So as you may remember from my over-due post a few hours ago, Iron Man 3 is coming out this weekend, and the nerd-gods have demanded my penance in the form of a post-midnight showing review of the movie. And I'm still going to work in a few hours.
I hope you're happy, Internet.
Oh, and I promise: no spoilers here, webbies. I love you too much for that.
Expectations 'Odor': Going into Iron Man 3, there's a lot of weight. We've got Warmachine as an already established character at the start, so Tony won't be a solo act for sure. And the previews seem to indicate Warmachine upgrades to a patriotic version of his amor reminiscent of Iron Patriot (which is an altogether different character in the comics). This is the first post-Avengers movie, so more than any of the following Marvel movies it has to address the dramatic and character-based aftermath. On top of this, Iron Man 3 is apparently going to feature one of Iron Man's most iconic foes, the Mandarin, and cover one of his biggest transitions as he encounters the Extremis. Extremis, for those of you who don't know the comic books, goes hand-in-hand with the development of a nanite adaptation for Tony's armor that basically makes it appear out of nowhere. It's a convenient way of mitigating Tony's greatest weakness--the hassle of donning his bulky armor.
I'll be blunt: I don't like Extremis. As a kid, I always loved that Tony had to pick between different specialized suits of armor: deep sea armor, space armor, or--when caught away from his base--the weaksauce suitcase armor. I also loved the occasional moments in the comics where Tony Stark would need help from engineers, mechanics, or robots just to doff his suit after a very violent encounter as Iron Man. Extremis limits the drama of catching Tony off-guard, it cheapens the drama of his schtick as being 'just a regular guy beneath that armor'. Because, let's face it, you're not a normal guy if you can think a happy thought and transform into a flying tank.
But I'm super pumped for this movie. It looks like they're dialing in the dramatic fallout of the Battle of New York from The Avengers, the added prominence of Warmachine looks great, and Mandarin as a terrorist mastermind fits really well with the continuity of the movies. All said and done, I'm expecting a drama-packed delve into Tony's tortured alcoholic, with maybe enough action and splendor to make me okay with the introduction of the Extremis armor into the second phase of Marvel's cinematic opus.
Appreciation 'Beef': So as expected, director Shane Black's addition to the Iron Man franchise was tremendously different from Jon Favreau's. There's a lot more plot crammed into Iron Man 3 than the other installments, and it does seem to get in the way of the film's pacing finding its flow. The beginning is slightly disjointed in a way that doesn't seem intense enough to evoke the suspenseful opening to Iron Man, but nor is it smooth enough to give the narrative you get in Iron Man 2. Part and parcel to that, there's a good deal less of Tony's personality in the first thirty minutes or so of the movie--less of Robert Downey Jr.'s facile charm and wit, which makes it that much harder to adjust to the new movie's style. That's also mainly due to the plot-filled pace of the movie though, as Tony is stuck in a reactionary role for much of the first part.
A short way into the movie, however, we get Tony Stark back in his usual spastic charm, and we're reminded of why Tony Stark is Iron Man and RDJ is Tony Stark. He's twitchy, raw, and yet still polished and verbose in an off-handed way that flows well through a rather unique set of trials for our protagonist. Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts gets a good deal more screen time in this movie, but she gets less opportunity to charm with the awkwardness one sees in the first two movies as the first part of the film brings the ceiling crashing down around everyone's heads. Don Cheadle as James Rhodes is good, but he feels lost in the plot of the movie. Especially since I was looking for Warmachine/Iron Patriot to be a fixture of this movie, I was disappointed that his badass suit got about as much screentime as in Iron Man 2 and he got even less dramatic fuel outside of the suit as he did in the previous movie. At one point near the middle of the movie he even struck me as a bit of a doofus--really, Rhodey? You're wearing tactical tank armor in a room of suspected terrorists and you don't think to mute your externals when sharing login info? How could a guy that obtuse get the rank of Colonel in the Air Force's experimental weapons division?
But Guy Pierce as Aldritch Killian, now there's a fun villain. He's introduced early on in a flashback to 1999, and in that scene his pimpled, scraggly idealism reminded me of Val Kilmer's nerd disguise from The Saint--fun, reckless characterization. The stereotypical dork role might get old quickly, but Aldritch Killian is just as quickly shown in modern times to be handsome, put together, and forcefully cogent in his vision of the future. Ben Kingsley as Mandarin...my, what do I say? I like what they did with his role on a dramatic, storytelling, and thematic level. But as someone who really wanted to be more engaged with Iron Man's nemesis, I found the role lacking. And that's not Kingsley's fault--he enjoyably romps in the confines of the role and works within each moment of a dichotomous character.
"...let's face it, you're not a normal guy if you can think a happy thought and transform into a flying tank."
