WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. Couldn't help it.
The worldwide success that IRON MAN 3 is enjoying is predominantly from the goodwill from THE AVENGERS, the 3D surcharge and the remarkable marketing jobs that Disney can pull off. To date, IM3 has raked in $700M - a stunning figure in that it was just released in North America this weekend. But in the end, IM3 will lower expectations from Marvel Studios and hurt future box office returns, including that of THE AVENGERS 2. What I am NOT saying here is that THE AVENGERS 2 will bomb - far from it; but I am saying that it will be hurt in some degree by this let down.
So why am I disheartened by the movie? Multiple reasons. Some of them I am quite passionate about - others more of feeling than anything else. Keep in mind that 7.7 stars is far from panning a movie - it's just that Marvel is capable of so much more.
Here's the storyline for the movie:
Marvel's "Iron Man 3" pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy's hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
Let's go over the categories one at a time and break this thing down into chew-able pieces:
ONCE AGAIN - SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
Story - 68%. Not a great story. In fact IRON MAN 2 and 3 are fairly close in my mind. The original IRON MAN was an amazing movie. Look, I'm going to have to give some spoilers here to justify my comments and so, the problem is this: Marvel promised something and didn't deliver. In many ways. There's a fine line between expectations and surprises and this movie failed to manage both. I love the angle of Tony being anxiety ridden and the strange symptoms that can bring (who wouldn't after New York?), but the delivery of it was horrible. J.A.R.V.I.S. diagnosing anxiety within seconds of reviewing basic bodily function stats? A kid making a psych evaluation and solving his problem? Why in Asgard is Stark seeking treatment for anxiety from Bruce Banner? I can think of better Avengers tie-ins than that!
But I digress (it's easy to when you love a character like Stark). Broken promises. The Mandarin. Where do I even begin? My expectations were toasted up, buttered and slapped with saliva inducing marketing marmalade for months upon months. Finally a deep, psychological nemesis for Stark to deal with - intellectual parity battling for supremacy. Nope. A been there, done that character device - he's just an actor. You know, the ol' Star Trek TOS device in "The Corbomite Maneuver" where the evil villain is really just a front for a child-like man. I felt the same let down in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and the metaphorical castration of Bane. Dang it, I just want original material! Marvel has an amazing menagerie of villains - why on earth would you intentionally lobotomize him? His rings alone would warrant a movie.
Broken promises. Tony goes back to the cave (paraphrasing). What cave exactly? A suburban garage with a young kid in it? No, no, no, no, NO. I wanted solitude. A fortress of solitude if you will. But a place where Stark could be his creative self. Seriously - what did you think he could build there? He built exactly what he could in such a place - a pop tart heating oven mitt. What was that?? That's a fair cry from building a miniature arc reactor in a middle eastern cave. I wanted him to TOP THAT. I wanted him to walk into this amazingly secret location he had built with every conceivable toy he could dream of using to build something worthy of the Stark name. And that kid! Great for some comedic relief, but come on - not in the fortress of solitude. Let me write the script here: Have him battle his anxiety on his own, while trying to build something useful to battle the real Mandarin and throw in either his growing dependency on alcohol (due to New York and character flaw) or some other drug for anxiety to complicate things. I'm going to stop here - but I could go on and on and on about this topic, believe me.
Heck, seeing that Hulkbuster looking armor barreling through walls had me sit forward in my seat - what's going to happen? Is Stark going to use that armor personally to win the battle? Ah no. It was used as a throwaway. Inanimate. A waste of my attention and not required in the movie's story AT ALL. *Sigh*.
Acting - 85%. Obviously strong with this cast in place. No real weak link. Robert Downey Jr. did the best with what he had I felt, but it could have been so much more. The real waste was of course Ben Kingsley - his awesome performance as a villain was cut very short.
Character Development - 77%. An attempt was made to finally show some weakness in the ego armor of Stark. But in the end, I had a bad taste in my mouth from the way he treated the child (it's not his child and even if it was, does he want to repeat what his father did to him?), his almost laughable creations in the boy's garage and ultimately his full surrender to 'serenity now'. It all doesn't sit right with me.
Now Pepper Potts on the other hand was brilliantly wrought. Finally she is a formidable adversary both physically and mentally. Her quick and decidedly very aggressive actions have her and Stark meeting themselves going in different directions: Potts becoming more warlike and Stark un-arming himself. I applaud whats happened to her in IM3 and as a device, I like having the two characters slowing migrating to polar opposites once again.
