Summer 2013 kicks off with the excellent IRON MAN 3, a film that proves it's more than its previews.
Marvel Studios has been on a dominating roll of late. After 2012's amazing The Avengers, the studio known for Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk could have rested on their laurels, content to churn out successful but empty follow-ups (George Lucas, are you listening???). Not Marvel: it's changed the way we watch movies, now and forever. No one waited around until after the credits pre-2008 when Iron Man first debuted; now, we hope other franchises get the hint. Marvel has defined the connected universe, making each of their releases almost like essential rights of passage. Even 2010's rushed Iron Man 2 couldn't lessen demand for a super-hero mashup that put DC on suicide watch. As IRON MAN 3 soars into theaters this week, we're reminded once again of why we love this franchise and the studio who continues to take bold risks.
As billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes series) adjusts to life post-Avengers, his world has been turned upside down: he suffers from PTSD and anxiety attacks, trying desperately to build enough versions of Iron Man to combat every situation. His Malibu chick-pad has become a vault for dozens of armored avengers, much to the dismay of girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow, Se7en) who doesn't realize just how bad Tony's condition has become. Meanwhile, a bin Laden-esque terrorist known as The Madarin (Sir Ben Kingsley, Lucky Number Slevin) has been blowing up locations throughout America by bio-engineering unknowing Americans with the unstable concoction Extremis, searing its victims's shadows to the wall. It's an unsettling reminder of the effects of the atomic bombs of World War II, and The Mandarin uses it and the malleable media to perfection. But when his former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favereau, Swingers) is seriously wounded after an attack at Mann's Chinese Theater, Stark challenges The Mandarin, who responds by blowing up the mansion.
Left to repair his Mark 42 suit in a far-off location, Stark enlists the help of former squeeze and scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, The Town), who suspects her Stark fanboy-turned corporate mogul Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, Lawless) is behind the attacks. Together with his old buddy James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, Ocean's Eleven) - whose War Machine has been rebranded 'Iron Patriot' - Stark must reinvent himself while keeping President Ellis (William Sadler, Shawshank Redemption) from the clutches of Killian's top assassin Savin (James Badge Dale, The Departed).
Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) weaves a decidedly darker version of Tony Stark, as a man who's been haunted by New York and now fruitlessly toils with his machines. Black, first known in Hollywood for his writing of Lethal Weapon, teams up relative newcomer Drew Pearce to deliver a character-driven, action-packed thrillride that lets up just enough for you to catch your breath, only to plunge you back into an excellent combination of large action pieces and rising tension that would make The Dark Knight proud. Nowadays, Downey is hands-down the best part of anything he touches, and in IM3 he shines once again as the futurist out of his element. If Stark's world revolves around making cool stuff, it's Downey's performance that makes that stuff go sexy fast. Simply put, he's the fuel that makes every actor around him better. His chemistry with Paltrow has always been pitch-perfect, old couple crassness, with the result providing a welcomed dose of comedy at the right time. Cheadle finally seems comfortable in his role, in no small part to his long screen time with Downey in Act 3. Together, they feel like old friends about to be engulfed in a nasty bar brawl; yet it suits this team quite well, proving Downey's brashness and Black's style can work seamlessly. But it's also Black the writer who deftly realizes that a Stark out of water is a deeply satisfying endeavor, sending him to the far corners of Tennesee for nearly the entire second act while he repairs his damaged suit and uncovers the truth behind Extremis. Even the triumphant final act features a unique take on donning the armor, just before Black pulls the rug nearly from underneath us with a touching final few minutes.
Black has assembled the best cast of the series, allowing A+-listers Pearce and Kingsley to roam the canvas without letting their performances overshadow everyone else. Some fans of the comics might be outraged at the way which The Mandarin is portrayed, but don't let that sour your opinion of Kingsley's performance. There's a reason why he's got a 'Sir' at the beginning of his name. Pearce is a proven show-stopper, and his scenes with Downey are few but highly-effective. Composer Brian Tyler (Transformers: Prime) finally gives old Tin Head a worthy theme and lets it ride throughout the picture like the proud stallion that it is. Don't get me wrong, there's a few nagging practical issues with the film, but its story of renewal and redemption is too powerful to ignore. There's a finality here that might put-off fans hoping to see Downey in future editions; but even with his future (and contract renewal) under debate, Black does the series right by effectively tying up almost every loose end, just in case we've seen the last of Downey. IM3 isn't just about putting great people together to make a memorable film: Marvel proves once again that it's not afraid to rip up what we know about its characters to give us great cinema. In playing the resurrection card, Marvel has unapologetically reinvented the very nature of superhero films into a genre that's entertaining and simply fun to watch.
Iron Man 3 represents an unexpected opening move for Marvel's Phase Two, reinventing the genre by delivering an exciting and well-built entry to kick off Summer 2013. It proves you can make great trailers and TV spots without giving away everything. You're strongly encouraged to catch this in IMAX or at least pony up the extra cash for better sound. And while not perfect, it will more than satisfy, proving Marvel's heart is really a Tony Stark Arc Reactor. Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13 for adult situations and has a runtime of 130 minutes.
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