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It's a Mixed Bag (3.5)

  • Jun 4, 2013
The Iron Man Trilogy has always been enjoyable to me, even though it's formulaic in every way.  The character depth is never really there and when it tries for it the results are pretty damn terrible.  Case in point, Iron Man 2 is one of the more forgettable super hero movies to come out within the past ten years or so without actually being a bad movie.  And when Iron Man 2 did debut... it was more about making sure you knew The Avengers was coming as opposed to actually continuing the story for Tony Stark.  Now that The Avengers has come and gone, Iron Man 3 doesn't really have a reason for some of the mediocrity.  I was not particularly impressed with Iron Man 2.  I don't even remember what I said about it in my review.  I can only remember that it was dull and boring.  Iron Man 3 is much better, but as you can imagine, the ridiculous nature seems to be what still tends to bother me from time to time.  The first Iron Man worked on so many levels.  Despite it's predictability it was fun because Robert Downey Jr. was delightful and because it was pretty sharp witted. 

The Iron Man movies have never been about deep characterization, though, and there are some things about the attempts in Iron Man 3 that are so bothersome that they distract from the movies. 

The story here is that a year after saving New York alongside The Avengers, Tony is now a man who seems to suffer from PTSD about it, can't sleep and often has a hard time opening up to friends and family who are constantly worried about him.  All the while, an incident from a New Year's Eve Party in 1999 has come back to bite him in the ass when he realizes that a terrorist by the name of Mandarin is responsible for a series of bombings... but there's never a trace of the weapon itself when the bombing is done.  The plot itself is actually not bad.  There's some mystery here, and watching Tony Stark put it all together is pretty fun, despite the fact that the film is constantly making sure you are one step ahead of him.  This sort of makes any revelations Tony comes to or any so called "plot twist" pretty damn obvious.  If you're surprised by anything that happens in Iron Man 3 it is because you expected it to somehow defy your expectations.  All the twists are pretty predictable because the movie is constantly telegraphing itself. 

That's not where Iron Man 3 stumbles.  I mean, the first Iron Man did the same thing and that movie was fantastic.  Again, nothing in that movie defied expectations.  Nothing in that movie was unpredictable and nothing in that movie made you think, "I didn't see that coming."  Iron Man 3, like the other two has the villain up front.  What the problem is here, is the same problem the other two had.  The villains are nothing more than cartoon character cutouts that we just accept are bad because the movie tells us they're bad guys.  In the case of Iron Man 3 it's that someone really messed up and has to cover their ass.  Although the plot eventually is more convoluted than that, there is a point where you're asking yourself WHY are the bad guys doing what they're doing?  This isn't like say... The Dark Knight Trilogy where it's a constant battle of ideas, will and philosophy.  The bad guys aren't trying to prove a point and sharing a different idealistic outlook than Tony Stark.  These guys very much want a piece of Stark but at some point I'm always trying to figure out what the point of the bad guys doing the things they do is.  Again, there's no real deep characterization of Iron Man's villains and I'm actually okay with this.  Not every film has to be some deep, meaningful endeavor.  However, the fact that the villains almost never seem to have much they're going for is pretty telling.  In the first film, for instance, Stane gets a hold of a big Iron Man suit and goes about wreaking destruction because... well, just because.  We understand he wants to take over Stark industries and get Stark out of the picture but I just didn't understand why destroying a city was necessary or anything like that. 

There was something arresting about the first Iron Man that made it pretty easy to ignore this, but Iron Man 3 is a little harder to be kind to in this regard.  Sure Tony Stark is still a pretty decent character on his own, but the villains here are pretty boring.  Guy Pearce is pretty darn charming as Killian, but he fails to be interesting.  Because again, his plans and motivation are pretty paper thin.  As I said, it builds on top of something else and a master plan that is hatched by a character that... literally doesn't do anything.  See this is why it's pretty predictable.  If this is a spoiler for you I'm sorry, but one of the films twists is that The Mandarin isn't the mastermind.  And really, you should figure this out pretty damn quickly because when has terrorism ever been Stark's enemy?  In the first two films, for instance the villains of Stark have been businessmen and politicians.  Did you really think they'd change everything up now?  Ben Kingsley as Mandarin is perhaps the most arresting part of the whole damn thing as he's a really good character, but also a pretty useless one.

