Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

Back in 2008 Marvel’s Cinematic Universe repulsor-blasted it’s way to box office and the cinema-going zeitgeist. With Avengers book-ending Marvel’s Phase 1 your common-or-garden popcorn chomper was now able to navigate the impressive cannon of stories and characters that populated the primary colored milieu.

So then it seems fitting that Tony Stark draws up the blueprint of Phase 2 of the superhero shenanigans. Not wanting to continue directing the universe he created once someone else had their hands on it in Avengers, Favreau steps aside for sometime collaborator Shane Black to direct for this installment. Having given input into the previous chapters and directed Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, no one seemed particularly worried about Iron Man 3. However, Black and fellow screenwriter Drew Pearce had to straddle a fine line of developing the character further after saving the whole planet at the end of Avengers and still find a compelling way to close a trilogy. It’s quite a feet of storytelling engineering – one that will buckle if the wrong tools are used.

At this point Tony Stark has re-evaluated and redefined himself after emerging from that Afghanistan cave in his MK 1, by rebuilding his company, establishing his relationship with Pepper, rebuilt the one with Rhodey and flown a nuke into a worm hole created by the most powerful being in the Marvel universe. Where else is there to take him?

For all intents and purposes our Man-In-The-Can goes back to a cave, albeit a post traumatic one. However, not content with emotionally tearing down Tony and seeing how he deals with those that wish him harm, he also has that which makes him Iron Man stripped away…the amours.

“Alright, I admit it! I’m a pipping-hot mess,” Stark finally admits to the persevering Potts. However, the circuits of Tony’s problem are soldered early on with JARVIS exclaiming that Tony has been up for nearly 3 days. Then, just before Stark’s admission, Pepper asks if the current armor is MK15. Tony vaguely confirms while the MK42 glints on the metal glove. Tinkering may be Tony’s way of ignoring his problem, but insulating himself from it by wearing the suits is how he’s come to deal with it. It’s easy to miss amongst the pyrotechnics and effects, but the suit is where Tony goes to shelter the storm. When two children remind him of the wormhole Tony charges outside to the weathered Iron Man suit to protect and gather himself. During the Mandarin’s attack on his home, Tony may be quick enough to protect Pepper with the suit, but once he returns it to himself and the HUD boots up there’s a gasping draw of breath, like someone just coming back to life. More subtly, Tony sends in the MK42 as a decoy to avoid the discomfort of asking Pepper about Aldrich Killian. It’s a satisfyingly covert framing device before Stark lands battered and bruised with a defunct Iron Man suit. However, despite his triumphs in Tennesse, the mere thought that his armor won’t charge is enough to send the eternal egoist into a paralysing anxiety attack, forcing him to pull off the road.

Despite the title being Iron Man, it’s surprisingly exhilarating watching Tony MK 0 mix it up with the bad guys. Using his brain pan to out maneuver the extremis soldiers and still squeeze in a “cheap trick and a cheesy on-liner” is one thing, but storming the Mandarin stronghold like a secret agent armed with a tool kit to put MacGyver to shame is something else entirely. It’s a great way to dismantle your character and build him up while keeping the viewer entertained. Black and Co. also do well to make sure that while it’s a rough ride for Tony, his unrelenting hyper-verbia remains intact.

Since Stan “The Man” Lee committed these characters to paper Marvel has always been a band apart by deconstructing the person under the costume/power/armor, and while Iron Man 3 follows that tradition with aplomb, they don’t forget that we still want to see the Shellhead go heavy metal. While the melee in Malibu serves the story and is still plenty exciting, the sequence in which our Golden Avenger saves 13 Air Force 1 staffers from decorating the Miami coastline is overwhelmingly air-punching. Amidst the explosive climax the movie still manages manages to bring together the catharsis of 42 JARVIS-controlled Iron Men, while still giving credit to those involved in Stark’s very human journey to overcome his own demons and not just the bad guy.

4* – How Tony Got His Groove Back

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Avengers

Avengers – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

If Marvel Studios stopped at Avengers (or the mouth filling Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in the UK) they won. With the dizzying heights the Marvel Cinematic Universe reached just this year with Captain America: Civil War and the interim movies, it’s hard to remember just how lightening-charged the prospect of Marvel’s movies franchises combining into one big superhero-a-palooza!

