Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2.
Iron Man 3.
At over $1.2 billion, Iron Man 3 is the 5th highest grossing film of all time. That's nothing to sneeze at, even if the bulk of its success is possibly owed to being Marvel's first post-Avengers movie in the Cinematic Universe. Either way, the movie proved to be a hit with the casual movie-going audience but divisive among the more hardcore comic book fans. Which group is right?
If Rotten Tomatoes is any guide, the first Iron Man movie scored a tremendous 93% rating, Iron Man 3 came away with a 78% rating,and Iron Man 2 underwhelmed with a 73% score. This just so happens to be exactly the order that I would rank the trilogy. I'll admit, after first seeing the midnight premiere of Iron Man 3 on opening night, I walked out annoyed, confused, and flat-out pissed. And that's coming from someone with, I admit, little to no knowledge of the comics! On subsequent viewings, however, I managed to enjoy the movie a little more, despite its many flaws. But believe me, there are a lot.
Despite my opinion changing from completely hating the movie to somewhat tolerating it, nothing changes the fact that Iron Man 3 simply did not work, from a pure story-telling point of view. Here's why.
What Iron Man 3 did wrong:
1) The tone.
Let's get this out of the way right now: movies don't have to be dark, depressing, or super serious in order to be entertaining or relevant. Most people use the argument that if it's not, then it's childish or a bad movie. That's just wrong on so many levels. However, on the other hand, a light-hearted, jokey, hilarious tone doesn't guarantee that the actual movie will be any good either. The Dark Knight trilogy proves that more serious takes on comic book movies can work very successfully, while most of Marvel's movies show how more colorful, less serious comic book adaptations can be a surefire hit with audiences as well.
Having said that...the tone that director Shane Black went for with Iron Man 3 is a huge reason why this movie doesn't work. It's almost like a bunch of Marvel big-shot executives gathered in a room before starting production on the movie and asked themselves: "What did The Avengers do so well that will work for future Marvel movies?" Guaranteed, at the top of the list were the words "As many hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments as we can fit into the script!"
Now, I'm not saying movies aren't allowed to be funny and laid-back. Heck, it's an Iron Man movie, and some of Tony Stark's definable characteristics are his snarky attitude, snappy one-liners, and top-notch dialogue. So of course this movie should be full of great, hilarious, enjoyable moments. My problem is that these moments came every five minutes, whether they were necessary to the scene or not. In fact, most of these moments ruined any sense of danger we might have otherwise felt for the characters. One scene in particular sums this up perfectly.
Later in the movie, Tony is captured by Killian and tied up in a room with two armed guards watching him. Tony's only hope for escape is to call his Mark 42 suit piece by piece, from Tennessee all the way to Florida. Rather than making it subtle so that the rescue would come at a complete surprise to the audience (and to the thugs guarding him, too), Stark has to make a big, theatrical, over the top attempt at calling the suit while giving absurd warnings to his guards to let him go and then surrender themselves. He also hams it up with a half-dozen or so failed countdowns, just for good measure, all while the guards stand there with typical, cliche', cheesy disbelieving bad-guy attitudes.
Would it have been so hard to cut a few of those annoying countdowns out? Or how about that 10 minute scene where Tony happens to run into the world's biggest and most obnoxious Tony Stark fan in the broadcasting van? Maybe spend all that wasted time on more important scenes. For me, these scenes are the perfect embodiment of ruining any and all sense of danger for the sake of a few laughs.
After all, if the main character won't take any difficult situation seriously, why should the audience? Why be invested in a character that, as a result of the tone, is pretty much invincible to danger, despair, injury, or any harm whatsoever?
2) The theme.
I'll admit, the movie did a great job of wrapping up the trilogy and bringing Tony's personal journey full-circle, even if I don't agree with how they went about it. But ignoring that for now, I wouldn't even be bringing this topic up if the filmmakers hadn't made such an obvious effort to work the entire movie around the theme, rather than the other way around. What do I mean? Well, let's start from the beginning.
Initially, the theme establishes itself well enough. Early on, we're introduced to Tony suffering from a sort of PTSD stemming from the events in The Avengers. Forced to face the fact that he's just one man with a suit in a world filled with demi-gods, aliens, and other dimensions, Tony turns to building a ridiculous number of suits in order to distract him. Again, great premise, but it just goes south from there.