The more I thought about it, the more the film just simply doesn't make sense from the character standpoint.  Tony Stark is another such example.  He suffers from PTSD, but the film fails in a lot of ways to make this meaningful.  In fact, a lot of it is there just to say to you, "The Avengers sure was awesome wasn't it?"  And granted, The Avengers was a good movie, but for the love of God why does Iron Man 3 feel the constant need to remind me.  Moments like, "Can we talk about New York?" or Stark having nightmares only sound good on paper, but in execution it's pretty damn pale.  Stark has seen things and been in a wormhole, sure, but in The Avengers this had no real impact on him.  Even when told things like, "You're nothing without your suit," in The Avengers he kept that cocky attitude because his intellect was so strong.  And then here he's suddenly... bothered by all this.  Just suddenly bothered.  The Tony Stark here is at odds with the Tony Stark you saw in The Avengers.  He was literally the star of the show.  The one everyone gathered around in the movie.  Why is it that he now feels insignificant?  Why is it now that he feels like, "If I didn't have the suit, what would I be to them?"  I get it, Thor is a God, Captain America is a Super Solider and the Hulk is a big hulking beast... all of them have something that makes them more than just men but supernatural.  But Tony Stark didn't care about that before.  Wasn't bothered by it before and, if memory serves me right, knew about quite a bit of it before The Avengers.  It makes little sense that suddenly he feels inadequate now.  As for the PTSD it never actually seems to hinder him.  Sometimes he has an anxiety attack, but it's not like these attacks ever come in the middle of battle.  It's not like these attacks hinder him in any way.

And then there's Pepper Pots, the atypical damsel in distress who has always been something of an annoying character because it has commonly been shown that this is all she can really do.  But getting beyond that, she's pretty much put into the stereotypical Marvel Role of being the woman who wonders why her goddamn super hero boyfriend doesn't have time for her.  And then quickly becomes the damsel in distress before another "shocking twist," (he said sarcastically) allows her to be more than the sum of her parts in the climax, but this sort of makes you think about the final moments of Iron Man 2 where everything was exploding.  The films climax is so over the top and ridiculous it makes the Avengers and Transformers look idealistic by comparison.  In short, it's got lots of explosions and really cool things happening but... this sort of makes it boring after a while.  There's lots of Iron Man suits flying around and you may see some really cool ones but at some point you realize that's all they're there for is to look cool.  There's lots of explosions going on but then I kept wondering what's the whole context.  I get it's a summer blockbuster and we like to see things go boom in those, but Iron Man, alongside The Dark Knight in 2008 showed that they don't HAVE to be meaningless explosions.  It comes off as pretty cheesy here.  And this brings about my continued disdain for Marvel's "ragdoll physics."  They're terrible.  At some point during the climax I was suddenly no longer engrossed and was reminded I was watching a movie.  Not because of how unreal it was, but because at some point I just wasn't feeling anything anymore.  Tony has to save Pepper and the President and I just didn't care anymore.  And when the "big twist" with Pepper happens I kept wondering to myself... "Was I supposed to care she could've died?"  It's Iron Man... they don't take the risks of actually killing or even really putting it's characters in any real danger.  Remember how we all thought, "Holy crap they killed the love interest!" in The Dark Knight?  No one ever does that in Super Hero movies much.  Mary Jane is always saved.  Lois Lane is somehow brought back from the dead in the most ridiculous manner imaginable.  All told, Iron Man 3 seems to think it's trying to make us worry but this isn't the case.  It's so formulaic about what it does that when it actually delivers on the expectations my only thought can be "This is absurdity on a whole new level."

All told, however, it's still quite enjoyable.  I know I've been hard on the damn thing, but it's still a pretty fun and enjoyable movie.  The comedy hits all the right notes... although to be fair, a lot of it clashes with the tone.  This is another problem movies from the Marvel universe are beginning to have.  They're funny, but they don't always work with their comedy.  In The Avengers it was nearly perfect.  The balance in tone.  In Iron Man 3, as with The Amazing Spider-Man (even though that's owned by Sony, at the moment), a lot of the comedy tends to get in the way of all the serious stuff.  Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man, however, Iron Man 3 isn't constantly saying, "Okay, we need to be serious here."  Iron Man 3 is fully self aware of how bombastic and non-sensical it is.  This is going to make some people love it and others roll their eyes.  So while the tone clashes from time to time, at least Iron Man 3 isn't saying "We're real serious shit, here!"  The Amazing Spider-Man is constantly trying to tell you it's a grown up, but Iron Man 3 is mostly out to have some fun.  And for the most part it succeeds. 

