This is a review of Iron Man 3 by me and Reece in text-form. With pictures. And captions. Also, spoilers. Lots of spoilers.
So, ya know, if you want to watch the film without knowing anything don’t read. Because we spoil from the get-go. But if you’ve seen the film, or don’t mind spoilers, then hop on little buddies. Also, strong language!
IAN: So Iron Man 3. Possibly the weirdest superhero film tonally since Ang Lee decided that Hulk was best realised as a Greek tragedy.
REECE: Ha. I suppose it is, but then I’m used to reading small weird comics. I agree, for what we are used to in superhero films, this one is sort of all over the place. I think that’s just Shane black being Shane black though.
IAN: It’s such an interesting film because on the one hand, there’s a LOT I like about it. Lots of chances being taken narratively. And yet, it feels like it’s stuck in two worlds. Shane Black world, and Marvel Studios world. The worlds just never mesh the way they should.
REECE: It is a departure from the shared universe concept they had been building towards pre avengers. There are small nods to the expanded universe sure, but I think Marvel perhaps a bit too lenient with Black after the exposition overload that was IM2. I mean there’s toning it back and then there’s making IM exist in some sort of pocket dimension. I think there were other considerations during the film, such as if RDJ would actually be coming back or not.
IAN: That’s the problem with a shared universe – logically, when the US President is in danger, Captain America would go to help out. That’s not something you can shrug off. Cap’s not someone who can be aware of something and not help out. We know why he won’t (schedule logistics, Stark needs to be the hero etc)… it’s just that those decisions negatively impact the logic of, as you put it, a shared universe.
REECE: Well I suppose we can’t really expect that. As much as the films are aiming to take some inspirations from the marvel universe, we have to remember it’s still a film. Plus, I’m sure in the comics there are plenty of times when Cap has been off world or undercover so he can’t save the president. It may even be explained in the winter soldier film a slight bit when it comes out.
IAN: It’s the inherent flaw with a shared universe. That said, overall it’s a pretty decent film. It tries for greatness and fails, except when Ben Kingsley is on screen. He surprised me by stealing the entire Marvel Universe and holding it ransom with a genius performance.
REECE: He and guy pierce were the best parts of that film. Kingsley as Trevor/The Mandarin and Pierce was just enjoying being this slimy businessman. I mean, the scene with Trevor watching football had me cracking up.
IAN: Everything about that character was brilliant and audacious and a great way to use theatricality and deception against the audience. After the Red Skull and Loki being villains straight from the comics, we get a Mandarin playing on the audiences expectations… and shattering them.
REECE: It was a smart move on the films part, even if it has led to a bit of a backlash. It does have me wondering how they are going to handle a Doc Strange film though. The cinematic universe has been very careful to dodge ‘magic’ calling it just advanced technology (like in Thor) and they went for the usual bank of ‘techno villain’ in IM3. So how they will manage a person who casts actual magic that you can’t dodge around in anyway, will be interesting.
IAN: I don’t think Marvel’s against magic, so much as they were wary of having a Chinese man who was skilled in magic and played into stereotypes fighting against an American futurist. Doctor Strange, likely, will be an introduction into magic. There’s no need to set up magic exists before you set-up the one character who’s story revolves around it.
REECE: True. There’s also the Chinese market to worry about. You don’t a film like that saying ‘Chinese people are terrorists’. Did you hear about the extra scenes the Chinese release had?
IAN: Yep. Nothing of consequence. And yet absolutely ingenious in making the film ridiculously successful in China. Brilliant. Like The Avengers, not what I’d do but undeniably successful. Of course, as good as the twist was it DID lead to a third Iron Man film where he fights a fellow businessman.
REECE: Well, that’s sort of Iron Mans stick isn’t it? Even the modern comics, when he’s not off battling some two bit super villain or a part of a larger event, most of his plots involve him fighting another corporation both as Stark and as Iron Man. Historically that was what Marvel lumped him with too, though of course in those days it was whoever was a part of the USSR that month. So I have no problem with that. But then I haven’t read enough IM comics to know his history well.
