Marvel Studio’s follow-up to the uber-successful Avengers movie, Iron Man 3, came out this weekend to mixed reactions from critics and fans, but it cleaned up at the box office, certifying the longevity of the whole Avengers’ stable of films. The movie also serves a double roll — concluding the Iron Man series while kicking off Marvel’s Phase II. How well did it succeed in any of these capacities? Welcome to the Chat Cave.
Patrick: I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with my little brother, Jack — who until recently, had been writing about a title-a-week with us. He’s the fascinating case of someone who had never seen any of the Iron Man movies and also has not seen The Avengers. As a self-contained adventure, this worked amazingly well for her. I don’t know how the Marvel Studios guys do it, but they manage to make relatively faithful superhero movies that aren’t steeped in dense mythology. Walking out of that movie, Jack concluded that Tony’s superpower was “data management,” which sounds like it should be boring. But there are enough ultra-fast-talkin’ sequences and super-computer-assisting-crime-solving sequences to dramatize this super-collation of data in engaging and funny ways.
I was a little thrown by how visually incoherent parts of the movie were. Early in the flick, there’s a lot of exposition (and re-exposition) that ends up being slapped together so that it almost feels like a trailer for the movie you’re about to watch. It doesn’t help that the Mandarin’s erratic video threats are intentionally crummy. The first time we see a Mandarin video, it’s merely presented on the screen as part of Iron Man 3. But these videos are diegetic — they exist as videos within the reality of the movie’s universe — and calibrating the quality of the film making in them with the quality of the rest of film making is disorienting. It all makes sense, given the movie’s big Mandarin-reveal (which I trust one of my colleagues to bring up), but it took me a second to make sense of it all.
The one explicit and intentional change of style that I absolutely loved was the cheesy, 70s-esque end credit sequence. The faux-grit on the film, the bombastic funk orchestra score, the hokey split screen: it was a damn near perfect celebration of Iron Man’s cinematic presence.
Drew: You know, for whatever reason, the Iron Man movies have never fully connected with me. I don’t know if it’s Downey’s at-arms-length performance or just the overall slickness of the films, but I was never quite able to connect. Avengers managed to add some heart to that mix, so I had high expectations for this installment, but I walked out of the theater feeling as detached as ever. That’s especially disappointing, given that the film seems to acknowledge the missing human element, taking pains to keep Downey out of the suit for much of the film, and even giving him a kid side-kick for most of the second act. Unfortunately, the franchise is too committed to being awesome to really sell those emotional beats, which leaves the whole thing feeling like the empty armor imagery the movie was so fond of.
But it does succeed in being awesome. Sure, Marvel fans might have seen the AIM/terrorism connection from literally the first scene of the movie (and would it have killed them to put even one background character in a hazmat suit during that final battle?), but I liked the idea that the terrorism was just a plot to cover up accidental explosions. Ultimately, it’s still terrorism, but it was a clever enough twist to still have me thinking about it now. I’m not totally sure why all of these amputee guinea pigs are willing to die for a cause they only accidentally became entangled with (as in, why were ALL of them willing to fight the army of Iron Men during that last battle?), but it was fun to see all of the ways Tony came up with to evade them.
I don’t know. As a piece of entertainment, it was basically firing on all cylinders, but it was just a little too cagey for me to enjoy without reservation. Also, what’s with Tony Listening to funky Christmas music? I thought he was an AC/DC fan.
Shelby: I actually thought this installment took great strides towards humanizing Tony. I love the mix of sheer awesome fight choreography and real emotional issues Tony was experiencing. Not only did he have his universe infinitely broadened at the end of The Avengers, he was willing to sacrifice himself for the world, and for an instant it seemed he had done so. He went from a man in a mechanical suit fighting other men in mechanical suits to battling galactic monsters alongside a god. I’m glad Shane Black took the time to pull back from that and show us that Tony couldn’t deal with it. Insomnia, crippling panic attacks, these are all very real effects of surviving a trauma, and I appreciate the reminder that, despite the armor of both the Iron Man suit and the playboy genius billionaire persona, Tony Stark is still a person with doubts and fears.
I was also quite impressed by the Mandarin. I’ve heard grumblings about the way his character was altered from ye olde comic books, but I think Black was smart to make the changes he did. Despite Thor and The Avengers, alien magic power rings don’t quite fit in the Iron Man movie universe. As Tony tells his Boy Wonder sidekick, he is a mechanic, and I think that introducing a magic-based villain at a time when Tony is trying to deal with the existence of that sort of magic would have been a big misstep. As phenomenal as Ben Kingsley’s performance as the Mandarin was, I was really happy to see Pepper Potts imbued with some agency. She did get kidnapped and need to be rescued by Tony, but he ultimately failed her. She had to pull herself out of the wreckage of that incredible suit fight and she had to rescue him from devastatingly handsome Guy Pearce.
My question is, what is Tony going to do now? Arc reactor removed, suits destroyed, and yet he says in his voice-over that he IS Iron Man. Without two of the three fundamental pieces required for the role, how is he going to do it?
Mikyzptlk: I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but Tony’s the best right? He’ll figure something out, just as he figured out how to beat Mandarin and his Extremis soldiers oh, so entertainingly well. As a sequel to the Iron Man franchise, this installment was an absolute success. It did everything I wanted Iron Man 2 to do and more. It was action packed, funny as hell, and I was engaged throughout the majority of the 2 hour and 20 minute run. I enjoyed many aspects of the film, including how the Extremis soldiers were handled and how Tony played leap-frog from suit to iron suit. However, while I enjoyed all of those aspects of this flick as an individual Iron Man installment, I couldn’t help but find it lacking as an installment in the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This was supposed to be the start of Marvel’s Phase II, but you can’t exactly tell from watching it. I thought the whole point of the phases was that all of these Marvel films are connected to something bigger.
Just like Iron Man 2 (along with those other non-Iron Man movies) led to The Avengers, I assumed that this would include a piece of the puzzle that would contribute to overall MCU and lead into Avengers 2. Nick Fury and his S.H.I.E.L.D. pals were a big presence in Iron Man 2, and even if the movie suffered for it, it got the architects of the MCU where they needed to be for The Avengers to do its thing. I’m not saying the MCU elements needed to be something as overwhelming as it was in Iron Man 2, but it would have been nice to get a hint of something that Phase II will be delivering.
As it is though, this was definitely an exciting way to kick off the summer superhero movie extravaganza that awaits us and it certainly has me primed for more! Well, except for The Wolverine. Sorry Wolvy.