Thursday, June 20, 2013

I am (not) Iron Man aka. Review: Iron Man 3

Themed review today, I wanted to wait a little while as my thoughts on IronMan 3 are more than a little spoilerific. (So stop reading if you really care about that sorta thing) But why themed? Well good reader I have been a little ill of late (since returning from Nihon) and one of the primary symptoms of my illness was elevated iron, really elevated. So for a while there was a possibility that I was a sufferer of inherited Hemochromatosis, but I'm not apparently and the whole thing was most likely down to a case of glandular fever.

But anyway, onto a summer (for us) blockbuster review. (queue fireworks)

The Marvel films are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me; in the same way that so many people watch Hoarders or Doomsday prepers or one of the endless list of dancing/talent/singing shows. I was always a Marvel rather than a DC kid so seeing the characters on the big screen hits at some old neural connections of arguing with other kids about which brand was better. The new Marvel films adaptations are big glossy and visceral recreations of those Marvel characters I defended in the playgrounds. Not smart films but I don't think at any point do they try to be anything more than what they present themselves to be. They give me exactly what they promise, which is actually refreshing in these days of compulsory plot twists and pop philosophy being used to make up for modern film makers repeated inability to tell stories articulately.

The Iron Man films are really Robert Downey Jr. films. Tony Stark; much in the same way as Batman was shifted to fit Tim Burton's aesthetic in our culture, is now Robert Downey Jr. inheriting his snark and irreverence forevermore. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is probably the last time a comic book character and an actor become this synonymous with one another, Christopher Reeve and Superman would be another. (Ron Pearlman was *so* Hellboy before the films :p But another good example) So while you could (and have) switched actors for Batman, the Hulk or any other member of the Avengers gang it will be hard to do Ironman without Downey.
The third Ironman film is designed to round off an Ironman "trilogy" of films and honestly is also a massive satire of the third film in the very serious Nolan Batman trilogy "The Dark Knight Rises". It is also written and directed by Shane Black, the man behind Lethal weapon and as a film it does feel much more like an 80s blockbuster than a 21st century one. There is a bunch of CG but it's used sparingly apart from the finale; for much of the film Tony Stark is without a functioning Iron Man suit.
The plot itself is very simple and made up from a couple of woven together strands. First the US is under threat from a Terrorist mastermind known as the Mandarin who has made several attacks on military bases in the middle east and the US and taunts the president via cryptic videos. Second Tony Stark blows off a disabled vet, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce), at a party many years before he become Iron Man who approaches him with a Business proposal at a conference. Third, at the same conference Tony hooks up with a biologist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who is working on a cellular regeneration technique that will revolutionist medicine. Finally Stark is suffering from PTSD after the events of "The Avengers" and his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is strained as a result. Killian and Hansen reappear in Stark's life, Killian trying to sell the discovery he and his company AIM has made to Pepper as CEO of Stark industries and Hansen trying to warn Stark of what Killian has used her discovery to create.
The film slow burns at the start, putting all it's pieces in place until Stark calls out the Mandarin and has his home and lab destroyed by a group of Helicopter gunships. Separated from his suits (kinda) and stuck in Virginia (the last place he had Jarvis plot a course to before the sudden attack) he attempts to uncover and stop the Mandarin with only a plucky kid as an ally. Fortunately Shane Black actually seems to like the material  he is writing and said plucky kid is used as a foil for Stark and blown off by our protagonist as required. (and those scenes that seem to build towards a schmaltzy surrogate father thing are quickly deflated in a number of amusing ways by Downy and the script)

This is where my theory about Shane Black writing what is basically a satire of "Dark Knight Rises" comes in. The basic elements (outside the Killian/Hansen plots) are the same as the Nolan film; Stark is a technologically brilliant, rich, vigilante with daddy issues. The threat is a charismatic, vaguely middle eastern terrorist who threatens to overturn the American way of life and always seems one step ahead of the authorities and our hero. The resolution however seems to speak to Nolan's o-so-serious Batman film directly. Stark is depicted here riddled with doubt, he is just "a guy in a suit" and he just saw "real" superheros fight an alien Invasion in the previous film. He sees himself as a weak link compared to the Hulk, Captain America and Thor, a far cry from the Bruce Wayne visits the doctor seen in Dark Knight Rises. Stark is actually worried about his own mortality on a subconscious and later conscious level, fighting bad guys is risky business.
The most controversial element is the Mandarin; a far cry from a madman with super scientific rings he is a quasi Islamic terrorist who wants to bring the US down for its wicked ways. Much like Bane he is wanted by the authorities but is always one step ahead, like Bane he wants to overturn society although the Mandarin's focus is not just one major city but the entire country. The Mandarin also seems to command fanatical loyalty from his followers and is able to take over public address systems such as television. Unlike Bane however, the Mandarin is fake, an actor used by the real villain of the film Aldrich Killian. At first it was a coverup to disguise the "explosive" side effects of Killian and Hansen's Extremis treatment for disabled soldiers. (apparently if a body can't metabolize the treatment it explodes...) The mercs that Killian/the Mandarin uses are fanatics because they are addicted to the treatment and Killian has expanded his scheme to encourage US defense spending. Like Stark and Bruce Wayne, our villain is a Defense contractor who is creating a crisis to boost his business. It is a flip on the evil league of shadows from Dark Knight Rises, the conspiracy isn't shady villains trying to fulfill a madman's legacy but a Defense contractor after a quick buck. (Oh and a corrupt Vice President) The film also has a plane scene akin to the Nolan film...

It's a good superhero film, the ending (with the dozens of Ironman suits vs Killian's superpowered minions) is a weird shift in tone that I felt jarred a bit. The film successfully managed to keep the effects understated but effective up to that point; but Tony Stark being rescued by Pepper at the end is a very cute turn around. Plus the end begs the question; if he had a dozen Iron man suits in the secret Vault under his house why didn't he get one earlier? Why did he and Rhodes go in Lethal weapon style when they could have both strapped into one of a variety of Iron men? Also AIM and no Modok? wtf?

Till next time...