relief in a movie filled to the brim with comedy. Like Agent Coulson, Happy is loyal and takes his job so seriously that he's hilarious. But he can't cooly take down a pair of robbers with a bag of flour. In IM2 he beat up just one guy versus Black Widow's effortless eleven. His interactions with Tony are priceless, the most memorable for me being when he selflessly yet unnecessarily shields Tony with his body by jumping on him. And when Happy's not on the job he's addicted to Downton Abbey. That's one of the little touches that helps ground the movie in reality, like in The Avengers when Coulson was giddy over meeting Captain America or when Tony finished the epic fight that nearly took his life and all he wanted was to try the shawarma place that he'd seen earlier.
But Happy wasn't the only non-Iron human who made a large contribution. Random genius kid Harley (Ty Simpkins) annoyed, helped, and befriended Tony, and tried to manipulate him into staying. They certainly had a connection, even if our resident genius didn't want to admit it. I hope to see Simpkins in other movies. It didn't feel like he was reciting lines. He one of those rare young talents and a perfect casting choice. Another great match up is Tony and Rhodey (Don Cheadle), who have a back-and-forth brotherly bickering and easy chemistry. Cheadle seems to have become very comfortable and has a larger part than before. Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) also isn't just sitting around. She has matched Tony barb for barb in every scene the two were ever in, but this time she gets in on the action, the least of which is being Iron Woman for a bit, a nod to Rescue from the comics apparently, which I have not had the chance to read. But I digress. A complete surprise was The Mandarin, and I have to leave it at that. Even the henchmen get in on the hilarity. As Tony is about to teach a lesson about going up against Iron Man, one of them gives up and says, "Honestly, I hate working here. They are so weird." If my theater seat didn't have arms I may just have ended up on the floor. I still have a smile on my face about it. It turned this bad guy into just a guy with a crap job.
For the audience it may be fun and games, but the characters have more difficulties. There were a lot of dark moments. Even though I had seen the trailer a number of times, the harrowing Air Force One "Barrel of Monkeys" scene gave me chills. The only other times I got chills were Coulson's last moments in The Avengers, the opening sequence of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, Jim Gordon's closing monologue in The Dark Knight, and when Tony escaped The Ten Rings in Iron Man. It means I was watching something special. Of course Tony would try to save everyone, even though he had a slim chance of doing so. That's who he is now, no longer the substanceless playboy he was before his injury. And in an interesting twist, he has to deal with anxiety attacks on top of everything else, the first one scaring him so that he rushed to his suit and had Jarvis "check the heart." Not "my heart," as if he was disassociating himself with the source of his vulnerability, which later leads him to taunting a terrorist. I love a pissed off and reckless Tony Stark, because I can see myself reacting in the same way, but telling a terrorist where you live may not be the best idea.
From the utter destruction of Tony's home to the serious injury of a beloved character to the appearance of a long lost friend; from an unexpected betrayal to the identity of The Mandarin to the volatility of Extremis; from the intensity to the dozens of suits to the familiar banter; and from Pepper's pivotal part to Rhodey's rebranding to Tony making a friend along the way, Iron Man 3 packs a lot of surprises, jaw-dropping sequences, and hilarious moments into 2 hours and 15 minutes. It is overstuffed in the best way and sometimes frenetic, but it knows when to slow down and show its heart. I got choked up over the fate of the robot that saved Tony's life in the first movie. Thought he always made fun, that sweet but slow bot was special and the movie didn't forget about it. More importantly, Tony finds a freedom in the end in letting go of the crutch and finally becoming whole.
As you may be able to tell, I am in love with Iron Man 3. But if I had to give you one weak point, I would have to say it was the characterization of Aldrich Killian. Guy Pearce is reliable, but Killian was not remotely likeable. I had no feeling for him but hatred. The best villains have a spark of personality and humanity. In the very beginning he could be considered sympathetic. After that I just wanted to personally pulverize him. It's not that big a deal, though. Nothing is perfect. Also, some say The Avengers was bigger, so that somehow equates to better. I loved the interplay of all the characters and the clash of personalities, and it will forever be one of my all-time favorites. Maybe the only movie that will be that epic again will be The Avengers 2. In the mean time, the second wave of Marvel singular superhero movies will be released leading up to it. Are we to be disappointed in them because they're inevitably smaller? No. We should appreciate them if they're great, not wish they were something else. When each character has their own movie, we get to know them more and that's a good thing. I was glad in IM3 for the renewed focus on one hero.
That being said, if there is never another standalone Iron Man, if Tony Stark is only a small part of other Marvel stories from this point forward, then I would have nothing to complain about...unless they continue with a younger model. Downey IS Iron Man. He was the perfect choice. From the first moment he stepped on screen in 2008, he imbued the role with heart, intelligence, bad boy charm, and substance, and played it with a gleam in his eye. I can't say enough good things about this movie and the series as a whole. This was one of my favorite theater experiences ever and I can't wait to see it again. Since I'm going to Star Trek: Into Darkness as soon as I finish this and it's just the start of summer movies, which are always stacked on top of each other, I may have to wait for the Blu-ray release. I hope I don't have to.
If you enjoyed it tremendously, as I did, pre-order Iron Man 3 at Amazon: Iron Man 3 (Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy)
6/5/13 - I just had to add something after reading the rants of an angry viewer on IMDb. I don't know why I do. There are not a lot of intelligent comments that start with "You RUINED..." I've finally learned not to feed the trolls, though. This is one of those complete morons that didn't get the humor and then said no one in the theater was laughing, which is only true if he was alone or if half the audience went to wrong movie and the other half doesn't have a sense of humor. There was already a good amount of humor in this series, and Iron Man 3 brought far more. Some people hated the Mandarin reveal. That would be the super fans of the comics, who believe that nothing should ever be different even if the story is better for it. The Mandarin may be a major enemy in the comics, but having powers from magical rings is more hysterical than frightening in a live action setting. In order to buy into the world, it has to be believable, like the much more plausible "gods" of Thor and the Chitauri of The Avengers.
I can't possibly go into everything that was said, and I would never want to, but the comment that really irritated me was that they were there for Iron Man not Tony Stark. Excuse me, but I thought that Tony Stark was the reason Iron Man existed. Iron Man is just a suit. A damn cool suit, but it's not a human being with emotions and problems. I would much rather spend almost all my time watching Downey than an expressionless machine. The name may be Iron Man, but it's about the man inside, something that seems to have slipped past the commenter, who apparently doesn't understand that a movie needs a story and character development in order to be interesting and for the audience to care. Some people need to stop acting as though source material is sacred and judge movies on their own merit.