Films We’ve Watched: Iron Man 3

2 May

Following two successful Iron Man films and an almost universally applauded Avengers movie is no easy task, and there are few in Hollywood who could realistically handle the challenge. This project was riddled with potential landmines and missteps. After three major films, and a few minor appearances, the Iron Man character approaches overexposure, and might have easily slipped into tired, rehashed superhero drudgery.

However, the relentlessly witty combination of one of Hollywood’s most clever, one-liner laced writer/directors (Shane Black) and its fastest talking, most frenetically-paced actor makes for one of the sharpest scripts in years. The result is nothing less than a screen full of exploding awesome-bombs, and one of the most over-the-top action sequences ever to end a movie. We’re left with what is arguably the best solo Iron Man movie to date.

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 follows the action franchise genre’s current trend (The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall) of showing its hero having ascended to the lonely peak of their powers, only to ruthlessly strip them of all frivolities and crutches and watch them claw their way back up. The Stark we see at the beginning of the film is not the triumphant, self-assured savior of man that we’re accustomed to. Rather, he sits firmly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He is a shell shocked, anxiety riddled version of his former self, suffering from night terrors and flashbacks of his brush with death in New York (Avengers), and the unshakeable knowledge that he is no longer the greatest power in the ‘verse capable of protecting what and who he loves. We see his cocky smirk stretched thin with the weight of real fear. He is haunted by the demons of his past and impending future.

One of these demons takes the form of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a man stilted by Stark in his former days of self-serving dispassion. Pearce plays the stereotypical former ugly-duck nerd turned scientific swan who still harbors resentment for the high school bully who swirlied him 13 years ago. He’s a competently performed character, and a crucial story element, but his transition from a socially-inept, hygiene deprived elevator salesman to charming playboy equivalent of Tony Stark may be the one abrupt and unwieldy flaw in an otherwise interesting story. His 2-dimensional nature fails to capture the imagination, and he never quite seems to recover.

The more interesting threat looms in the form of The Mandarin, a Bin Laden-esque terrorist with a prophet complex. A mysterious shadow figure and puppet master apparent, The Mandarin lurks quietly out of frame for most of the film. The perfectly cast Ben Kingsley doesn’t get as much screen time as he merits, but still manages to deliver some of the best moments of the whole movie.

Tony Stark

Ultimately, the most engaging conflict, as is often the case, is the hero’s internal contention against himself. Tony is unique in the Marvel pantheon, in that he is not accustomed to struggle. He has always been the king of the mountain. Even at his lowest, he was always just one quick invention and a few million bucks from owning the top link in the food chain. But, in the post-Avengers universe, he is definitively and permanently not that. Now he lives in a world of gods, hulks, and malevolent other-dimensional monsters that are beyond his ability to comprehend or compete with. He finally feels the weight of vulnerability, and he cracks under the pressure. So he deals with it the only way knows how; he builds, he tinkers, he obsesses. He loses himself in his work like a speed-infused Howard Hughes, desperately trying to regain some sense of control.

Watching a character we have come to equate with unyielding confidence reduced to the same petty self-doubt that we imagine to be unique to ourselves is, perhaps, more fearsome and fascinating than any mustache-twisting movie villain could be. Shane and Downey bring us to the brittle edge of what we thought was an unshakeable psyche and let us revel in the view as we watch Tony attempt to crawl back up from the cliff and onto his own two feet.

And so this movie is about the Iron Man, thrown from the suit, beaten, and brought low, until the only person that can save him is Tony Stark.

– Blake

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