Friday, May 17, 2013

Iron Man 3: The Man Inside The Suit

After the worldwide success of The Avengers, Marvel launches “Phase 2” of its shared universe superhero saga with Iron Man 3. Tony Stark is still haunted by the aftermath of the alien invasion depicted in that super-team adventure. He’s been experiencing panic attacks and throwing himself into his work, making improvements to the Iron Man armor. Tony’s also been ignoring his personal relationships, including his romance with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s concerned for his well-being. While he battles his inner demons, a villain named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has initiated a series of bombings, and has the authorities baffled; there’s no forensic evidence at the attack sites.

A thread running through all the Iron Man films is the consequences of the sins of Stark’s past. This time, a scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, excellent in the role), whom Tony rebuffed and embarrassed back in his playboy/jerk days, returns with an offer for Stark Industries: they can invest in his new technology, Extremis, which helps re-grow the limbs of injured soldiers, restoring their mobility. Pepper is concerned that the technology could be used to create invincible human weapons, and turns him down, though Killian seems unwilling to take no for an answer. Meanwhile, Tony’s security chief, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is injured in one of The Mandarin’s attacks, pulling Stark out of his tailspin. He calls out the terrorist, challenging him to come after him personally; a decision that has tragic results. In the aftermath of a fiery battle, Tony’s home is destroyed, and the world believes Iron Man/Stark is dead.

But our hero is still alive (no huge spoiler there) and has to recover so he can return to defeat The Mandarin and save the day. As Tony investigates, he finds out there may be ties between the bombings and the Extremis technology. The Mandarin has escalated his attacks, and is now threatening to go after the President. While his friend James Rhodes aka War Machine (Don Cheadle) and now renamed the Iron Patriot, tries to protect our Commander-In-Chief, Tony discovers the truth behind The Mandarin’s plans. It will take all his strength and wits (along with help from some unlikely sources) to defeat the villain’s scheme and save the day. But this is as much a story about the inner strength of the man inside the suit (and what makes him a hero) as it is about Iron Man, the superhero.

Iron Man 3 is more consistent in tone than the second installment, which had some good ideas, but had almost too much plot, and tended to overemphasize silly comedy, with Robert Downey, Jr. overdoing the negative aspects of Stark’s personality. This film has more in common with the first movie, where Tony actually learned some hard lessons, and the character grew & developed over the course of the film. In this story, Tony realizes that he’s the true heart & soul of Iron Man, who’s much more than just a suit of armor. It’s his own inner strength that allows him to be a hero. In a way, we see the end of the journey Tony Stark began in the first movie; he’s a grown up now, not just a playboy genius with a lot of cool toys.

Director/co-writer Shane Black (best known for writing Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout and also directing Downey, Jr. in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) brings his flair for kinetic action sequences & sharp dialogue to the forefront in the film. The special effects & technical wizardy are also first rate. As always, the cast is wonderful, with Downey, Jr., Paltrow & Cheadle in fine form. It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Robert Downey, Jr. in the role. He has truly made it his own, and the reason we care so much about the character is that his performance is so good, He’s also got wonderful romantic chemistry with Paltrow; the two make a fine team.

Iron Man 3 is a fast-moving story that still takes time to develop its themes, and adds in some welcome humor, but not at the expense of the characters, which was often the case in Iron Man 2. This is a fun, action-filled summer movie with some real heart at its core. There are some interesting twists & turns to the plot, and some significant changes to the Iron Man comics mythology, which might bother some hardcore fans. It will be interesting to see where they take the character next in the Marvel films. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in this review; this one’s worth checking out on the big screen. As always with Marvel movies, make sure to stay all the way through the end credits for an extra scene.

Iron Man 3 is now in theaters in 2-D, 3-D and in IMAX. Here’s a link to the trailer:

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