IAN: It’s a fair point – but the lack of diversity is worrying. You watch the Nolan films, and Batman never fights the same type of villain twice. Iron Man’s rogues’ gallery isn’t inspiring, granted, yet it seems like there’s not much creativity in differentiating the villains. Thor, oddly, seems to be doing it right. Frost Giants, Loki, Dark Elves, there’s a sense of diversity and intrigue. Each villain takes a different strategy to beat.
REECE: True, but that’s all the same type of villain, in this case something with a mythological basis. But that’s comics for you, put the magic guy against magic, pit the guy in armour against other guys in armour. And in films they always end up in a big fight at the end anyway. That’s how most people like their supers. Though it did sort of suck any tension out of the film when Tony called a bazillion Iron Man suits to his aid in about ten seconds, out of a literal hole in the ground. Also made you wonder why he didn’t do that earlier when he was trying to fight someone who could punch a hole in his head with kitchen equipment.
IAN: Because the crane hadn’t picked up the foundations, I think. And I get what you’re saying; it’s just that Tony’s villains seem to have no personality differences. They want to destroy Tony. That’s it. There’s no goal except for that. And Guy Pearce turning into Wesker from Resident Evil at the end was just awful.
REECE: Ha. I sort of liked it in a way. It was nice to see in a superhero film just a stupid villain with superpowers, where every other film is trying to make their villains the new Joker from the Dark Knight. Still, I can see why it would be a disappointment. Pierces character certainly was a bit one dimensional and I’m not even sure if his plan is actually ever explained properly. Like the doctor who is working on extremis and extremis itself, they’re not really fleshed out. Not that I really noticed much whilst the film was showing. I was enjoying myself. But those niggles stick in mind now and I think it would have just taken an extra line here or there to solve those issues.
IAN: The problem I have is that Pierce is a brilliant actor who hasn’t done a superhero film prior to Iron Man 3. So you’d figure if he was doing one, the villain would be great and memorable. But it’s not. And for that I blame Marvel being so against superpowers that when they introduce them here via Extremis, it’s just terrible. And by superpowers, I mean ‘playing it pseudo-realistic.’ Trying to ground everything. It means that when we get full-on fire based powers, they don’t fit in with the world at all. Especially given Iron Man’s a tech-based character. It feels jarring for him to fight Flamey Flambe Man!
REECE: Well I took it more as another arms race. Tony Stark has always has to upgrade his armour to be able to stay ahead of those who want to kill him. This film features literally two strains of human potential and ingenuity fighting off against one another to see which will come out on top. I think with the flame thing you just have to roll with it. It’s a given very early on that extremis is just ‘magic’ and you have to roll with it.
IAN: An arms race implies competition. Tony’s ludicrous ‘I can fix that’ says it all. I get he’s smart, but it seemed strange to all but say ‘I am a walking deus ex machina of intelligence.’
REECE: But then there was a lot of that. A lot of superfluous things in the film. It’s an example of Black’s style. He likes to have all these threads weaving together from what seems like unconnected stories, but unless the script is tight there are bound to be lots of holes in a story that follows that method. Considering the IM films have a habit of rewriting a lot of things on set due to RDJs liking of improv…
IAN: Black seemed to do a better job of tying strands together thematically; it’s just that the film then descends into action-movie Hell. Like Marvel got nervous about it being too quirky. All the pure Black touches (the henchmen, Mandarin twist, the snarky banter with the kid) was really great. And all the Marvel Studios stuff (PTSD) felt shoe-horned in and never went anywhere. The Avengers did the same – remember when Thor’s lightning hits Iron Man, and powers his suit up? And it’s never mentioned again?
REECE: Yeah. That was odd. I’m not sure about the PTSD stuff. I mean it was a good idea, it just felt forgotten about two thirds of the way into the film as they realised it was clashing a bit too much with what was meant to be a action comedy.
