Monday, May 6, 2013

Iron Man 3 - An Imperfect Upgrade

For the last five years of Marvel Studios' existence, the six films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have proven to be both popular and successful. Even if some of these movies weren't as good as the others, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger served as a build-up to The Avengers, which I have previously described on this blog as "The Best Comic Book Movie Ever". Since watching Iron Man 2 and The Avengers again to build up to seeing this film, I still consider this to be true, thanks to its ability to tie each of those five movies together and deliver on a level that has yet to be matched since. Before seeing Iron Man 3, I wasn't quite sure how to feel based on what I saw. I didn't even see a single trailer aside from those on TV, but I had already set my expectations lower thanks to how good The Avengers turned out to be. I eventually decided that even if Iron Man 3 won't be quite as good as The Avengers, it should at least be better than Iron Man 2. In the end, I think it managed to exceed these expectations, but it still didn't outdo the original Iron Man.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe up until now.

The demons of Tony Stark's (Robert Downey, Jr.) past have truly come back to bite him. At a New Year's Eve party in Switzerland in 1999, Stark is approached by a scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who offers him a place in his think tank, Advanced Idea Mathematics (AIM), but Stark turns him down in favor of spending time with another scientist named Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who invented an experimental regenerative treatment known as Extremis. In the present day, Stark has been having anxiety attacks as a result of the Battle of New York (seen in The Avengers), building multiple Iron Man suits as a way to cope with his restlessness. A man known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has also begun a string of terrorism shortly after Aldrich Killian returns to Tony's life in an unexpected manner. When The Mandarin hits a bit close to home, Stark must now figure out how to locate and end the attacks by this new villain while solving an internal struggle: is it he who defines Iron Man, or does Iron Man define him?

Through the struggles that Tony Stark has to face as Iron Man, the story becomes a lot more emotional than in previous films. Here, Stark is seen in a much more vulnerable state from his anxiety, but in a way that he becomes more of someone to feel sorry for; he's even shown to cry in his sleep. It's clear that the events of New York have taken a toll on him, as evidenced by his behavior being noticeably a little less cocky, which is more of a sign of character development carrying over from all of his appearances. The movie in general is also a bit darker, and dare I say grittier, but in a way that is doesn't come off as consciously trying to copy the Dark Knight Trilogy. The movie may not be as fun as the original Iron Man, but it is certainly gripping and engaging, and at times even chilling. Pacing is something that's also handled well, without a single real lull in the events; I only looked at my watch once or twice throughout the whole movie, both instances being at least an hour apart from each other.

Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin

What I should probably mention however is the complexity of this film. Within the plot are quite a few important characters and creations that have some significance to what is going on. The number of villains seems large at first, but within a good period of time they are all seen to be connected in some way, which helps alleviate the confusion and shows just how far of a reach The Mandarin has. Even a certain twist regarding the villain is pulled off very well to me and I feel that it cements how good of a character he is. With all that goes on, I think it's sort of like a David Wong novel: at first it seems to go off in a few directions at once and is a bit spread out, but when it reaches the final stretch, everything begins to make perfect sense.

The Extremis invention is really something else, granting the user immense power, the ability to heat something up through touch and, most importantly, high speed regenerative capability. However, this is only if the compound is accepted within the user, as rejection can lead to a rather, shall we say, explosive outcome. Since I went into this movie with no real knowledge of how Iron Man is in the comics, I'm pretty accepting of how Extremis works in this movie. I will admit, however, that at certain points in the movie I couldn't help but think of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, particularly in regards to the motivation of the villain and the way Extremis works (especially the latter). To elaborate (Warning: Major MGR:R spoiler ahead. Please scroll down further if you have not yet played the game):

Video by legend91mgs

As for the special effects, Iron Man 3 manages to succeed in blowing its predecessors out of the water. Not only are the effects more involving, they are also very well integrated into the world. The Iron Man armor, Mark XLII, is much more elaborate, with the ability to fly toward Tony Stark and attach with simple gestures, along with the new power of remote assembly and control. This allows some moments to be more tense or surprising and the rest of the technology used in the movie is very impressive and fun to watch. At this point, I think later movies will have a lot to live up to.

The acting in this film was also superb, with Robert Downey, Jr. continuing to give a very convincing portrayal of Tony Stark, proving once again that he's the perfect fit for the character. Other returning actors Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow continue to give solid performances and Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley bring a presence to the new characters they portray. Overall, I really have no complaints.

Finally, there's the music. The score by Brian Tyler falls under a certain category where its only purpose is to cause the audience to emote, which it does really well, but as a result it is very forgettable and not a single piece stands out in particular; in other words, fitting but forgettable. As for the licensed music, I have to admit that I wasn't completely impressed by it and whoever was in charge of this could probably have selected better accompaniment. At this point I just feel more indifferent towards it and just take it for what it is, though that doesn't mean I have to be a fan. The credits could have used a punchier song at the end like in Spider-Man 2 that would make me want to see it again.

Iron Man 3, while excellent, isn't really perfect. The story is plotted out nicely and maintains a great pace, but the music selection could have been better and the overall combination of elements is missing a certain spark that made the original Iron Man work so well as a movie. Perhaps it's because this one was decidedly darker and edgier, but in the end it falls short of total greatness despite exceeding my expectations. This is a movie that every fan of the Marvel Studios flicks must see at least once and fans of the comic series should go in knowing that this movie adapts certain stories and elements differently and try to leave prior knowledge behind for the best enjoyment.

As the movie says, Tony Stark will return. I don't know how just yet, but I'm looking forward to it anyway.

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