FEATURE: Iron Man 3
|IRON MAN 3
After the massively-successful blockbuster that is The Avengers, it all comes back to the character that started it all — IRON MAN. Unlike the first two movies featuring the character, this one has two major points to address. The first point being that this is the initial entry to the "Phase 2" movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or to simply put it, post-Avengers. These are expected to give the audience an idea of how these characters coped with the events in New York. For the second point, remember Iron Man 2 and all its shortcomings? Well, everyone is kind of expecting that this movie will deviate from the issues that plagued the second installment and if possible, be better than the first one. So the question now is, does Iron Man 3 deliver on both fronts?
PLOT & PREMISE
So we have our genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) after all the shenanigans that happened in New York involving gods, aliens and other dimensions. And knowing Tony, he should be very cool with that, right? He even invited his newly-found "super friends" to eat shawarma afterwards. Well… apparently not. That near-death experience he had during the battle had quite a toll — he even has anxiety attacks because of it. Then there’s The Mandarin who’s been wreaking havoc across the United States with his terrorism which doesn’t help Tony’s situation at all.
Having introduced the notion of aliens and supernatural beings in The Avengers doesn’t mean that everything afterwards should be the same and over-the-top, in a positive way at that. And this is exactly what the writers did with this third installment: they even went the opposite direction and made a very grounded and realistic premise that the Iron Man movies were known for. For one, the villain is very much your average human with not-so-average intentions. It also adds the bonus of not being repetitive. From the first movie, there was Obadiah Stane who donned the Iron Monger suit. The second one came with Ivan Venko (i.e. Whiplash), who in the climactic battle also got his own customized armor. If the Mandarin also got his own suit of armor, in which he didn’t, then it’s rehashing previous elements all over again.
Then there’s the Extremis element to which the main storyline was based of. The movie doesn’t completely follow the comic book story for obvious reasons but it was still able to deliver a solid plot despite the changes due to adaptation, so kudos to writers for pulling this off.
Iron Man 3 has the advantage of being the third part in a series of movies so there’s no need for main character introductions as they were already established in the origin movie. This allows the movie to focus on the other principal characters introduced in the latter movies and give them more depth. It also has the disadvantage of possibly mishandling previously-established character elements due to a myriad of reasons. Having said that, Iron Man 3 came after The Avengers, which added another layer of development, allowing more depth to be explored — and is very evident in this movie.
It has been mentioned from various press releases that Tony Stark will be in a ‘back to basics’ kind of deal with this movie and it was done very well. Again, it is ironic that after going over-the-top with The Avengers, they went completely 180 degrees and got him to his lowest, literally and figuratively. They wrecked his house, separated him from all his gadgets & tech (and Pepper), haunted him with all his anxiety issues and he still has to deal with the Mandarin. That’s pretty much down the barrel right there. These gave the writers an opportunity to make Tony Stark do stuff outside his normal superhero mantra. With no gadgetry to help him, he has to revert to old school detective work to find out what’s going on.
Here’s where the rest of the principal characters come in and we won’t start with Pepper. Enter Harley (Ty Simpkins), the first person he meets after his house gets blown up and he’s flown to Tennessee thanks to a misunderstanding from JARVIS. Being a troubled child doesn’t stop him from helping Tony with his predicament and does a pretty good job at doing it. Their common interest in building and fixing stuff allows them to realize their own potentials, and was presented in the most amusing fashion. Then there’s James Rhodes, still played by Don Cheadle who’s not anymore the "Terrence Howard replacement" that most felt during the second film. His dynamics with Tony Stark was very natural and the portrayal of the character was notable enough that there **might** be a War Machine spinoff. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) came as someone who’s competing with the suits for Tony’s affection — that’s right, she’s in a love triangle with Tony and the suits. And while being the damsel in distress in this movie, Pepper got to come back at the climactic battle and delivered the finishing blow in a manner that no one would probably imagine.
On the other camp, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) was presented as the manipulative-bastard kind of villain. Working behind the shadows and not motivated entirely by revenge allowed him to do his dirty work in a very cunning yet subtle way. This subtlety then came from Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), whose character departed the most from his comic book counterpart. As such, the production team is likely to get backlash from hardcore Iron Man fans because of the way the character was handled and is a legitimate deal breaker. Despite this, his portrayal as a bin Laden-inspired terrorist was very effective and coupled with those videos reminiscent of the Al Qaeda ones make the experience disturbingly realistic. Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) unfortunately got the short end of the stick as her character felt like ‘because she was in the original story, we have to include her’ kind.