IAN: It also seems strange that absolutely no one seems affected particularly by the events of The Avengers. Aliens now exist… but it’s business as normal.
REECE: Again, I think we are asking too much of the film. It’s trying to be all these things, a post Avengers film, a sequel to IM2, a Shane black film, a way of tying up the RDJ trilogy in case he won’t appear in any more films. Some things were bound to be covered not as well, though there are allusions to it, with Killian saying the reason he chose his plan was because the avengers made the world black and white again, it opened the doors for all these crazy personalities to start appearing in everyday lives. In this case, it’s the post Avengers stuff that loses out. Perhaps we will get more of that in the SHIELD TV series. I hope so, because you are right. The public has been exposed to the fact that frigging superheroes exist as do aliens. That’s something to be explored in a long form TV show. But then if comics can’t really talk about that (I think the Wildstorm universe came closest-everyone was shit scared of superheroes because nothing could even come close to their power), it’s not something I expect the films to explore. There has to be a level or suspension of disbelief I suppose and comics readers come with that built in.
IAN: I think people just expect films to be tighter in construction. Comics have a free-walling charm; films are designed with a start, middle and end… so if you are going to make a shared universe, there has to be consequence. And here, the consequence doesn’t exist. The obvious solution would be to have a Marvel Studios comic-book line running constantly between the films to bridge the gaps (so you’d get MS: Iron Man between the films, then the month after set-up the next story.) With the Agent of Shield TV show, using Marvel Studios ongoing comics would create a nice circular franchise. I was surprised how good War Machine was. Don Cheadle benefitted from Shane Black being ‘the guy’ for buddy comedies.
REECE: Yeah. He was certainly a lot more competent than he’s been in the past. I think I would be happy just watching a film starring RDJ and DC. I think that’s one of the strengths of this film (and the IM films in general) that you spend most of the film with Tony Stark not in a suit and yet those are the best bits. The film notably flagged whenever a suit popped up. Whereas Stark breaking into the Mandarins mansion was thrilling.
IAN: Exactly. It’s tension. Stark in his own suit went toe to toe with Thor; so logically, very little should be able to damage him sufficiently. It’s one of the reasons the film fell down near the end – Extremis fuelled fake-fake Mandarin isn’t really a buy-able threat… but Tony going espionage, taking on armed mooks without the suit, is a scene where there’s real tension. Also, Don Cheadle’s flying falcon punch after they broke his suit was outstanding!
REECE: Yeah it was. It shows he earned that suit and didn’t just get one because he’s Tony Starks buddy. Which is sort of the impression I got from the prior films. It’s just a shame he had to go and punch the guy who breathes fire.
IAN: A rookie mistake from War Machine there. It’s a shame they’ve basically retired the Iron Patriot gear. Personally, I much prefer that visually to the drab War Machine get-up.
REECE: Well, he’s just a military guy at end of the day. Tony took on Thor and the guy who punched Hitler, so his weird shit-o-meter probably tingles a lot more in times like that. Did they retire it though? The armour is still around as that’s how the president was saved.
IAN: It seemed that Rhodes hated it, a lot. I guess you can write around that, but it seems like they’re putting it to the side for now. And we’ve avoided Pepper completely. I guess we have to talk about her at some point.
REECE: Do you mean how she’s pretty much demeaned the entire film then gets one token action scenes to try and make up for it? I mean the film didn’t even really make a big a deal when she ‘died’. Whilst literally calling her a trophy.
IAN: Essentially. I’m not against Pepper getting a suit (The Rescue arc by Matt Fraction was excellent), it’s just that suddenly she knows Kung Fu, is doing flips, and going loco on Extremis. I get they don’t want her to be a damsel in distress, yet everything she did felt like it was from another ridiculous film. It’s astounding that Marvel would have the first super powered female be Pepper Potts.
