Iron Man 3 (2013)
Film review #348
Director: Shane Black
SYNOPSIS: Tony Stark is suffering from the trauma he experienced during the alien invasion in New York. and is burying himself in his work, much to the dismay of those around him. When Happy, his friend and head of security for Stark Industries, is seriously injured in a bomb attack orchestrated by a terrorist who calls himself “The Mandarin”. Stark calls him out and decides to track him down, but The Mandarin comes to him, destroying his home and work, leaving him on the run and having to find a way to fix his suit and take down The Mandarin before he takes him out…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Iron Man 3 is a 2013 superhero film part of the marvel cinematic universe. The film takes place after the events of The Avengers, where Tony Stark (or Iron Man) had to travel through a wormhole that opened above New York City to close it and stop an alien invasion. the whole experience has left him suffering with anxiety about what happened, and is avoiding confronting it by not sleeping and burying himself in his work, much to the dismay of his now girlfriend Pepper Potts. Meanwhile, Pepper herself is busy running Stark Industries when she is approached by Aldrich Killian, who wants to work with Stark Industries to develop his “extremis” virus, which enhances the human body’s capabilities in every way. Potts turns him down over fears the technology could be weaponised, but Happy Hogan, the chief of security, finds him and his bodyguard suspicious. He follows the bodyguard to a meeting where he exchanges a briefcase with someone, only to find that the guy is a suicide bomber, who detonates and leaves Happy serious injured in hospital. A terrorist known as the Mandarin claims responsibility for the attack, as well as several others that have taken place recently, and Stark takes notice, calling him out and warning him that he is going to stop him. Stark’s hubris results in the Mandarin destroying his home and Stark to go into hiding, with only his own wits to re-build his suit and stop mandarin.
After the large scale, superhero adventure of The Avengers, it would be very difficult to top that with another Iron Man film without any of the other characters. Iron Man 3 pulls this off by making the plot a more down-to-earth story free of aliens or other over-the-top sci-fi elements, so it doesn’t need to compete with its predecessor. Stark’s anxiety over the events of The Avengers means that any discussion of those events or continuation of that story are actively avoided, as Stark cannot deal with the memories. This could have been just a cheap plot device to overlook previous events, but it is weaved into the story well, and provides a new and significant obstacle for Stark to overcome. We don’t really get to see just what it is that Stark is haunted by in detail, but the whole concept of anxiety is that it does not have to be directed at a specific object or event. There’s not really much of a resolution to this element of the story, and it doesn’t feel like he really overcomes it, more that it just disappears and becomes a non-issue. Still, it’s not too much of a problem.
The rest of the characters also put in a good performance, with returning characters building on their established roles and having a bigger role in Stark’s life, showing him that he doesn’t have to do things alone. Pepper Potts is a strong character who switches roles with Stark throughout, especially in terms of which one of them needs saving: sometimes it’s Stark that needs saving from himself, other times it’s Potts that needs rescuing, and it all balances out so that neither of them fall into a well-worn character trope. Colonel Rhodes also returns as the Iron Patriot, and holds Tony’s feet to the fire in terms of his responsibilities. The new characters however, do not enjoy that same development. Maya Hansen, the scientist who helped develop extremis, has an uneven role that is set up strongly in the beginning, and who fades into obscurity mid-way through. Although she comes to Stark for help in stopping Aldrich Killian, it turns out she is still working for him, and gets Pepper kidnapped. When Stark is also kidnapped, it only takes around two sentences from him in order for her to change her mind and try to free him, for which Killian kills her. Apparently their was some re-writing done for the film which gave a lot of her role to Killian, and it definitely shows, as her role becomes pretty much redundant. The extremis soldier Brandt also apparently had much of her role given to another character, both of these decisions due to executives fearing that having female characters in such prominent roles would impact action figure or merchandising sales. This is a serious detriment to the film, as characters are built up and dropped without seemingly good reason, further diminishing their characters. The one new character which provides a worthwhile contribution is surprisingly the kid who finds Stark when he crashes after his house is destroyed. His character is pretty bland and full of typical tropes such as being bullied and an outcast, but thankfully his part isn’t overplayed, and is on screen just long enough to serve it’s purpose. Not an overly interesting character, but not an overly annoying one either.
The story has a few twists and turns that keep things interesting, although some of them don’t really have too much consequence, such as Hansen’s betrayal. The film is paced very well, and there’s a mixture of humour, drama and action that keeps things fresh and entertaining. The climax of the film involving all of Stark’s suits being A.I. piloted and having him jump in and out of them is a typical, flashy comic book sequence that doesn’t disappoint, and is in keeping with Stark’s over-the-top character. The main villain isn’t all that special, but that’s a long standing issue with these films. Overall, Iron Man 3 is an entertaining film that manages to lift the weight and story of its predecessors to make a stripped down hero vs villain story without losing the elements that make the character so loved. It firmly places itself within an established universe while also keeping it self-contained. The balance between action, drama and humour is well paced so there’s no real lull in the storytelling, and it still manages to impress with busy and flashy spectacles that also develop its well-established characters. There’s a number of issues around some of the character’s roles being muddled and ultimately redundant, with some being given intense focus in the beginning only to disappear without significance later on. These problems don’t spoil the film too much though, and I would say it surpasses Iron Man 2 with ease.
