Sunday, May 19, 2013

Iron Man 3

Directed by Shane Black
Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Based on characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby, and based on the Extremis storyline by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov

            Marvel Phase Two starts here.  And after Iron Man 2, it’s probably right to be wary of how exactly it would be starting.  Whereas most superhero movies peak in their second installment, Iron Man was one of the few to take a significant dip in its first sequel.  And with a change of directors rarely being beneficial, it was right to come in tenuously.  But Iron Man 3 comes in and blows all expectations away to make something incredible.
            Tony Stark (portrayed, as ever, by Robert Downey Jr.) is shaken up after the events of The Avengers.  He’s retreated into his garage, has upgraded the Iron Man suit all the way up to Mark 42, and he’s suffering from panic attacks.  But when a terrorist leader called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) threatens America with human bombs, he has to suit up again and stop him.
            What’s really striking about this movie is how, with a new director and new writers, it’s very tonally different from the first two.  The story is darker, as is some of the violence, and, notably, this movie does not feature another villain in another armor to match up against Iron Man.  In fact, while the first two villains had grudges against Tony Stark, The Mandarin is basically disinterested in Iron Man as opposed to getting his own plans done.  And the villain’s plan seems like nothing more than nonsense until Tony starts unraveling the mystery.  Just like Shane Black’s own Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, this is almost more of a mystery, and takes Tony out of his armor and out of his element.  And also like that movie, Iron Man 3 is really funny.  There’s no doubt that the entire Marvelverse series has had plenty of comic moments, but IM3 brings the laughs constantly, mixing slapstick with witty dialogue.  Tony is always the likeable jerk, and man, he can be the jerk here, but the pure audacity of what he’s saying makes you laugh.  There is one scene, featuring an Iron Man fanboy, that could have been cut, but generally, nothing is sacrificed by the focus on comedy.
            Certainly not the action.  Yes, the biggest action scenes have been shown plenty in the trailer.  This makes them no less impressive.  There is definitely a feeling that things have to be stepped up to match The Avengers, and they have been.  CGI mixes with what appears to be practical effects.  When the movie blows things up, it does it well, and everything culminates in a great final battle scene.  If 2’s final battle against Whiplash felt like an anti-climax, 3’s does not stop until it knows damn well that everybody watching will be happy with the results.  This is a pure fight that pushes Tony and his suits of armor to the furthest level of their abilities.
            And finally, the biggest praise I can give Iron Man 3: it does not feel like a lead-up to Avengers 2.  It does not constantly wink and nod to comic book lore.  And best of all, it does not follow the same story points as the comic.  These are things we’ve become so used to.  Every comics fan knew that Bane was going to break Batman’s back, we knew that Bucky was going to die, hell, we even know that Gwen Stacy is going to die.  And suddenly in Iron Man 3, these feelings of comfort, of knowing what’s going to happen, of smiling when somebody says a name that means something in the comics, are ripped away.  For once, we’re on the same level as your average viewer, and it feels good.  I can walk out of the theater being genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the direction the movie took.
            If this is the direction Phase Two is going in, then I’m even more excited for what’s coming next.  A movie that challenges the Marvel formula, challenges what comic readers think they know, and most importantly of all, is independent from anything that might come in the future.  Even the after-credits scene (and yes, there is one) isn’t a teasing nod to what comes next but a humorous conclusion to the movie that feels far more worthwhile than seeing Nick Fury or Thor’s hammer.

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