For one thing, the movie goes out of its way to throw the theme in every viewer's face. Look at the official plot synopsis for Iron Man 3: "...Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?" What other movie spells out its main theme almost a whole year before it's even released?
At one point, Pepper tells Tony that his suits are simply a distraction. From that point on, it seems the movie exists purely for the sake of contradicting Tony and proving him wrong. Once again, rather than choosing the subtle route, they had to make sure this theme was as in your face as possible.
The most ridiculous part of this is the fact that, despite throwing that theme out there at every possible point, they still end up going back on it and negating the entire theme of the movie at the end. How, you ask?
You don't have to look any further than the first scene of the whole movie. It starts with a flashforward of Tony's suits blowing up in the Malibu mansion attack. This ominous imagery hammers home the idea that a major part of the movie will be made up of Tony solving problems and facing down enemies without the help of most his suits. The movie stays true to this promise...until the most climactic, pivotal, and action-packed sequence in the film, when Tony calls in every...single...suit...that he's made in the time between The Avengers and Iron Man 3.
I mean, after making such a big deal about Tony having to learn to do things without the help of his suits, the writers resort to having Tony call in the most amount of suits we've ever seen at once in an Iron Man movie. So does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit? I'm getting confused here. Don't get me wrong, it was a great scene. It blows away the final battles in each of the previous films, but it's just mind-boggling that the writers would negate their own theme in the most important scene of the movie.
3) Tony becoming isolated and left on his own.
The issues with the theme wouldn't be so excruciating, if only it didn't feel so forced. It went so far as to actually dictate the events taking place in the movie rather than letting the story flow and feel smooth and natural. Let me explain.
Another layer of this theme was to get Tony isolated, metaphorically getting him back into that Afghan cave from the first movie: alone, surrounded by enemies, with only his intellect to save him, rather than his suits. Wonderful idea on the writer's part. Brilliant, even. It brings back elements of the first movie while still remaining its own thing. Awesome.
But executing this idea left a lot to be desired.
Apparently, the only way to achieve the isolation theme was for JARVIS, Tony's incredibly powerful Artificial Intelligence 'butler' to conveniently malfunction during the Malibu mansion attack, idiotically use the Rosehill, Tennessee flight plan he filed 2 scenes earlier (which becomes completely irrelevant once the Mandarin attacks Tony's freaking house) and simply fly an unconscious Tony away to an isolated location.
Could the writers have picked a more lame way for Tony to be left on his own? I'm not saying the Malibu mansion attack wasn't good; on the contrary, it was one of the best action sets in the movie. And in the underwater scene, Tony's suit detaching its glove, turning around, and pulling Tony from under all the debris was awesome to see...except JARVIS certainly didn't seem to be malfunctioning then. But then immediately after this, he freaks out and inexplicably flies Tony thousands of miles away?
Would the entire "malfunctioning JARVIS" storyline have happened if the theme didn't call for some way for Tony to be isolated and left on his own without any help? The answer is no, simply because the writers needed an incredibly convenient reason to do so. In this case, the events of the movie didn't dictate the theme, as it should. It was the other way around, which is lazy writing at its worst.
4) Those 'panic attacks.'
This is probably one of the most eye roll-inducing parts of the movie. In the past, I've argued that the reason Tony gets his panic attacks makes no sense: after being captured by terrorists in Afghanistan, having an electromagnet shoved in his chest, going through a harrowing escape from the caves, seeing his trusted life-long friend and business partner betray him, having to go through Daddy/alcohol issues, fending off attacks by Justin Hammer and Whiplash...none of these are traumatic enough to warrant anxiety attacks? Going through a wormhole in The Avengers is?
Now, I suppose his issues go deeper than that. It has more to do with the fact that he suddenly exists in a universe filled with demi-gods, aliens, superheroes and villains...and he's just a man in a suit with almost no control of the situation. I guess I can buy that, although when compared to what Tony's gone through already, it's really a stretch.
My issue is with how the panic attacks are portrayed. Tony is doing fine one second, but the instant a little kid who looks like Ralphie from A Christmas Story mentions the wormhole, Tony freaks out. When Harley even comes close to mentioning New York, Tony starts breathing heavily and feels the need to run away.
