The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Iron Man 3

The thing I love about the Alien series is that each film bears the stamp of its director. Ridley Scott's Alien is different than James Cameron's Aliens, which is different than David Fincher's Alien 3, and so on. Sure, the quality of the films in that franchise varies, but it's fun to see what different directors do with the same general material. The Marvel franchise is taking a similar strategy. The comic book company has employed a variety of interesting – and, in some cases, unexpected – filmmakers to bring their beloved characters to the screen, giving them the freedom to add their own distinct touches. (Ang Lee's Hulk is different from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, which is different from Joss Whedon's The Avengers, and so on.) For Iron Man 3, they've hired Shane Black, the screenwriter of hard-boiled, dark humor-laced action pictures like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. Black has delivered a movie that maintains continuity with the first two Iron Man pictures, yet still has a distinct feel all its own.

Robert Downey, Jr. returns as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark. He's experiencing severe anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers, and they are taking a toll on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). When a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) launches an unprovoked attack on the United States, Tony wants to help defeat him. Pal “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who works for the government as War Machine, advises him to let the military handle it. Ever the narcissist, Tony ignores that advice, directly threatening the Mandarin on television. He is then caught off guard when the terrorist delivers a striking personal blow. Down but not out, he puts on the Iron Man suit to begin a journey that will test him as both a superhero and as a man.

There are many things I like about Iron Man 3, starting with the fact that it doesn't go where you expect it to. I was caught off guard by a number of the plot twists. It isn't just the lack of predictability I admire; it's the fact that these things force Tony Stark to take a long, hard look at himself, then set him on what appears to be an entirely new course. Nothing would have been easier than to make a rote third Iron Man movie, where everything happened in a neat, familiar manner. This movie messes the formula up. In fact, it takes great pleasure in messing the formula up. Consequently, Iron Man 3 feels fresh, even though we've seen this character onscreen several times before. We find new layers of Stark as he's forced to confront who he is versus who he ideally wants to be.

Black builds nicely on the screen iteration of the Iron Man story, while also adding his trademark dark comedy. This is often a very funny movie. Most of the superhero pictures have some humor thrown in, but it's generally of a “safe” variety. Iron Man 3 gets more daring with the laughs, discovering inspiration in unlikely places. For example, a young boy figures prominently in the story, as he helps Tony during his absolute low point. There's no cutesy adult/kid bonding here; Tony actually seems a little put out by the child, occasionally dealing with him dismissively. That may not sound funny in writing, but coupled with Robert Downey, Jr.'s typically unpredictable delivery of dialogue, it results in some big laughs. The film's most notable and shocking plot twist also leads to a scene of comic gold (unless you're an inflexible, hardcore fan of the Iron Man comics, in which case you might be displeased by a significant change in the mythology).

By dealing with issues of personal deconstruction and redemption, Iron Man 3 often feels very psychological. When it focuses on Tony's attempts to discover how the Mandarin is pulling off explosions that leave no trace evidence, it feels as much like a crime drama as it does a comic book movie. And when it focuses on action, you get Iron Man taken to a new level. There are three show-stopping action sequences. The first – shown prominently in all the marketing – involves the destruction of Tony's mansion/laboratory. A second features the most amazing free-fall from an airplane I've ever seen in a movie, and the third is the grand finale, which puts a unique spin on what we expect to see Iron Man do. The combination of psychology, crime story, and traditional, if amped up, superhero action might sound a bit disjointed, but Black pulls it all together into one spectacularly fun ride.

I got the same feeling from the end of Iron Man 3 that I got from the end of The Dark Knight. Both endings position their characters to go down a radically different path in their next chapters. Having learned that the world is a scarier, more dangerous place than he thought, Tony Stark prepares for emotional survival as well as physical survival. This is a captivating idea in a superhero movie that is, indeed, super.

( 1/2 out of four)

Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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