Thursday 2 May 2013

A113Animation Assemble: Iron Man 3 Group Review

I've already offered up my extensive thoughts on Marvel's first entry into Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (check out the review here), but I'm not Lotso and this isn't a dictatorship, so it's time the full A113Animation team weighed in on Iron Man 3.

The Shane Black-directed film is in UK cinemas now and opens Stateside on Friday, so now seems as good a time as any for the Avengers of the animation world to assemble to offer up our collaborate, spoiler-free-ish, thoughts on the steel-clad threequel. Obviously, although we agree on some aspects of the film, we disagree on others, so please do enjoy the range of opinions!

The reviews are split into four sections: Story, Direction/Acting, Comparison to Phase 1 films, and Phase 2 thoughts. For your reading pleasure, reviewers are identified by Iron Man-themed colours, Munir is Iron Man red, Damien is Iron Patriot blue, Nadine is Pepper Potts orange and I'm Mandarin green.


So, after The Avengers became a wild success and closed out the first phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, here comes Iron Man 3 to kick off Phase Two. After tepid reactions to Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3 needed to be both a better sequel to that film and also a successful successor to The Avengers. After watching the film, I can say that, despite some gripes, the film manages to accomplish both fates while also being a very entertaining movie in its own right.
I won’t go into many story details, but I can tell you that this Iron Man is darker than previous outings. That’s not to say it’s Dark Knight levels of dark, but within Marvel’s films universe, it is. Here we don’t have the overconfident, egoistical Tony Stark from previous movies, but rather a more grounded and scared man. After the events of The Avengers and his brush with death, Tony is suffering panic attacks and insomnia, causing him to dedicate all his time to perfecting his various Iron Man suits. His relationship with Pepper isn't at its best either, and he's spending a lot of time alone. But, when a new terrorist called “The Mandarin” is threatening the country and the world, he has to return to action to save the world and what he cares about most.

It's easy to see what screenwriters Shane Black and Drew Pearce went for in the Iron Man 3 script. They wanted to do something different, to get Tony Stark out of his comfort zone, to have something fresh, despite the fact that it's the third film of the franchise, and the fourth apparition of Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man (following The Avengers). They probably knew they couldn't do something as big - or as good - as Joss Whedon's blockbuster, so they tried to take another route - and it's a half-success.
Indeed, it feels different. Although it deals with the aftermath of The Avengers events in Tony Stark's life, the film as a whole is full of funny, sarcastic bits and turns. Maybe too much. I think Iron Man 3 would have been a better film if they went for a darker tone, and stuck to it. That would have still been different from The Avengers (and from the two other Iron Man films, for that matter) and the impact of certain dramatic sequences would have been greater. Whereas here, at its climax, Iron Man 3 still wants to be funny, while tragic events are a strong possibility.
Sometimes the idea of being different works, on the other hand: when Tony Stark ends up in a place that you would not expect in an Iron Man movie - the story takes more time to explore the character. I also found the ending very clever, and that what they were doing with the suits was truly creative.

Pearce and Black have done absolute wonders with this story: comedy, action, a red herring and - it’s a great transition from The Avengers to the first film of Phase 2. I think Pearce has very much got the atmosphere of a Shane Black film spot on, from the cold open being narrated by Tony to the quick bouncing-off-each-other dialogue from at least four of the characters, if not more. Iron Man 3 is very witty, well-structured and full of incredible pieces of dialogue. The path the film took was very different to the assumptions I made from the trailer, which is always a good thing as it made the film, as whole, entertaining at all times.

As I detailed in my full review, I am very much a fan of Iron Man 3's story; for all its other faults and tone-inconsistencies, it is a well plotted, thoroughly entertaining and interestingly mixed film. Where the previous two films have been stereotypical superhero fare, Iron Man 3 has more tropes of an espionage film or a buddy comedy. Rhodey and Stark's quick back-and-forths are hilarious and indicative of the prowess of the well-crafted script. That's not to say there's no emotion to be found in the film though - in fact, the first half hour of the film is wrought with emotion, including our hero's very telling line "I'm just a man in a can." And the climactic house assault seen in the trailers is absolutely stunning - that's just as far as the film goes dramatically, though.