The Avengers (2012)
Film review #337
dir. Joss Whedon
SYNOPSIS: While S.H.I.E.L.D. is performing experiments on an object known as the tesseract, a potential source of unlimited energy, it is stolen by Loki, a demi-god who wishes to use it’s power to subjugate the human race. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles a team of heroes to counter this new threat to Earth, but first they must learn to work together before they can take on Loki…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Avengers (or Marvel’s The Avengers or Marvel Avengers Assemble) is a 2012 superhero film that is the culmination of the first series of films establishing the marvel cinematic universe. The previous films mostly dealt with the origins of the characters, while also providing hints about how they will fit into the wider universe. This film has the aim of bringing all these different superheroes together, with their own unique presence, powers, and personalities, and devising a way for them to work together as a team. It is certainly an ambitious project to cross-over all these different worlds and stories, requires a balance to get right with regards to using each character effectively.
The film starts off showing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency conducting experiments on an object called “the tesseract”, which played a part in the Captain America film and briefly shown in the Thor film. They are trying to harness its power to produce a limitless source of energy. It suddenly springs to life and opens up a portal through which Loki, the antagonist from Thor, emerges. He takes control of the minds of a number of personnel, and escapes the facility with the tesseract. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., recognises the severity of the situation, and calls upon the various heroes to track down Loki and the tesseract. The film introduces each of the characters individually, so they are each explored on their own terms and their personal motivations are established firmly. The story structure is fairly standard, with a clear three-act structure that flows as you would expect, but there’s plenty of humour, action and story packed into them that the film nevertheless gives you everything you need. With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, it’s a long one, but every scene is worthwhile in some way, and it could have probably got away with being even longer because there is so much potential with these characters and setting.
The characters have already been established through the previous films, primarily dealing with their origins and motivations that make them heroes. Even if you haven’t seen all of them, you get a pretty good idea of who they are and what drives the. Captain America comes across a heroic soldier who comes up with a strategy for battle, Iron Man/Stark is the guy with the resources who deflects criticism with his humour. Banner/The Hulk is the smarts who is also an unpredictable element, and Thor is a demi-God out to stop his Brother. Black Widow/Romanoff and Hawkeye/Barton did not have their own films, but appeared in the others so they are somewhat established, but Romanoff especially gets a lot to do in the film to firmly develop her role in the group. Each of the heroes is a big personality, so initially have a hard time finding their feet working together in a group, and it’s fun watching everything come together. The death of agent Coulson, who played a big part in bringing everyone together, is an emotional scene that gives everyone motivation to work with each other, and gives the team a unifying purpose. I think the only character that could have done with more development is Loki, whose motivations are a bit muddled, and his role in a larger scheme is left very ambiguous. In one sense, it works because Loki has a specific goal (to rule Earth) and is a simple one so that the heroes can do what they do best and stop him without too many complications. Loki being used by a bigger evil is also obviously meant to set up future films, but I felt like it could have done with being a bit more clearer. But again theres a flip side, as developing this background more may have distracted from Loki being a focal point and a credible villain, so there’s a fine balancing act that is being struck here. As a standout performance, I enjoyed the portrayal of Bruce Banner/The Hulk as a skittish scientist who everyone also has to be really careful around so he doesn’t transform and pulverise them.
Even though the story is quite simple, the film as a whole is certainly not lacking in ambition and scope. The final battle covers a significant portion of Manhattan, with a full-scale alien invasion tearing through skyscrapers and the streets of New York City. Superheroes in NYC again is hardly a novel phenomenon (which the film itself pokes fun at with a Stan Lee cameo), but perhaps that’s very much intentional: The Avengers is not attempting to differentiate itself from other superhero films by trying something new and different, but by outdoing every other film in the genre on its home turf; taking all these established tropes and concepts and executing them in such a way that no other film could compete. In short, it becomes the definitive superhero film. The level of destruction is unparalleled, the production makes it feel like a comic book film full of colour and dynamic shots and poses, and there’s some gloriously over-the-tops moments while also retaining plenty of humanity. The film does have some faults as I mentioned, and doesn’t push the envelope in terms of finding a new angle to develop or evolve the genre, but it is an ambitious project that pays off through balancing a colourful cast of characters with large-scale action and an interweaving of stories to create an entertaining tapestry that solidifies itself as the apex of the genre.