This seems like the most Hollywood-ized, most over-simplified portrayal of PTSD or anxiety attacks that I've ever seen. Frankly, it just wasn't convincing. It comes across as a very haphazard, unnecessary attempt at making The Avengers more relevant and more serious than it really was. I can go along with Tony having trouble sleeping or even having nightmares of his experiences in New York, but having Stark suffer through weird, random panic attacks and then not even acknowledge the important turning point when the attacks finally stop, that smells of a huge oversight by the filmmakers.
5) The ending.
One of the most confusing aspects of this movie was the decision to have a nice, convenient, clean ending that completely disregarded what had gone on before earlier in the movie and in the trilogy as a whole. What I'm referring to is that short, tidy montage sequence that didn't explain anything and yet still managed to miraculously cure Pepper of her Extremis affliction and Tony of his shrapnel injury.
Tony Stark has been dealing with that injury for over 4 movies and 8 hours of screen time, and it's established pretty early on that it's a huge part of his development. It's near unforgivable that Shane Black chose to gloss over what should have been an incredibly important moment for the character and instead nonchalantly relegate it to a 2 minute montage tacked on at the very end of the movie.
My biggest issue with this is that it's somewhat of a game-changer in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pepper being inexplicably cured of Extremis and Tony somehow getting rid of the shrapnel and his electromagnet set a very unfortunate precedent. If something as big and crucial to the movie as Extremis, and something so important to Tony Stark's character such as his heart injury, can both be quickly negated, glossed over, and swept under the rug in a matter of minutes, what does that mean for future plot developments in other movies that are even more important?
Perhaps we've already seen the start of this, with Agent Coulson's death in The Avengers playing such a crucial role and yet being brought back in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD television series. If that's the case, this is a trend in Marvel movies that will lead to a lesser quality of plot, characters, and character development.
6) The Mandarin.
Before people start flipping out and accuse me of beating a dead horse, understand that I'm not including this because maybe I loved the Mandarin character from the comics and changes from the character aren't allowed no matter what. I didn't. As I said earlier, I only have a very limited comic book background. So no fanboy rage here, no butthurt-ness, nothing like that.
The problem comes from how the decision to deal with the Mandarin was handled. Every trailer for the movie had tons of lines and footage from the character that never even came close to making it into the movie. Posters and other promotional material had Ben Kingsley's character front and center. So all those extra lines and footage were just put there to further deceive us? The filmmakers went out of their way to intentionally fool the audience, and that type of blatant dishonesty is insulting.
The plot twist itself didn't leave me with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that a huge summer movie still has the 'magic' and 'intelligence' to completely fool the audience. Seeing the "Mandarin" come out of the bathroom making fart jokes, drinking beer, falling asleep mid-sentence...it left me feeling empty and angry that yet another aspect of the movie sacrificed intensity, potential plot points, and a pretty iconic actor for the sake of a needless plot twist and a few more cheap laughs.
But moving beyond personal opinions, the biggest shame is that the movie could have functioned exactly the same without the plot twist. Sure, the reason given by director Shane Black about Aldrich Killian needing the world distracted by a public figure in order to work behind the scenes seems legitimate, but is it? No additional information is given that Killian absolutely needed to put that much time, effort, and money into such a massive deception. This suggests that, rather than being essential to the story, the plot twist was present in the movie simply for the sake of having a plot twist.
Was the character, as he'd been portrayed to that point, so far out of the realm of possibility in the Iron Man universe? Think about it: A tough, Osama bin Laden-type terrorist, leader of the 10 Rings organization, wages war on America. He finally makes it personal for Tony Stark and brings the fight to his literal doorstep. As Tony faces off against the terrorist mastermind, would bring his story arc full circle, knowing his previous conflicts with the very same terrorist group that had kidnapped him and essentially made him into Iron Man. I have a hard time thinking that the movie we got is better than the endless possibilities in this example, and it’s yet another nail in the coffin for why this movie simply did not work.
What Iron Man 3 Did Right:
Now, obviously this movie wasn't a complete train-wreck. Not even close. It got many things right as well, but unfortunately not enough to outweigh all of the flaws. Let's take a brief look at the strengths of the movie.
One thing Iron Man 3 did very well was the foreshadowing of major events later on in the story. Repeat viewings helped me pick up on little details that I missed on the first try, such as the Mandarin talking about how fake, hollow, and full of lies fortune cookies are. He goes on to say that fortune cookies are an American invention that has very little to do with actual Chinese culture.