 

Not only had we seen our heroes go from zeros to heroes and back again, we would now get to see how they’d fare kickin’ ass and takin’ names as one force. While the freaks and geeks could revel in the dream of seeing their half tone heroes writ large on the silver screen, any Average Joe with more than a passing interest could appreciate the culmination of 5 movies tying together. Even if you didn’t know that Joss Whedon, King of the Nerds, would be polishing the script and directing the joining of World’s Mightiest Heroes, it would still be the cinematic event of 2012. Which it was. By the end of it’s run Avengers was the third-highest grossing flick of all time and it had earned it stripes.

 

Even when you take some nods from the comic book origin where Asgardian, Loki, seeks revenge on his brother Thor and even uses Hulk as a pawn at one point, there’s still an awful lot going on and one thunderous mountain to climb in terms of storytelling. Whedon must have felt a lot like Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. He may have had a reason to bring the 6 heroes together, but he had to tie strands from the previous flicks together, make reference to them for anyone who’d wandered in blindly to the multiplex and lived in a cave since Iron Man, set up the characters and their conflicts, put them all through the meat grinder so the audience cared about them, convincingly make them work together and then bring it home in the third and final act. More importantly, each and every character needs a complete arch in the same running time allowed for one hero. If you’re unsure how tricky a chemical mixture this is to get right, take a look at Suicide Squad. For all it’s effort and best intentions it never did balance the elements of character and story – and that’s with two main characters to focus on while the others strutted in the periphery. Even other rag-tag ensembles have offed characters to make things a little easier narratively.

 

When you watch Avengers, however, you’d be hard pushed to notice the Hulk-like heavy lifting it had taken to keep this fictional hellicarrier flying. It had much more than most of us expected. In part, this is because Joss & Co manage to combine the story telling and character beats with action. Even though the Stuttgart Standoff is part of Loki’s machinations it includes Loki measuring up his adversaries – Cap gives him more trouble than expected – it reinforces Loki’s ethos in ruling humanity and the introduction of Iron Man to Captain America. You may have time to catch your breath, but it’s a matter of minutes before Thor is thrown into the mix and Shakespeare in the Park turns into smack down where powers and abilities are compared. Even the Hostilities on the Hellicarrier galvanize Tony and Steve’s respect and understanding for one another. While this leaves time spare for the biggest world-wrangling war that’s ever taken place in the Big Apple, it still manages to squeeze in Tony overcoming his narcissism by selflessly flying a nuke into a worm hole. Which unto itself sounds as ridiculous as a flying battleship, but the approach is so primed with gusto you very rarely have a chance to question anything. Where this gusto doesn’t fill the gaps, the funnies fall in between. Multiple viewings offer even more nuanced rewards, the repartee between the main team is on thing, but Coulson creepily explaining he watched while Cap slept and LuchKov’s confused assurance that “I don’t… give everything.” are gems more appreciated on multiple viewings.

 

Amid the fireworks there are some jumps in logic that need suspension of disbelief. Banner’s ability to conveniently control the Hulk, come the third act, is alluded to during the spat in SHIELD’s lab but it doesn’t make sense when you consider he would’ve given a world-beating pimp slap to Black Widow had Thor not rolled up. Likewise the hive-minded Chitauri collapse once the mother ship is obliterated, but seemed perfectly organic before that moment. The fact that it’s never enough to derail the behemoth is testament to how well it’s crafted and it’s startling effectiveness.

 

5* – Fanfare of the Uncommon Man

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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

Following the successful opening weekend of 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel Studios merrily marched out it’s manifesto of the handful of films kicking off “Phase 1”.  The slate even included ambitious release dates, including Iron Man 2.  So high in the skies were audiences willing to go with Marvel that no one ever questioned whether the formula of this particular ore could be smelted again.

Time has not been the kindest to Tony Stark’s second installment (not counting the cameo of Incredible Hulk!).  This isn’t because of evolving effects technology or the pitfalls that hamper most sequels.  The fans turned against it a little, even though it was relatively well received at the time.  Marvel were careful to bring us something different in it’s next installments; with Thor adding something more mystical and Captain America: The First Avenger offering us something a little more wholesome.  It may be this diversity that left Iron Man 2 falling a little further down moviegoers populists of the MCU.  While it’s certainly muddled in parts with a light whiff of post-shoot story tinkering, it’s still a solid installment.  There’s even things we take for granted that later solidified the mythos of the MCU – see Fury’s casual disclosure of Howard Stark’s founding of SHIELD and the introduction of Natasha Romanov as Black Widow.