Finally there’s the Iron Man Mark XLII… yes, the suit. Why? For starters, the suits in this movie weren’t just your average robotic suits of armor, they’re essentially drones powered by JARVIS. And off all the armors appearing in the movie, the Mark XLII seemed like the personification, or better yet, representation of JARVIS. From the way Tony Stark uses it at the start of the movie to the numerous times it crashes and gets disassembled, the Mark XLII was just fun to watch. Tony even called it the prodigal son of all his armors.
Starting off the visual elements is the titular character, Iron Man himself. His last appearance in The Avengers was inside the Mark VII armor. While the armor design was great, it still comes off as a shuffle of red, silver and gold colors that started with the Mark III. If one’s not that knowledgeable of Iron Man’s armors, then differentiating these variants would be next to impossible. For this sequel, however, the designers went a different way and reversed the color. And by reverse meaning make gold as the dominant color with accents of red and silver. Seeing that design for the first might have turned off some, but it definitely tells that this movie would be quite different from the previous two.
As with all superhero/comic book movies, huge investments on the visual and special effects are a must. That said, the production team went a different route and didn’t have Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) on board. Instead, they got the services of several companies — Scanline VFX, Digital Domain, Weta Digital, Framestore, The Third Floor, and Trixter Film — to do the visual effects. Being a ‘back to basics’ kind of movie meant that there’s actually more of Tony Stark and less of Iron Man, but that doesn’t mean that the scenes featuring the latter were lackluster. For example, it’s known for a while that the Mark XLII armor is very modular and could be summoned via mental control to assemble on Tony’s body. The effects used to create those scenes never failed to impress as every component interacts and merges through layers of connections that are visually cohesive and comprehensible. Totally unlike those seen in the Transformers movies where the transformation process involves random shards of metal moving everywhere until a humanoid silhouette is formed.
Another highlight of the film was when the Air Force One was attacked and majority of the staff were blown outside to fall mercilessly. This ain’t a knock against the film, but seeing those people falling isn’t really that convincing and would easily come off as paratroopers doing stunt work. Despite this, the set piece was coordinated well and made the experience much more realistic with the transition of the camera perspective from Iron Man to those of the falling personnel to a wider shot. Finally, there’s the climactic battle where the "House Party Protocol" was invoked. Seeing all those Iron Men fly around at completely random directions and fight was a definite visual treat. Some may ask though — if the armor from The Avengers was the Mark VII and what Tony was wearing was the Mark XLII, does that mean that they actually summoned 35 armors? Possibly, though trying to count them would be next to impossible. What they did instead was focus and do close up of around 7 or so armors while the others remained at far shots flying around the scene.
As mentioned earlier, Iron Man 3 was the first post-Avengers movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also had the task of covering for the issues many had with the second installment. The production took a lot of liberties to achieve this, including going with Shane Black as director while Jon Favreau remained as a producer. In comparison to the previous two movies, Iron Man 3 is probably the darkest with the difference in presentation and tone. The moment the movie started with a narration from Tony Stark, a character that’s not really known for narrations and introspectives, already set a dark mood for the movie. Despite the established theme, they still managed to pull off comedic elements without shoehorning it to the audience, at instances one won’t even expect one.
While the plot sticks the most to its comic book origins, as compared to the previous installments, it’s still very believable and could be easily picked up by the casual movie goer. The action and pacing of the movie is balanced, though some may notice that there’s a lot less Iron Man in this one. In fact, this is probably more of a Tony Stark movie than an Iron Man one, in a very positive way. Unlike Iron Man 2 that was like Tony doing stuff in the armor, including partying and eating donuts, the Tony Stark seen here is the genius that does wonders and solves mysteries outside the armor — the draw the character had back in the first Iron Man movie.
Overall, Iron Man 3 is a great movie to kick in the summer movie season. While this ain’t The Avengers-level of over-the-top action and whatnot, it’s still great in it’s own right. They tried going over-the-top with Iron Man 2 and look where that went. Instead of focusing on the wider perspective, they did the opposite and narrowed it. That said, Tony Stark won’t be like the awesome character that he is if Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t playing the role. It has been mentioned a couple of times that his contract with Marvel includes doing three Iron Man movies. Would there be another Iron Man movie with Robert donning the robotic armor or will he just be an flying armored dude appearing the next Avengers movies? It also doesn’t help that the end credits mostly feature flashbacks and scenes from the previous movies, giving the notion that this might be the last one. As far as these are concerned, only time will tell, but like that last text on the screen — "Tony Stark will return."
Contributors: Elise Cruz