This should sound familiar, because this pretty much describes the Mandarin himself. The Mandarin character, as invented by Killian, is just a smokescreen, a distraction. It's hollow, apparently of Chinese origins, and ultimately not what it seems to be.
Later on, when Tony reconstructs the crime scene of the first Extremis soldier explosion that injures Happy Hogan, he briefly comments to himself about how there's a lot of over the top pageantry, a lot of theater involved with how the Mandarin talks, acts, and even with how he's named (Mandarin apparently is an ancient Chinese warmantle meaning 'Adviser to the King).
Although I disagree with how the Mandarin was used in the movie, it's hard not to look back and be impressed by the little hints and allusions to the fact that something different was going on behind the scenes.
2) The action scenes.
What this movie lacked in coherent themes, proper tone, and logic, it certainly made up for with thrilling action sequences. One that clearly comes to mind is the Malibu mansion attack, which involves Tony sending his Mark 42 armor onto Pepper to protect her, taking it back in order to dish out a little revenge, and ultimately falling into the ocean along with his house and possessions. Only the quick thinking of JARVIS saves Tony, as he detaches one of the suit's gloves and pulls Tony out from under the debris.
The scenes in Tennessee, where a suit-less Stark evades capture from a couple of Extremis agents is also pretty fun, as well as the scene in Florida where Tony invades the Mandarin's estate with the use of his homemade devices. These are the scenes that embody the theme of Tony using his intelligence, wits, and resourcefulness in order to defeat his enemies.
The ending climactic battle goes without saying, but I suppose I have to include the Air Force One rescue scene in this section as well. The scene itself is full of top-notch visuals, great CGI, and a true sense of danger and concern for the safety of the civilians. Unfortunately, even this action sequence is undercut and ruined when it's revealed that Tony never was in the suit in the first place. He was needlessly remote-controlling the suit from a safe location.
Upon looking back, I have to ask myself why I was so invested in the scene in the first place. Obviously Tony was never in any real danger, so I guess I was rooting for an unmanned drone to save all those anonymous extras that we don't care about. What was the point of Tony remote-controlling the sui anyway? He’d never done that in any other dangerous action scene, and it’s not like Tony suddenly decided this operation would be too risky. Was this yet another instance of the filmmakers flinging something into the story simply for the “wow” factor? Once again, the film succeeds in destroying any sense of real danger and excitement by throwing in a few laughs or two as we watch the empty suit get smashed by a truck and fall apart like Legos for what feels like the hundredth time.
But technically the scene itself was well-done, so I'll somewhat begrudgingly include the mid-air rescue scene in this category.
3) The characters.
The biggest strength of this movie is the characters, ranging from Tony and Pepper and Harley all the way to Killian, Maya Hansen, and Happy Hogan. Tony gets some of the best dialogue we've seen so far, possibly surpassing some of his great lines from The Avengers.
But it's his interactions with the other characters that are truly a joy to watch. His conflicts with Pepper, his troubled history with Maya Hansen and Killian, and of course his friendship with Happy Hogan all fuel the plot and provide an extra layer of urgency in everything that happens.
In fact, it's Happy Hogan that unexpectedly fills the role of emotional center of the movie. Seeing him strutting around Stark Industries with an air of superiority as a result of his new security position is hilarious while also making him very relevant to the early developments of the story. When he's seriously injured in the Extremis explosion, this causes the conflict to become personal for Tony and paves the way for him to (idiotically) give out his address, have his home attacked, and then become isolated in Tennessee.
It's safe to say that the special attention paid to the characters (the cameo by Yinsen at the conference in Switzerland was fantastic) helped save this movie almost singlehandedly.
Maybe Iron Man 3 wasn't the worst movie in the world, as I thought when I walked out after seeing the movie for the first time. Another viewing or two helped settle my irrational feelings of anger and disappointment to the extent that I am now somewhat able to enjoy most of the movie.
However, I still have to stick with my initial reaction. While there are plenty of strengths and great scenes, the rest of the movie is bogged down by ridiculous character actions, head-scratching decisions made by the writers and director, and a general sense of missed opportunities. For these reasons, I have to say that Iron Man 3 just did not work. Agree? Disagree? Have at it and sound off below!