Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Cinema File #167: "Iron Man 3" Review

Though other movies made by other studios began the Superhero Movie thing long before, the first Iron Man movie is what really kickstarted what we now refer to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Marvel and its parent company Disney decided to take a more disciplined approach to the shared universe of these classic characters. Now only a scant five years later, we've got what seems like the last in the Iron Man series to kick off Phase 2 of the larger Marvel saga, and while still generally entertaining, I think Iron Man 3 might be the beginning of the end for this whole trend, as both metal fatigue and superhero fatigue sets in.

This latest story finds Tony Stark a strangely broken man following the events of The Avengers, suffering from panic attacks and burying himself in his work worse than ever before, until a terrorist calling himself The Mandarin and a mad scientist making human bombs bring him back for one more go. The new gimmick this time around is the self-assembling armor prototype that he can summon to him piece by piece from anywhere in the world, which is a neat visual used to great effect, but not enough to distract from the fact that the story is needlessly convoluted and never quite comes together nearly as well as either of the first two films.

When Iron Man 3 is about mindless CGI action or Robert Downey Jr. being quippy and charming, it works as it always has and as you should expect by now that it would, but when it actually tries to tell a story, that's where things fall apart faster than his glitchy new suit. From incredibly convenient plot turns, like Tony randomly crash landing in an area that just so happens to hold clues to the mystery, to twists within twists that are either too predictable or too stupid (I'll get to that), this does not seem like the caliber of work we are used to with this writer/director. By the time a mid-air rescue is accomplished by explicitly playing Barrel of Monkeys, I gave up on trying to piece together the few things I liked into a movie I could defend. 

Okay, now is the time where I have to be the dick that harps on the thing we all recognize, but nobody wants to focus on because complaining about a lack of faithfulness to the source material makes us sound like dorks. What this movie does to the Mandarin is a travesty and a fucking insult to every comic book fan in this film's audience, their dignity sacrificed for a cheap gimmicky twist that's sure to please people who don't care about the original character and want to feel clever, and sure to be ignored by the fanboys who still live in denial about The Avengers. I'm willing to forgive a lot; hell, I loved The Amazing Spiderman, but this is just too much.

I had long since accepted the reality that The Mandarian would be transformed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe's equivalent of Osama Bin Laden, as it has been hinted at ever since the first Iron Man film so many years ago. I guess even though the movie explicitly references aliens, wormholes, and Thor, magic rings were just too crazy. Get that comic book fans who are supposed to feel honored by all this Hollywood attention? The thing you've loved for years just won't cut it with a mainstream audience, so feel free to shove all those precious memories right up your ass right next to Bane's Venom and everything that made Doctor Doom and Galactus cool in the comics.

And before you call me a canon Nazi, my complaint is not simply that they changed something, but that they changed it in such a way that was both completely unnecessary, and completely antithetical to the character's traditional role in this universe. Imagine if they made a Batman movie with The Joker, and half way through, this villain who is the embodiment of pure chaotic evil, only human in the strictest sense but morally demonic, suddenly turns good and spends the rest of the series as a hero atoning for his past crimes. I'm not saying that's the twist they do with the Mandarin, as I don't want to spoil what it actually is, but that's the level of wrong the twist represents.

And I can't for the life of me figure out what the villain's ultimate plan was anyway. I get the ulterior motives behind the terrorist campaign as applied to illegal experiments and so forth, but once the evil plan jumps from that far too complicated conceit to one involving the president and an oil tanker,  I just don't see it. If its what I think it is, then I instantly call bullshit, as there must be simpler ways to amass the kind of power he seeks without getting so many people involved. By the end it all just feels like a flimsy excuse to get us to the final set piece so everything can start zooming around and exploding, which is admittedly fun to watch, but coming after such a lack of substance that I never invested with the film enough to make it pay off.

All of this, or at least most of it, could have been forgiven if I could buy the hero's personal struggle even for a second, but I can't. To be fair, the Iron Man film series has never been about delving deep into the emotional core of its main character, only ever lightly touching upon things like Stark's alcoholism or the heady transhumanistic themes present in the Extremis arc upon which this story is supposedly based, which only makes this lame attempt at a half-assed last minute character study feel that much more hollow. His emotional turmoil never comes off as genuine in the same way Peter Parker's did in ASM, or Bruce Banner's did in The Incredible Hulk (the Norton version, fuck Mark Ruffalo), and I feel condescended to when the movie tries so hard to convince me otherwise.

Overall, I would say that Iron Man 3 is to Iron Man 2 what Iron Man 2 is to Iron Man, not as good as the preceding effort, but not unwatchable or without its occasionally inspired moments. While I wouldn't say Iron Man's rogue's gallery is particularly robust, I have to think its big enough that we didn't need a third evil business rival in a row, and could have found a less important character to the Iron Man canon to screw over as bad as they do to The Mandarin. Still Its the kind of movie that demands very little from you, asking you to shut your brain off through most of it, and rewarding you for the ability to do so. I'm finally to the point where that's not enough anymore, but I have the feeling I'll be in the minority, both with comic book fans and non-comic book fans alike.

As if I need to tell you whether you're gonna see this movie or not anyway.
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