Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

I saw the third movie in the Iron Man series today, in iMax 3d.  My recommendation (for those who haven’t seen it) before the cut, and a spoiler-laden evaluation after the cut.

If you aren’t sure whether to see this movie:

I cannot unequivocally recommend this movie in general.  I loved the first two in the series, and I think this one drops the ball pretty hard when it comes to the story, which basically makes no sense.  However, the two most important things about the franchise: the CGI superhero action and the humor – are both still intact.
Its special effects top those of the first two films, and nearly teeter into the realm of being impossible to follow.  Fortunately, director Shane Black (taking the reins from Jon Favreau, who still reprises his role as Happy Hogan) keeps things in control just enough to allow the viewer to keep up with the action – barely.  In contrast to the unintelligible mess Michael Bay made of the Transformers fight sequences, these are still downright clear.  The choreography of the action sequences is certainly exciting, but they strain believability much more than the previous films.

There’s actually more humor in this film than the previous two, but I get the feeling that is more because certain scenes are written specifically to be funny.  A lot of throwaway lines and improvisational feel throughout the other movies is reduced here, and replaced with separate chunks of humor that were trying too hard to be funny in the script, but are gamely salvaged by the cast’s talent.

"Wait, what's the name of that thing I don't give?  Oh yeah, it's fucks."

It actually reminds me of a lot of standard 80’s movies, especially with the “buddy cop” scenes between Tony and Rhodey, and an extended section in the middle where Tony makes a new friend.  I assume that’s Black’s influence, given that he made the original Lethal Weapon.

The big mistake the film makes is that it consciously decides to throw all links to reality to the wayside.  The creators correctly observed that one of the keys to the success of the previous Marvel movies was keeping the characters emotionally grounded and relatable (and this movie more than any other tries to focus on the hero as a person), but they missed the lesson about grounding the rest of the movie in the real world.  In the first two, you could almost believe that Iron Man could exist in our world if someone just invented an arc reactor and some repulsors.  That aspect saved the other Marvel movies from the typical superhero movie pitfall of seeming cheesy, staged, and “just for geeks”.  It is completely thrown out the window here.  Iron Man 3 constantly tries its best to break the viewers suspension of disbelief, taking liberties with physics, logic, and the resilience of the human body that create a distraction and make it more difficult to enjoy the movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I love over-the-top action and impossible stunts.  I couldn’t get enough of the final sequence of The Avengers and I am one of the few who actually loves FF7: Advent Children.  However, there are ways to do that insane level of action without just shattering the rules of that world (see The Avengers or the Dark Knight movies), and Iron Man 3 fails in that regard, sacrificing all believability for the coolness factor.  It’s up to each viewer whether they thought that was a worthwhile sacrifice.  I’m just glad that in giving up the realism at the root of the franchise, they at least got something in return.

Taken as a whole, I’d say the movie is entertaining and worth seeing, if you are willing to totally turn off your brain (which I often am).  Otherwise, you’ll be distracted by the nonsensical story path, the constant breaking of the most basic laws of physics and the human body, Tony’s impossible athleticism, and the many out-of character decisions the writers had the characters make in order to force the story down a certain path.