Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Film Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Wow... okay. I just don't really know how to articulate my feelings about this movie, and the fact that I am so completely exhausted (so much so that I hadn't intended on writing anything today) isn't helping this at all. This is definitely a different kind of movie from Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and it is, in my opinion, the worst big screen outing Tony Stark's had. And boy, counting the cameos, he's had a lot of 'em!

One of the most glaring issues with this film is just how difficult it is to make any real sense of. Disregarding the out of control mutilation of the Marvel canon for a moment, there's a plot to this movie which is all around just very, very loose. So loose that I'm still having a tough time piecing it all together, although Wikipedia is doing its best to help me out. Most of my issues stem from the villain, Aldrich Killian, who is the Mandarin for this particular adaptation. A lot of people absolutely hate this, me among them. I'll get to that in a bit, though. What I want to complain about right now is how unoriginal the Killian character is and how completely non-existent his motivation and logic is.

If you've seen Iron Man 2, you're basically already familiar with Aldrich Killian. Portrayed here, he is some kind of amalgam of Whiplash and Justin Hammer. One part revenge against Tony Stark, one part force the world into signing contracts for his weapons. But in this case the weapons are unstable biological enhancements as opposed to cheap Iron Man knockoffs. To be totally honest, the result is a cheap Nitro knockoff, instead.

Actually, slight tangent here, when I first saw how the Mandarin was attacking his intended targets, I was hoping we'd actually get to see Iron Man go up against Nitro. For those of you who don't know, Nitro is basically a Bob-omb. He has the ability to explode like a bomb and reconstruct each molecule of his body. I'm not sure of his history with Iron Man, but Nitro's inclusion would have been infinitely more enjoyable than the simple Dr. Evil brand of villain which we were served instead.

Back on course. Killian's motivations are not terribly complex, but all too many. He wants nothing less than revenge against Tony for blowing him off fifteen years ago, Tony's assistance in stabilizing a highly destructive steroid which transforms people into human time bombs, the affections of one miss Pepper Potts, complete submission of the entire country, and that same country to be purchasing his currently unstable neural steroid. I'm sure I forgot something, because I'm 99.999% positive that the writers were as vague on how to handle the character as the movie was in telling us just what he wanted to do.

The worst of it all was that attempting to make sense of this guy's plan doesn't work out when he just contradicts it all as he goes. He wants to finish his prototype weapon, but he kills the woman who developed it. He wants Tony to help him stabilize it, so he blows up the man's house and sends in squad after squad of elite super-powered mercenaries to kill him. He wants to ragebone Pepper Potts, so he poisons her with his unstable medicine and threatens to detonate her body if Tony doesn't help him. Let's not forget the part where he wants the United States military to purchase his weapons, so he coerces the Vice President onto his side, plans on assassinating the actual President of the United States, using the VP as a puppet leader, and then... selling the weapons to what is essentially his army using what is essentially his money? Wait, what? Just. What's even going on here?

Throughout all of this we're treated to Tony Stark routinely coming into conflict with individuals who have survived the neural steroid. These individuals feature a list of powers including: enhanced speed, strength, and agility, an ability to recover from any and all wounds in seconds, fire breath, a habit of exploding when pissed off, and the wonderfully nifty gift of transforming into something resembling a zombie and Blackheart's victims from the first Ghost Rider flick, something which I shouldn't have to say is ridiculously out of place in an Iron Man film.

None of this is even to consider how this movie handled the character of the Mandarin, essentially Iron Man's version of Ra's al Ghul. Okay, this character had to be modernized. He was a terrible Chinese stereotype, something had to be done. This movie went with the road of making him a potentially non-existent villain, a false figurehead for a terrorist organization that doesn't exist (only it does). Because of this, Killian eventually declares "I AM THE MANDARIN!" despite being completely wrong.