Despite it's shortcomings in character and plot, Robert Downey Jr. is still a treat as Tony Stark, and there are laughs to be had all around.   The fact that so many keep wanting movies to go darker and grittier is a fairly strange to me.  Certainly Iron Man 3 screws up in the character department, but it's not because the characters aren't dark and brooding or because they don't suffer from issues.  It's because they want to try this approach with characters that aren't suited for it.  Remember, Batman Begins was meticulous at letting you know Bruce Wayne was a hurt and tortured soul.  Iron Man isn't like that.  Tony Stark isn't like that.  He has no qualms revealing that he IS Iron Man.  He knows how good he is and he doesn't have a dark past.  He's not a tortured soul.  He was a man who was free to be that.  He has his demons (alcoholism, an ego as big as Jupiter, etc.) but he was never portrayed as this dark brooding dude out of the gate.  I think that's more a strength in Iron Man than a detraction... but some would disagree.  This is why the fun loving tone of Iron Man is actually not so bad.  The Dark Knight Trilogy is meant to be a dark, brooding and gothic thing.  It presents itself as such right out of the gate.  But Iron Man has never been this, in terms of film... and I think it's a bad idea for them to start now.  Why should we have to see Tony suffer from PTSD in the manner which he does if it fails to be meaningful?  It seems like Iron Man is trying to reach when it never had to in the first place.  What's wrong with a cocky bastard of a main character?  It's certainly a welcome change to the dark brooding tortured souls that have become overdone as of late.

But I digress.  Iron Man 3 is enjoyable, I'm just annoyed that they're constantly trying to reach higher and keep trying to make it about something when it doesn't particularly have to be.  Iron Man has had quite a few themes in there.  Often playing on our Post 9/11 fears or showing us the pros and cons of capitalism (if you want to go that far).  But deep characterization isn't something Iron Man really has to tackle.  There's no real need for Iron Man to go there and in the moments when Iron Man 3 does... it's pretty annoying.  When it steps back and let's go it's a pretty fun movie.  Watching Tony Stark fight baddies without his suit is one of the more exciting moments in the film.  There are some really good action set pieces here, one liners etc.  Overall Iron Man 3 is a good movie.  It's just filled with boring characters.  A bad guy who we just accept is bad and evil because the movie tells us to.  And a hero who they give a case of PTSD to and then... forget that he has it at some point (seriously, it's as though they realized, "This is stupid," and then tosses it... it's never resolved or anything).  But mostly it's fun.  I was a little annoyed with their constant references to The Avengers and their, "Hey, remember, that movie was awesome!" sort of stuff, but I was quite glad to know that they didn't just pretend it didn't happen in the realm of Iron Man.  But when they finally stop with it they have no problem just cutting lose and having some fun.  Nearly everything in the middle of the film is wholesome fun and brilliant.  It's just too bad that it's sandwiched between a boring beginning and an obnoxious climax.

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June 06, 2013
I almost walked out of this, I was very disappointed in the manner that it paid more attention to cheap comedy than actually building its characters and storyline. I wasn't too keen with the first movie, but at least at the time I thought it was a good start up for Shellhead. This was ok for a popcorn flick, but it took everything I had from giving it a much lower rating for what they did to the Mandarin and how it borrowed a joke from Blade Trinity (of all movies)
June 06, 2013
I wasn't surprised by the attention to cheap comedy.  It's Marvel.  That's pretty much all they ever do.  Iron Man was never branded as a character building and storyline thing as far as I was concerned.  Iron Man has always been about fun above all else.  Characters and storyline need not apply to these movies.  I never felt like they actually did in the first place.

A lot of people keep talking about the Mandarin, but I don't actually think that was a big deal.  Seem like fanboys getting pissy over nothing (as in, it's not the comics... get over it, already type stuff).  Iron Man never really had that many interesting villains to begin with.  This includes Mandarin.

The parallels might've done some good.  What I think was really odd was that everyone keeps thinking the whole Mandarin thing was a twist.  I figured it out immediately.  Iron Man has a very simple formula.  In the films Tony Stark's enemies have always been Businessmen and Politicians.  An actual terrorist just seemed too... convenient and out of place the way the films were going.  Especially because they pretty much tell us at the very beginning who the bad guy is.  So I wasn't upset with what they did with Mandarin.  It was pretty obvious.  Mostly because he wasn't that interesting to begin with and I didn't think they'd make him more interesting in the film.  Especially given that the first two were mostly focused on bad businessmen and politicians.  At least I think the second one had something with a politician.  I can't remember that movie very well at all, and I'm pretty certain I won't remember the third one after a month or three.

I liked it overall but like the first two I just wasn't... wowed.  I really liked the first one.  Thought it was awesome.  But I, sadly, can't remember it...
June 05, 2013
Very well written!
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About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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