REECE: Not that I’m saying the misogyny was deliberate. I think its accidental, as the film is pretty clear she a strong capable person who only just tolerates Tony’s shit and she’s a capable CEO. But that speaks volumes about the film that it was accidentally misogynistic.
IAN: I don’t think any misogyny was intended either. They felt they were shattering the damsel trope. Except Pepper hasn’t been a damsel in any Marvel film prior to this. And to me it downplayed the good parts of the character (strong, capable CEO who doesn’t take Tony’s crap) and made her a (temporary) super powered character… forgetting that Rescue in the comics was great because she refused to be a weapon.
REECE: Yeah. I think you right. It’s not as if it’s as bad another film RDJ is in (the guy Richie Sherlock Homes films). In those they kill off the only strong woman to give Homes some pathos and to make the film boys only again they throw Watson’s wife off a train (to safety sure, but he still threw her off a train).
IAN: Especially brilliant as the first Sherlock Holmes film had Irene as a capable, smart, feisty and resourceful woman. One of the few things I liked about The Avengers was Black Widow (mostly) being resourceful and clever. Like when she tricks the God of Tricksters into telling her his plan.
REECE: Yeah. JW, despite Dollhouse and bits of firefly, loves writing characters as equals, regardless of gender, sexuality etc. To come back to an earlier point, I think it’s just the way the script was written. There are all these elements leading up to the big battle at the end and I think so pepper was involved they gave her an action scenes where she kills Killion. Yet she’s pretty much forgotten for most of the film after the opening scenes where she meets Killion. Pepper and Maya get side-lined.
IAN: Maya was pretty useless all round. The debunked idea that she was Madame Masque would at least have given her some import.
IAN: Madame Masque. One of Tony’s villains. He slept with her, her face got messed up, and she turned evil.
REECE: Ah ok. Well I can see why that was avoided.
IAN: Damn political correctness.
IAN: So to conclude… I’d say Iron Man 3 is an exceptionally brave film with a tremendous performance by Ben Kingsley that doesn’t quite go the distance – and still has a corporate rival as a villain. The trilogy ends with Tony Stark deciding to remove the shrapnel from his heart, a metaphor for Robert Downey Jr. removing the albatross of solo films perhaps?
REECE: Perhaps. I think it’s comparable to an early Steven Moffat episode of Dr Who (not the crappy ones we have now). It’s pretty good all round, there are shocks and twists and the piece has balls. It’s just when you finish watching it, all these questions start popping up that really diminish it overall. Still, it’s a good film one regardless. It’s certainly the best of the Iron Man films and probably up there as one of the best Marvel films as well. I can’t say I regretted watching it, even with all the problems in the film. Which really are niggling problems rather than ones that ruin it. It’s fun, fantastic and its worth staying for after the credits. Bruce and Tony bromancing is great.
IAN: I’d differ in saying for me it’s the least of the Iron Man films… but only because of the timing. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were before the superhero saturation kicked in. I don’t think Marvel can get that ‘whoa – world building’ feel back with Iron Man, because everything is established now. It’s why I’m looking forward to Ant-Man… which is so mad and has a director who makes visually dynamic films. I wouldn’t say Iron Man 3 is bad, just that it’s both comfortable and wild. They throw twists in, but in the end it’s still the same basic formula from the others. Just with fire breathing CEO’s and Tony calling a little kid a pussy. Which, fair enough, is awesome!
REECE: This is certainty going to be a risky set of films for Marvel (though more risky that doing the original shared universe, I’m not sure). You have Guardians of the Galaxy (even I don’t really know about them), Doc Strange, Ant Man, along with the reliable sequels to the first stage films. Maybe even a hulk sequel if they feel like going crazy. It’s a good time for superhero films. I’m sure WB execs are on suicide watch at the moment. If Man of Steel bombs we may never have a DC film that isn’t a batman or superman film.
IAN: From what I’ve seen, Man of Steel is the exact right tone. And he has superpowers. So that’ll do mega business.