The Mandarin was a sham. Completely put off by the premise as a slap in the face of everything I thought Marvel stood for. Marvel has to work so hard at suspension of disbelief with superhero movies, to just up and rip this one to shreds points to too much ego in the ranks. Someone is getting too big for their britches. It stinks. Yeah, I'm upset.
Directing - 71%. I never thought I'd say this, but I want Favreau back. He was a student of the character and I believe he's the only one I can think of right now that can bring more life back into the character. Favreau's biggest drawback to me is his lack of 3D experience. Shane Black's IRON MAN 3 is disjointed. Several times he lost me. Maybe I should have picked something up earlier, I don't know but there were a few scene shifts that completely lost me. Understand that I am a hard person to lose in a movie too. Sure I liked the nods to the original IRON MAN like the inclusion of Stark's assistant from the Middle Eastern cave. His comedic touches were somewhat nice too. Loved Stark's "Westworld" comment for example.
Sound / Score - 88%. Nicely done. Especially the folly and sound effects. The Iron Man franchise has always been strong in that department. Hat's off.
Cinematography - 87%. The other reason to see this movie. It's a spectacle. Awesome camera angles and motion! Inventive scenes and a very nicely lit and shot movie. Between this, the sound and the acting - these are the reasons to see IM3.
John Toll (BRAVEHEART, CLOUD ATLAS) was the Director of Photography.
Visual Effects - 81%. Nope. Not as good as ILM and it will be sometime before anyone can catch (if ever) ILM in what I call "hard line engineering". ILM did the first two IRON MAN movies and boy can you tell the difference. At least I can. And it was DISTRACTING. Look, I am a HUGE Weta Digital fan. And Digital Domain fan too. But Weta is a much more of an organic, photo realistic shop for tight closeups of creatures and humans that want to cross the uncanny valley. In other words, they have their place right now and that is working their magic in Middle-earth and on Pandora, rather than the armor of Tony Stark. ILM owns this space. Nobody is better than they are with robots (TRANSFORMERS - which was converted mostly by Legend 3D), building destruction, ships, cars, etc. It's just their heritage. They've built their engines from a pedigree influenced by their previous works. Same goes for Weta. It's no disrespect here. ILM is better with hard lines and Weta is better with soft line engineering (organic). The best result if both types of effects are needed are for these tow companies to work together. Producer Kevin Feige actually compared the final battle scene in IM3 to THE AVENGERS final battle scenes and said IM3 was better (paraphrasing)! No, it's not. Far from not better. One scene with Stark walking down stairs in his armor had me shaking my head. It was so easy to tell it was effects, and kinda shoddy at that! I want to be guessing if this was someone really in a suit walking or effects. There was an overall softness to the effects and I wanted nice hard lines. In other words, Disney - spend the money to get ILM. Don't contract this stuff out to the lowest bidder if that's what happened. And to be clear, I'm sure Weta did the best job they could with what they have.
Stereoscopic 3D - 76%. Oh man does Marvel need to embrace native 3D if they are going to continue down the path of IRON MAN 3. The 3D in IRON MAN 3 was passable and good in most scenes, but in other cases was bad. Stereo D did the conversion and while they are Marvel's go-to conversion shop, this effort is merely ok. Compared to THE AVENGERS, the 3D in IM3 pales. One scene had a lazily converted backdrop that had me shuddering.
I was able to tour Stereo D's facilities while I was in LA in February and they were working on IM3 when we were walking through. They're good people there. I just think Marvel had better shape up in the effects and 3D department - spend the money where you need to. Go native 3D if you can't get the conversions you want. And go back to ILM for hard lines! The digital renderings in 3D seemed much better in THE AVENGERS than in IM3 and my guess is because they had both ILM and Weta involved. Assuming ILM did the building devastation and Iron Man suits, while Weta did the Hulk and alien invasion forces. It's perfectly logical to assume that better 3D will arrive from these shops when they are working within their own specialties.
CONCLUSION: Marvel needs to learn from this movie and unfortunately they are going to be happy with the monetary gain this thing is going to enjoy. Will they actually take the time to learn, or just continue on? Heck J.A.R.V.I.S. was practically omnipotent! How in the world is J.A.R.V.I.S. not sentient yet? For me IRON MAN 3 was a step backward for Marvel and for stereoscopic 3D conversions. Weta did the best it could with the customized engines they have. I don't blame them AT ALL. I don't want to see Shane Black back in the Marvel fold - I think the writing was a mess too (Shane Black and Drew Pearce) as I've already said with the story. I want to have Favreau back. In native 3D. All in baby. Iron Man deserves it.
Thank you to Empire Theaters for the screening! The IMAX presentation was well lit and sounded remarkable!!