Unable to turn Tony’s world upside down by imprisoning him and releasing him with a new outlook, Ol’ Shell Head watches it crumble around him.  If a rival upstart looking to knock Tony from his perch just after he hands the company to Pepper wasn’t enough, the arc reactor keeping Tony alive is slowly killing him with palladium poisoning.  Although it’s certainly a grim prospect it’s as much an extension of Stark as Last Crusade was to Indiana Jones – and this is not just thanks to daddy issues.  Once you’ve already established your hero, you can put them through the mill and see how many licks they can take.  The comic books were always the most enthralling when our heroes reach their lowest ebb, so it seems only fitting that at the height of his desperation tony hits the liquor, a la the lauded “Demon in a Bottle” arc.  However, as this isn’t Lars Von Trier’s Iron Man 2, Favreau keeps it light.

The reason Iron Man was so refreshing in 2008 was it’s seemingly improvised delivery.  Less chaotic and more spontaneous, the character’s naturally reacting to one another completely removed any superhero template fatigue.  Iron Man 2 capitalises on this with wonderful character moments that add complexity while still adding fun to the proceedings.  Tony’s verbal trouncing at the senate hearing is deliciously rawkus.  Better still is the exchange with Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer wooing Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko.  Hammer’s pitch is faux confidence dripped in desperation.  His vanity is highlighted in both the pretentious set-up in the hangar and the fake tan caked in his hands.  It makes for a satisfying attention to detail whether you catch each detail or not.

But it’s not all character study and minutiae – there’s some great action set pieces.  Considering the purpose of the melee in Monaco is to knock Tony from his perch, it’s a joy to watch the Man in a Can go toe-to-toe without the bells and whistles afforded the less portable armors.  As messy as the final battle with Rhodey and the Hammer-oids is, it’s choca-block full with wish fulfillment.  Tony pin-wheeling through the World Fair’s globe, in the middle of the Expo, to dispatch hammer drones is imaginative and still gives a glimpse into how man and machine work together.

As the credits roll and you wait for the post-credit sequence, we dare you not to feel entertained and exhilarated.  Although it’s an early is chapter, it’s satisfying to watch a Marvel movie unafraid to get by on it’s own steam without leaning on the association of the super-world going on around it.  The tantalising self-referencing is something audiences have now become accustomed to, but at this point it’s quite refreshing and go back to an installment more concerned adding something to it’s predecessor than another brick in the shared cinematic wall.

4* – Beamin’ in a bottle

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Iron Man

Iron Man – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

There was a time when superhero movies were personal gems found on the deserted beaches of geekdom.  Studios sporadic attempts to capture the market they just knew was out there.  For every Batman (1989) there was a Phantom.  Later Spider-Man had it’s Fantastic Four.  In true comic book fashion there seemed to be villainous adversaries, poised to strike at the zeitgeist and ensure the general population would look at most comic book movies in the same way they looked at the funny pages.  There were still the adaptations that went under the radar:  Red, A History of Violence and Road to Perdition all seemed to come away unscathed from the nerdy apprehension that came with super heroes.

Then, following the success of Spider-Man and to a lesser extent X-Men, Marvel took a look at the properties still in their war chest and decided they could do what FOX and Sony/Columbia did with the franchises they had the rights to.  Even better, they’d be completely in control and, if successful, their characters could share the universe just like the comics.  Creating Hollywood’s first major independent studio since Dreamworks, Marvel secured a $525 million revolving credit facility with Merrill Lynch and began setting up the building blocks of what we would know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

It’s easy to take the first Iron Man movie for granted nowadays, just like the Mk 1 Armour that birthed our hero from the cave.  Years of multiple viewings, improved sequels (Iron Man 3, if not Iron Man 2) and dizzying interlinking timelines from other superhero outings have left Tony Stark’s breakout movie encased in its very own Hall of Armour.