Iron Man 3 features action that is wholly different from the other Marvel films so far. You get quite a bit more out-of-suit fighting that really makes the super-power mook antagonists seem almost too invulnerable, but then at the same time Tony's own armor suits are a little bit easier to crunch (like almost ridiculously so as the conflict escalates--are his new suits so mobile because they're primarily tin-foil parasols?) and less-tricked out than his previous suits. Part of that is plot-based handicap, but even when the plot opens up to indulge in a variety of bizarre Iron Man gadgets, it doesn't and instead relies on variations of the same actions instead. It's a little frustrating. But the action is kinetic and keeps your head on a swivel, and like other Marvel movies it rarely resorts to slo-mo and hand-holding to let you absorb everything. In the end, the action outside of the suits or in partial armor feel more interesting and exciting, though, partly because much of the full-suit action relies on the same gimmick we get to see about thirty minutes into the movie. In the end, the armored action scenes feel like playing a fighting game with a kid who learned just one cool move for their character and then repeats it at different intervals hoping it will be more effective...
Ah, got me in mid-transformation, huh? Well what if I keep fighting you until it falls apart and then I flip to the side and change into another suit before turning to face you? Oh, destroyed that one, too? How about I throw myself off a catwalk and do it? Weren't expecting that now, were you?
The most lacking part of the movie must have been the score. I say must have because I couldn't really follow it most of the time. As the third part of a series--and quite probably the last Iron Man film with RDJ in the lead--I really wanted more homages to the previous film's excellent scores. Reviewing it now I'm especially confused by this as Brian Tyler, who scored Iron Man 3, did a great job of uplifting Battle Los Angeles with his thrilling heroic themes. Maybe it got lost in the mad visuals of Iron Man 3, but in this genre that's hardly an excuse.
Personal Enjoyment 'Gravy': Oh Extremis, why do you do these things to me? The realization of the Extremis enemies was very well done, with them proving a mid-level threat of being nearly untouchable outside of armor and yet still pretty easy to despatch once fully armored. With the exception of one who survives so much more than the others that, with no plot explaining his hardiness, I was left assuming it's a clumsy plot-protection. The armor improvement, while staying away from the nanite from-nowhere option, feels even more gimmicky and overpowered than the alternative. For the suit to deploy, the pieces now individually fly themselves onto Tony and then expand, latch, and envelop him. It's rather silly when a lone faceplate hovers up and flies to him, and it begs the question how many more toys Tony could fit into his new suit if he just decided not to make every single piece flight capable. It also brings up a WTF of how the disparate pieces are powered, since we're left with several scenes where the pieces fly a good distance to get to Tony. I can't believe it, but I think I'd rather see Tony progress to nanite armor than sticking with autonomous flying pieces that put me in mind of Iron Giant more than Iron Man. Also, there's a part towards the end where Tony says something either flat-out isn't true in light of something that happens in the first act or it's an outright lie and just a random douche moment between him and his sidekick.
"In the end, the armored action scenes feel like playing a fighting game with a kid who learned just one cool move for their character and then repeats it at different intervals hoping it will be more effective."
But I liked the boldness of a lot of the movie's choices. The drama of the plot was well-realized, even if it focused less on Rhodey than I would've liked, and it involved dwelling more on Tony being a temperamental bundle of nerves than a reckless alcoholic. His anxiety attacks could have been made to seem more urgent and frightening, but as it is they strike a powerful middle ground between being used for humor and a genuine threat to his confidence and ability to recover his gear. Making most of the action totally different from the other movies was a good move, too. I think one of my favorite action scenes was one where an unarmored Tony has to fashion much more crude gadgets to infiltrate a complex. I know the scene was too short for how much I enjoyed it, and I hope to get some more deleted scenes of it soon.
Overall, the movie passed the ball along. After Captain America: the First Avenger I suspected that my interest would lean further from Tony and more towards Cap, and it seems that hunch is starting to prove itself. I didn't get the payoff I wanted with Iron Patriot, nor the epic struggle I expected with Mandarin. Killian was capable and played his chaotic principles to the nines, but in the end I think I'm going to keep looking forward to Avengers 2 and be satisfied if Iron Man remains only a trilogy.
On the topic of the 3D experience of this film: I really didn't appreciate it. There were a few moments where it was definitely noticeable, and it created a faintly amusing effect, but for the most part I found it hard to feel like the movie was enhanced by the 3D. And since I always forget to wear contact lenses to midnight showings of movies, I was stuck wearing two pairs of glasses for over two hours wondering if I should just rest my eyes at some point. Not exactly the desired effect for a big budget movie's 3D markup.
General Enjoyment 'Cheese': Iron Man 3 is not going to draw in new fans to the franchise. I think that it may lose a few, but in the end it's going to keep the plots moving and the characters progressing. So that means that the foremost audience for this movie is going to be people who, like me, are looking to the future of Marvel movies. Now, amongst us there will probably be a good number who have better opinions of this movie than I do, but I really doubt any of those stellar opinions will last long as the rest of Phase Two comes out. I find it hard to imagine what might bring in people not already in love with the franchise and/or genre to see this movie: I mean there are regenerating minions with lava hands and fire breath as side effects of their healing factor. Not exactly an easy pill to cram down the throat of that person who scrunches up their nose and says, "Isn't that a comic book movie?"
(And no, it's a movie-movie.)