Shane Black directs Robert Downey, Jr. on the set of Iron Man 3.


Robert Downey, Jr. is always a great Tony Stark, but I felt that in the second outing he was just an extension of what was presented in the first film. Here, we have a more complex and humane character and that makes him much more investable. The rest of the cast is also great with Don Cheadle deserving praise, as I felt he made Rhodey his own in this film (something I didn't felt in the second outing). Guy Pearce is also commendable as Aldrich Killian, but I think Ben Kingsley stole the show with The Mandarin. It's obvious he was having lots of fun with the character and that translates well to the screen. Although the character's role in the film will certainly bring some controversy (especially from comic geeks). Rebecca Hall is the sole weak link in the cast, not because she isn't a good actress, but because she doesn't do anything interesting with the character.
Director Shane Black's hand is steady throughout the film as the movie moves comfortably from one action piece to the next. As all Marvel films, this one offers plenty of eye candy action-packed scenes but I have to say that some of them were truly spectacular and very exciting to watch (particularly one in the final battle). As with previous outings, humour and cynicism run rampant in the movie. Despite being darker, humour is always present in the film - sometimes overbearingly, so that takes some of the “seriousness” out of the proceedings.

A good job from director Shane Black. The pace of the film is really good, and I was never bored while watching it. The action scenes are quite exciting and don't feel chaotic. One criticism that I found was the over-reliance on big explosions - but there're still enough ideas to keep you entertained. The most bad-ass moment of the movie for me was a James Rhodes scene, interestingly enough without his Iron Patriot suit on. Oh, and bold music choice to open the movie! It should make you smile.
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, plain and simple. He sells one liners like nobody else, and it's veru hard to imagine what this franchise would be without him as the title character. A pretty solid performance by the whole cast, but I do have a problem with the villain. The Mandarin feels flat, and will not go down as a very good Marvel foe. It may actually be the worst villain in this cinematic universe. When you compare him to Loki, Red Skull, or even Iron Man 2's Whiplash, the Mandarin is very much a let down.

After three very worthy performances by Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Mans and The Avengers, Iron Man 3 features her as the best Pepper Potts yet. Paltrow really takes control of Pepper this time round, given her much larger role, making her much more likeable and providing her a lot more action. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as always, but that’s not surprising considering the role of Tony Stark is pretty much RDJ behind the camera.
There was never any doubt that Shane Black would be able to make a great Iron Man film, but I think the direction this time round feels more personal and passionate. The thing about Shane Black films is that they feel very realistic, and despite Iron Man taking place in a world where aliens have been known to attack, this film is very believable as a character story.

Something that has always been agreed upon with the Iron Man films is the quality of Robert Downey, Jr.'s acting. He's a very strong actor, and his rather publicised playboy-past clearly gives him plenty to draw on for the role. At this point, Downey, Jr. is to Iron Man what Sean Connery is to James Bond; it's going to be very difficult for Marvel to ever recast him. He and director Shane Black mesh well (evidenced by their previous collaboration, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and the shared dry, sardonic wit of both is rip-roaringly funny in Iron Man 3. Gwyneth Paltrow actually has something to do this time round, and she handles it well. Cheadle was good as Iron Patriot, and erstwhile-Iron Man director Jon Favreau was amusing as Happy Hogan. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley were both reliably slimy, too.
Black paces Iron Man 3 better than either of the previous two films, having it zip along at a frantic, exciting pace - this fits well with the aforementioned espionage feel the film has. It also well suits the film's big action scenes and its frequent comedy.

