The first question I had walking out of "The Avengers" last summer was, "How freaking awesome was that?" The second question – a bit more difficult to answer – was, "How is any comic book superhero movie ever going to be able to compete with that?"
After all, "The Avengers" pulled off the impossible, combining several characters, storylines and years of anticipation into a shockingly satisfying summer blockbuster that managed to be just as good as the sum of its costumed parts. Seeing all of our heroes fight and interact together on the big screen turned out to be just as wondrously nerd-gasmic as we hoped. How could audiences go back to watching just another superhero movie?
Pretty easily, as it turns out. "Iron Man 3" may not fly as high as its star-studded combo platter predecessor, but it makes for a great start to the summer, as well as to Marvel Studios’s dorkily named Phase Two.
Robert Downey Jr. returns as metal-encased billionaire playboy Tony Stark, fresh off of his dramatic rescue of New York City in "The Avengers." Though the heroics made for great cinema, he’s still haunted by his near-death experience, tinkering incessantly with his numerous Iron Man suits and suffering from occasional anxiety attacks. His continually evolving humanity – for better or worse – is also fraying his sweetly snippy romance with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Memories of New York aren’t the only demons from Tony’s past making an unwelcome comeback. Aldrich Killian – once an awkward, crippled science nerd teased and taunted by Stark in an amusing ’90s prologue, scored by Eiffel 65’s "Blue" (Da Ba Dee)" – returns in the form of the handsome, slick-haired Guy Pearce, flaunting a new regenerative treatment called Extremis.
Meanwhile, a terrorist of by the name of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, half hilarious and half terrifying) is hijacking television signals for public executions and initiating suicide bombings across the U.S. leaving a frustrating lack of evidence for investigators – or Iron Man – to go on.
When another bombing at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre hospitalizes Tony’s bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, who also directed the first two installments), Tony makes revenge on the Mandarin personal and blurts out his home address on TV. I didn’t think Tony’s swanky ocean-side pad was exactly a secret – what with it being a massive modern mansion – but his public declaration of revenge does bring the Mandarin knocking with a couple of helicopters and missile strikes.
Pepper gets kidnapped (she’s no damsel in distress, though), and Tony ends up in Tennessee, rebuilding his broken suit and investigating a mysterious Mandarin-esque bombing in town with the help of a chipper 10-year-old local (Ty Simpkins, a.k.a. the creepy unconscious kid from "Insidious").
Downey Jr. and the sharp dialogue were always the real stars of the series, and new writer-director Shane Black continues that tradition. Black’s signature whip-snap smart banter (minus the profanity in this case), which helped make "Lethal Weapon" a late ’80s hit and resurrect Downey Jr.’s career back in 2005 with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," is on clear display.
Stark dishes out witty barbs (he tells one precocious youngster that he was great in "A Christmas Story" and pesters another for food) like most people use oxygen, and his friends return the favor with equally hilarious aplomb. There’s even a few cute auteur touches (it strangely takes place at Christmas because when else would a Shane Black film take place?) for amusement’s sake.
When the film does get around to the requisite blowing stuff up, Black is a solid upgrade from Favreau, who never seemed to get a hold of the pace and rhythm of an action scene. Black isn’t a brilliant action director – he films too close for my taste, and the climactic final battle has a bit too much flying around for its own good – but he’s got great energy, and he delivers the satisfying set pieces the series has lacked.
The attack on the Stark mansion and a mid-air airplane rescue are wildly impressive and intense summer spectacle moments.
Despite the improved action, there’s not as much Iron Man in "Iron Man 3" than one might expect. The script’s focus is more on the man when he’s outside the suit rather than inside it.
It’s not quite as dark and probing as it thinks it is but it’s still a surprisingly intense and emotionally potent superhero story about inner demons and not just Tony’s. It’s fitting the weapons of choice for our Al Qaeda-esque villain – who isn’t as much of a foreign threat as expected – are spontaneously combusting U.S. war veterans.
No worries though. Though "Iron Man 3" has no problem subtly nodding at America’s inner demons along the way, it is undoubtedly summer escapism. Black’s film just has a greater emphasis on its character than expected from a summer blockbuster – maybe even more than it can handle.
The movie’s uneven pacing sometimes struggles to give all of its characters their due. Paltrow disappears for large periods of time. They give her more to do, but at the same time she seems less necessary. Don Cheadle barely gets to leave a mark (besides on a triumphant Superman punch) as Stark’s sidekick Iron Patriot, and series newcomer Rebecca Hall is a welcome addition but underdeveloped. Add two villains, and the story strains to fit them all.
Amongst all those parts, however, is the franchise’s glowing, blue core: Tony Stark. With him on board and Black at the helm, even with the story and pace issues, "Iron Man 3" is the best, most complete and entertaining entry in the series. It’s everything great about the first two (well … the first one) with everything bad mostly improved. It seems that even without the rest of his superhero brethren, Iron Man still soars pretty high.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 26, 2014
For just two guys, Royal Blood is certainly making a lot of noise. With the band's debut album set to arrive next month, the raucous duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher are now on the road, with a stop at The Rave Monday, July 28 next up on the schedule. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Thatcher about the band's origins, their inspirations and the all-too-deservedly forgotten '90s band Aqua.
Published July 24, 2014
Every now and then, the writers here at OnMilwaukee.com decide to give other, unique jobs a try. Some have tried cheesemaking. Others the ballet. Me? Well, I fought in the Civil War.
Published July 22, 2014
"The Purge: Anarchy" finds DeMonaco coming closer to turning a good premise into an actually good movie. The sequel still feels like a missed opportunity for something smarter, sharper and just overall better, but hey, at least he made a decent horror thriller this time.
Published July 22, 2014
In addition to the successful rotation of the Oriental, the Downer and the Fox Bay movie theaters, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival has recruited the Times Cinema to its Avengers team of old school Milwaukee movie houses.
Published July 21, 2014
Thankfully, "Fire and Rescue" is a step above its predecessor, if only because the movie was actually made for big screen consumption this time. Gone is the stiff, antiseptic joylessness of the first film, now upgraded to mere bland competence. If "Planes" was like eating cardboard, "Fire and Rescue" is slightly more digestible cardboard. So progress?
Published July 19, 2014
All musicians create new music. Even the most derivative Top 40 hit features a new combination of notes and lyrics. Very few, however, can claim to have come up with a whole new genre of sound. Chicago blues extraordinaire Corky Siegel is one of those few.
Published July 17, 2014
As a fan rooting for Argentina in the World Cup, last weekend was likely a little rough for Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne. This upcoming weekend, however, is shaping up much more nicely with two headlining performances set for Festa Italiana.
Published July 15, 2014
Today marked the kickoff of the Greater Together Challenge, a competition launched to create awareness, hope and ideas to dismantle segregation, as well as address racial and economic inequality in greater Milwaukee.
Published July 15, 2014
Even though it's not even 30 years old, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical retelling of "The Phantom of the Opera" has turned into a truly iconic story, one whose elements are ingrained in the memory even if you haven't seen it. So to tinker around with the show is a bold idea. But that's exactly the case with the upcoming production of the show coming to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Published July 15, 2014
Milwaukee music fans - and fans of good music just in general - have been waiting since 2012 for news of a new record from Field Report and frontman Chris Porterfield. Well, wait no longer. Last month, Porterfield and company announced the name ("Marigolden") and release date for a sophomore album, and the good news keeps coming, as yesterday the band unveiled "Wings," the first track off the anticipated record.