If you’ve not donned the original Iron Man Armour for a while you’ll be struck with how the opening packs quite a repulsor blast.  The raw riffs of ACDC’s Back in Black as the HUMV’s glide across the Afghan desert pulls you straight into the hull while Tony mixes it up with 3 troops.  It’s a brilliant introduction to Stark.  It establishes his trademarked wit and hyper-verbalisation.  Not only that, but while Tony shows off to the troops and chalks up the previous years MAXIM cover models, he also puts them at ease.  It also lulls the audience, before we’re reminded of where we are and the danger it brings.  No sooner are we grinning like we’re in the “FUNV” that the vehicle in front explodes in a jolting blast.  The discs special features show an extended scene that really pushes the bluster and percussion of a firefight.  The final film succeeds in half the time by illustrating just how precarious a situation Tony’s in.  The panicked concussion as Stark stumbles bewildered from the truck before we see him flat on his back, helpless, his life literally seeping out of him into his taylored shirt.  If that wasn’t perilous enough, a sack is then whipped from his battered and bloody head and he finds himself front and centre of his own fundamentalist hostage video (or so it seems) while terms are harshly delivered and the kidnappers cohorts proudly brandish automatic rifles.  Amidst the hustle of this intro some if the impact may be lost that during this time we’d become used to the highlighted horrors of very real videos on our news.  It’s an unsettling and brave prospect.  The fledgling studio must have bitten off a few nails while they considered the controversy.  Iron Man (MK 1), seemed to be all about brave choices…

Downey Jr’s spiral and phoenix-like resurrection is well documented, but Favreau was yet another brave choice for studio.  Now one of the architects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and credited as an Executive Producer, by 2008 he’d cut his directorial teeth with Made, a spiritual sequel to Swingers, delivered the surprise seasonal hit with Elf and then the under-performing Zathura.  Perhaps, not the experience that other studios would’ve been willing to gamble on.  However, John Favreau brings an impromptu (rather than improvised) energy to the proceedings.  There’s a real feeling of Tony winging it throughout the adventure.  Even the characters that orbit his charismatic sun all seem to be reacting spontaneously to him.

Iron Man also set the template for the proceeding movies.  Not just the hero’s fall from narcissistic heights to be humbled by a chance event and realise their errors before trying to walk a higher path, but post credit sequences and cheeky referencing.  You just don’t know your bad guys if you haven’t figured out why the planes that chase Iron Man across the sky mid-way through are called Whiplash 1 and Whiplash 2.  Even the most engrossed of us would have noticed the geekgasm of certain audience members when they noticed Captain America’s shield in the workshop.

Setting aside all the referencing, inside scoops and the kudos of knowing this was the genesis of the MCU, Iron Man is still an accomplishment.  One that can stand tall not only to those in its cannon, but the majority of star vehicles or Friday-Night-Actioners.  It still has its problems, though; the jittery narrative sometimes feels like it’s picking up strands its forgotten about, the obvious switch-and-bait villain and let’s not forget the fact that the MK 1 looks nothing like the missile Yenson and our eponymous hero were tasked to make!  However, the successes drown out the problems.  Tony’s have-a-go inventing of the upgrading armor while his mechanised helpers worryingly spectate is a delight.  The cast too seem to commit to presenting a (hyper) real version of the characters.  Paltrow’s Pepper certainly develops more as the sequels progress, but there’s enough here to be getting on with.  Jeff Bridges convincingly predatory Obadiah Stane is a great villain, capable of persuading the characters around him he is what he presents, before explding into the third act.  One moment in particular is a wakeup call as he bellows “TONY STARK WAS ABLE TO BUILD THIS IN A CAVE, WITH A BUNCH OF SCRAPS!” As an audience we start to rub our hands for the moment Tony will have to go up against him in the Iron Monger suit.

At the time, there was a lot of talk about the Afghan sub-text or the metaphor of America’s exit from the middle east , but if anything the climate at the time is used as a backdrop for the amoral rabbit hole our hero is in danger of falling in.  To it’s credit, Iron Man isn’t trying to be that clever.  If it doesn’t know quite what the finished narrative armour may look like, Favreau and Co certainly know what they want it to do.  Just like the suit itself; the development is painful at times, but throw a little hot rod red in there and you’ll be hard pushed to find anything as cool.

4* – World’s Mightiest Douche Bag

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