I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Oversized, overstuffed, and occasionally overwhelming, Iron Man 3 plays out like a collage of impressive, explosive set pieces, special effects, and sardonic one-liners. The third installment of the series, this is a mega blockbuster at the crossroads of two hugely successful franchises of the Disney-Marvel massive entertainment empire. Already a hulking box-office behemoth, Shane Black’s movie is unique in an often sullen summer superhero-packed cinematic climate for its brilliant, self-aware, self-effacing humor.

Iron Man 3 offers an astute study of a relationship, wrapped up in images of red hot fire people and armies of iron knights, molten steel and heaps of burning rubble in a computer-generated fantasy in which the laws of physics are merely theoretical. The film at times seems like a screwball comedy trapped in the body of a superhero action movie. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) trades barbs with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his former assistant turned girlfriend and CEO of his company, with a kind of old-school Hollywood wise-cracking chemistry.

It’s not giving too much away to say there are two villains in the film, whose connection will ultimately be revealed. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is a slick, sleazy science researcher-entrepreneur who has created biotechnology capable of allowing human bodies to regenerate themselves (although some glitches still have to be worked out—the subjects glow red, turn into ambulatory bombs, and, yeah, breathe fire).

The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, stealing every scene he’s in) is a pointy-bearded, ethnically ambiguous Oriental terrorist-guru who hacks into TV networks to live cast executions and explosions—the results of military-industrial capitalism, he argues—as viewers helplessly watch in horror. This role could have turned into an upsetting racist caricature, but Kingsley roams a dragon-filled Chinese milieu, sports a vaguely Middle Eastern beard and a Midwestern accent, and later scenes—of which the less said the better for those who haven’t seen the film—struts his comedic chops in Cockney speak.

Black, taking over from Jon Favreau, is best known for writing self-conscious action movies that wed violence to jokes and irony (sometimes bordering on parody) like Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight.  The filmmaker has only one previous directorial effort, the delightful, delirious comedic neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Downey, a movie whose intelligent, quiet humor he replicates for this loud blockbuster.

The excellently written, genuinely funny comedy at the center of the film is more enjoyable than the supervillain crime story surrounding it. The bad guys’ reasons are ultimately unsatisfying, whereas the humor never lacks. Just to give you a taste of Black’s penchant for one-liners, in the middle of a massive, deadly shootout, one of the bad guys drops his guns and pleads with Stark: “I don’t even like this job. These people are weird.”

The title character remains hilarious and unsentimental throughout, even in the least likely circumstances for cracking wise. Some of the most delightful moments take place on Stark’s Tennessee trip, where he meets and develops a friendship with a smart, fatherless, star-struck kid (played with impish charm by Ty Simpkins). While the plot could have devolved into saccharine father-son bonding clich├ęs, Black maintains a dry, sardonic, self-mocking sense of humor throughout, and the scenes are filled with sharply funny, overlapping dialogue so spontaneous it seems improvised.“My mom’s left for work already, and my Dad went to the store to get scratch-’n-win lottery tickets,” the boy explains. “He must've won because that was six years ago.” The banged up superhero ponders the situation and comes up with some kind words of encouragement. “Well, sometimes dads leave, that’s life, no need to be a pussy about it,” Stark tells him.

The film has an eerie valedictory feel to it. It would make for a great final installment in the series, although ticket dollars will most likely dictate a fourth. We get a more human Stark than ever. He is a sleepless, self-tortured, exhausted mess, who after the events of The Avengers—which this movie wisely doesn’t try to outdo in terms of pyrotechnics—is tormented by anxiety and spends his days expanding the collection of increasingly sophisticated Iron Men that will come into play during the grand climactic finale.

Although much is made of the rechristening of War Machine to Iron Patriot, Col. “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) spends more screen time out of his suit that in it. Similarly, we see the hero fight, shoot, and jump with more swagger and agility than ever, in beautifully and intensely choreographed action sequences that make away with his armor entirely, including a showdown with a bright orange-glowing woman that seems unimpressed. “That’s all you got? A cheap trick and a cheesy one-liner,” she asks, only to be quickly rebutted: “Honey, that could be the title of my autobiography.” 

What sets Iron Man apart from all the other men of steel and of special effects is this kind of bittersweet punch line, delivered by Downey with utmost, off-handed precision, not the fiery and clattering mayhem that ensues with almost metronomic predictability. In a genre in which events transpire and people act robotically, Tony Stark is “just a man in a can,” and we love him for his humanity.

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