Instead of going to a free tour at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to see The Terra Cotta Warriors, I instead indulged in going to see a blockbuster in the making: Iron Man 3. Instead of exposing myself to a little ancient culture, I enjoyed a piece of pop culture. In 3D no less.
This is only the second movie I have seen in modern 3D. The first one, was Disney Pixar’s “Up.” I wasn’t completely impressed as the technology had improved, but just fools you into thinking some of the images are physically there. I have seen a few #D movies with the red and blue lens, with a poor attempt made on TV and on video. It’s a gimmick that just physically enhances the movie. It doesn’t improve or gives me the ‘wow factor’ that some get.
I hesitated on going to the 3D show and shelling out the extra $4.50 for 3D glasses, but I did not want to wait another two hours to attend a regular screening. My wife’s impatience was boring a hole into my head, so I went ahead and purchased tickets for that showing. After finding good seats in a rapidly filling theater, we sat down and watched Tony Stark’s latest adventure.
The film takes place shortly after the events in “The Avengers.” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has been suffering from the past events of saving New York from the Chitauri invasion by repurposing a nuclear warhead, crossing into another dimension, and letting it loose on the enemy’s home base. He has been traumatized by those events, hindering his sleep, his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his idle time.
The story flashes back to a time in his brash self attending a Science conference in Sweden. Where he has a one night stand with Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) an up and coming scientist who had created ‘Extremis,’ a means of regenerating the body from severe damage by rapid growth. The process involves generating extreme heat. Tony and Maya are approached by Aldridge Killian (Guy Pearce), head of Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M., where Maya eventually accepts work, where Tony refuses and leaves with little more than a simple note and formula that would help with Extremis.
In the present, Tony is a hermit in his own home. He sleeps very little and continues his research into improving the Iron Man armor, and is on his 42nd prototype. This one is modular and can be controlled by thought. Using sensors injected into his own body, he is able to control the suit and tests this. The work is the only thing keeping him from anxiety attacks. He still keeps tabs on Stark Industries through “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), his former bodyguard who had become head of security at Stark Industries.
Pepper is approached by Killian, this time looking much more debonair than before. She is taken aback, having worked with Aldrich in the past. He credits physical therapy and rehab for his present condition of a healthy man who was crippled before. He is offering the opportunity for Stark Industries to work with A.I.M. in developing new neurological technology that can benefit the injured or sick, just as he was. Pepper refuses the offer, noting that some of the given research can be weaponized, which is against what Stark Industries is now.
Pepper and Tony’s relationship have hit a snag, and he finally admits what has been happening to him- the insomnia, anxiety attacks, and growing paranoia. He profusely apologizes for his actions, but still causes a rift between the two of them. Pepper proposes to travel to help cope with his issues.
Suspicious of them, Happy Hogan follows Killian and his bodyguard to sniff out what may be going on. He finds the bodyguard Eric Savin (James Badge Dale) completing what appears to be a drug sale. Instead, the drugs were in fact Extremis, and the effect has catastrophic effects on the victim. Hogan barely survives the explosion, which vaporizes several people.
These explosions are being claimed by the leader of “The Ten Rings” as lessons to the President and the US. Calling himself “The Mandarin,” (Sir Ben Kingsley) he takes credit and responsibility for these attacks on US soil. In cryptic video messages that have interrupted broadcast TV, he issues statements of his continuing plans of subterfuge.
Angered by these recent events, Tony issues an ultimatum to The Mandarin; he is going to put him down personally. He throws a challenge to him and his organization to come to his home and meet him face to face.
The Mandarin, who appears to be in cahoots with A.I.M., responds to the threat by destroying Tony’s Malibu mansion, forcing it to slide into the ocean. Maya Hansen had arrived shortly before the attack seeking Tony’s help and to warn him of this imminent attack. Pepper is saved by the prototype Iron Man suit before it is summoned back to Tony. The suit prevents him from drowning and being buried alive by his fallen home. The suit launches Tony into the air.
He finds himself crash-landing in a small town in Tennessee, where he was intending to go and investigate a lead. He had found some evidence that linked the explosion Happy Hogan was in to one that occurred in Tennessee with a similar profile. Both involved explosions that vaporized its victims. They also involved disabled military veterans. Tony finds himself in the care of ten year old boy Harley (Ty Simpkins)who helps him investigate what happened.
In finding what he needs in Tennessee, and surviving an attack led by Eric Savin, Tony sets off to Miami, where he hopes to find and stop The Mandarin. He arms himself with cheaply made but very effective weapondry. He also enlists the aid of his friend, James Rhodes, who had been following the trail of The Mandarin’s broadcasts, but was captured by Killian’s people. Here, they discover The Mandarin’s secrets and what his ultimate plans are.
This is a fantastic summer blockbuster. It has a smart plot that had a few surprises in it that I won’t divulge. You have to see the movie itself to enjoy the overall spectacle. Director Shane Black crafts a smart action movie. It has some surprising twists, wit, and elements that remind me of some of the dynamics of his early work. “Lethal Weapon” comes to mind, as you have a sensible character investigating a mystery, while the half crazed character provides gravitas and impact. There is a blending of this in Tony Stark. He is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his experience in “The Avengers” and in a way, from his past dealings with the Ten Rings and his own personal demons. He has his moments of clarity which allow him to find the clues that lead him to his enemies.
The cast is brilliant in this movie, from the banter that Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle share, to the exchanges between Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. Guy Pearce and Sir Ben Kingsley make a fine villainous pair. All the characters that are introduced have their own nuances, even though we are familiar with them. Some of them are given a good shake to make them fit into the situation. It is not overwrought with heavy drama or gravitas that could sink the movie. It would not match the tone set by the other “Iron Man” movies. It is Tony Stark’s swagger and flippant attitude that made those movies- it is his armor to protect himself from the threats of his enemies.
I was enthralled by the movie, only bothered by the mild headache induced by the 3D glasses that just fit my big fat head. This movie did not need the 3D to enhance the experience. It was fun and exciting as I hoped it would have been, with just the right amount of drama, action, and banter between characters. It was a great way to start off the summer movies.