Phase 1 Comparisons:

So, how does it compare to the Phase 1 films? I think this one is better than most offerings from the previous phase; just a tad below the first Iron Man and head-to-head with Captain America. It's definitely an improvement over the second Iron Man and it's better than Thor and The Incredible Hulk. Of course the best is still The Avengers, and that film's going to be mighty difficult to surpass.

In the Iron Man movies hierarchy, I would rank Iron Man 3 higher than the 2, but lower than the original. It's far from being the best Marvel film - that spot is still The Avengers' for me, and it's going to be hard to top it - and is not even at the same level as Thor or Captain America. But it's still enjoyable, fun, and something you should see if you're a fan of superheroes and/or explosions.

Iron Man 3 seems to have a lot more heart than the first two Iron Man films. This is in no way a criticism of Jon Favreau’s direction, but Iron Man 3 feels very much like an actual adventure film because of Tony’s struggle with coping with what happened in New York. Iron Man is from earth, so the threats he has faced have been clever business rivals and terrorism, but The Avengers saw him faced with unexplained, extra-terrestrial beings. It’s no surprise Tony has been a bit shaken up after that. That's what I liked most about Iron Man 3, seeing someone who has always appeared so confident and clever actually feel nervous and frightened. Of course, it’s not long until Mr Stark is feeling better again, saving the world, etc…

Iron Man 3's better than 2, but worse than 1. Despite looking as though it was going to be part of a new, darker direction for Marvel, this is instead the most frivolous of their films. But, for what it is, it's damned fun. For the record, I'd still rather watch this than overly self-important superhero pomp like Superman Returns; Iron Man 3 is a fun, gag-filled, action-brimming blockbuster, and on that level it's an absolute triumph. Sure, it's no Avengers, but that's a film that's going to take a long time to beat; nor is it better than Captain America (my favourite non-Avengers MCU film), but it's about on par with Thor and The Incredible Hulk, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still yet to produce a clunker.

Promotional image for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which hits
 cinemas April 2014. Check out recent set photos from the film here.

Phase 2 Musings:

Phase 2 has began with a strong film and all the upcoming Marvel films will have to strive for this level of quality. I'm confident that Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are going to be great films because it's clear that Marvel knows what they’re doing with those properties.

The ending is pretty open. Phase 2 could go anywhere from here, and at this point it can only be speculation. There's no big clue to what will happen next; but it will be interesting to see with Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or even with Guardians of the Galaxy (less likely with the later) if what's happening in the final scenes of Iron Man 3 finds an echo; if there's a common theme going on through all of Phase 2... As I said, pure speculation.

Now Phase 2 has officially begun, I am looking forward to seeing everything link up again. It will be interesting to see how Thor feels after ‘New York’, especially as there is a hint in the trailer that Thor and the person behind the New York incident will be teaming up in some way. My only prediction from Iron Man 3 is that War Machine... I mean Iron Patriot, is going to have a bigger role as Tony's sidekick in the future. I'm also hoping that future post-credit scenes begin to tie in with The Avengers 2, like previous Phase 1 post-credit scenes did.

Where Phase 2 goes from here is going to be very interesting; I'm not going to spoil anything, but suffices to say that the end of Iron Man 3 raises big questions about what's going to go down in The Avengers 2. Before we get there though, we still have Thor: The Dark World to come this summer, which certainly looks more brooding and epic than the first film (although, we've seen first hand with this how misleading Marvel's advertising can be). Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my most anticipated Phase 2 films, mainly because I love Cap, but also because it's the one most linked to The Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy is a bit of a wild card: its cosmic super-team is an intriguing prospect, and it's assembled an intriguing cast including Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt, The Walking Dead's Michael Rooker, Pushing Daisies's Lee Pace and former WWE-star Batista. However any of these turn out, it's going to be a hell of a ride.




The A113Animation team can be found on Twitter @WilliamKJardine, @Archibald_H, @maac027 and @nadineshambrook.

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