You see, having Killian make that declaration, calling him the Mandarin at all, defeats the purpose of making the Mandarin an imaginary threat in the first place. I could actually get behind that to some extent. That would make the Mandarin kind of like an evil version of V from V for Vendetta where the villain is an idea simply being represented by a person. That's cool. Unfortunately by making Killian decide "Oh, hey, I'm the real Mandarin" it undoes that idea of an imaginary villain and gives this name, "Mandarin", an actual identity. The opposite of its intended purpose. This greatly degrades the message the film wanted to get across with its version of the Mandarin, and the removal of that one line would have made a world of difference in creating a more coherent plot for both film and villain.

It still doesn't undo the whole poisoning of the lady he loves thing, but it would have been a start.

As for the rest of the movie? Well, it's alright. It has a much heavier focus on Tony Stark outside of the armor than in, which I thought was pretty cool. The whole premise is that the character is a little shaken after his encounter with Norse gods and intergalactic space invaders, and he doesn't quite know how to handle this reality. He hides from his worries, and from his personal responsibilities, in his armor, which causes strife between he and the live-in-lady, Pepper Potts. The movie is framed as Stark himself telling a story, which is actually wrapped up after the credits with a neat little bow.

The primary exploration here is: "Who is Tony Stark?" Now, it's not the audience that has to know who Tony Stark is, because as a country of avid movie goers, we already know. But Tony has to know. This movie is about Tony proving to himself that it's really he who is the hero, not Iron Man. So if you go into this expecting (as the trailers would naturally lead you to) a face full of Iron Man like you've seen before, stop right now. This is more like Tony Stark: The Movie than Iron Man 3.

You know what, though? That's okay. This story is worth telling, and it's a natural progression for the character. For the first time in this lengthy Marvel Cinematic franchise do we see Tony Stark seriously out of it. The second movie we saw him throw a couple of depressed, alcoholic fits, but this movie really takes this character who defines himself as a party animal and rips that right out of him. This Tony Stark is a troubled shadow of the man he once was, and I mean, we all go through that, right? It's a powerful emotional journey, and I was greatly satisfied in that aspect of the film.

They also took this road with Stark's best pal Rhodey, better known as War Machine (although in this film he is rechristened as "Iron Patriot"). Rhodey's usefulness while in the War Machine/Iron Patriot persona is left largely to the imagination, as he isn't shown engaging in much conflict while wearing the suit. Instead the suit is stripped from him and we're treated to examples of Rhodes also demonstrating that he is the hero, not the War Machine. I thought this was a pretty cool way to tie the character with Tony's story arc (although indirectly) while also solidifying his role as a hero.

Pepper... I was almost positive we were going to get Rescue here at some point, and there were a number of scenes where I would have given her the armor that this particular creative team did not take. We do get to see Pepper briefly wearing Stark's armor and demonstrating potential ability with its functions, perhaps maybe hinting at the inclusion of the Rescue armor in a future film (if there should happen to be one). Otherwise the Pepper we get in this film is kind of a bummer. She gets really pissed off over little things and seems to think the Iron Man persona creates a wedge between her and Tony, despite it bringing them together in the first place and, y'know, saving their lives on multiple occasions. She is empty of the wit which she provided in previous films, remaining a grim figure throughout its entirety

Generally the movie was okay, although there is definitely a bit of deus ex machina going on, and a very loose story which doesn't come together all that coherently. There are some genuine laughs here and there, and a few pretty cool scenes, but it basically feels like... well... nothing. Too much of the film is spent away from Tony Stark's character development, and anything that is not that particular subplot is simply a shallow and schizophrenic rehash of contradicting ideas, morals, and a villain serving as a subpar clone for ones we've already seen.

I really can live without this movie, although I will inevitably buy the DVD when it comes out. For two reasons, though: because I already have all the other ones, and because I want Marvel to keep making movies. I just want them to step back and reevaluate what they're doing just a little bit.

Really though, I can't recommend that anybody see this movie. It's not worth today's ticket prices, and it probably won't even be worth the cost of the Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling that the most appropriate place for this film is the SyFy Channel on a Friday night. I wanted to give it an average score, seven out of ten, but I really can't. The average score goes to movies I look forward to someday watching again, and, well, I'm not so eager to do that. But it isn't really bad, so I guess I'll have to relegate it to the Devil's realm. Six out of ten, Tony. Hope you come back strong.

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