Iron Man 3

IronMan3PosterIron Man 3 is the kind of crowd-pleasing adventure picture that has no business being so good.  After a sensational first installment from Director Jon Favreau that surprised audiences with its quick-wit and towering performance from leading actor Robert Downey Jr., the minor pitfall of Favreau’s uneventful Iron Man 2 was only salvaged by the contagious antics of Downey who embodies Tony Stark so well.  Then last summer’s The Avengers swept up audiences around the globe and expanded Stark’s world across an entire Marvel universe of other movies.  The result was an overpraised but undeniably fun success. Be sure to see/brush up on all three previous outings.

Iron Man 3 strikes only a year later with a new director and co-writer Shane Black whose previous writing credits include Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero, and he commandeers a final product that rivals the sheer entertainment value of the first Iron Man film.  As long you don’t see it in its flat 3D format of course.

This is Tony Stark’s journey, not Iron Man’s.  Downey narrates the film’s opening moments and a few other segments of the picture.  His life has certainly changed since the world was exposed to Loki and his invading alien army—and the giant green guy—-and the flying hammer dude—and the other ‘human’ characters that can run around and shoot.  Not to mention wormholes and other dimensions.  Needless to say, Stark has a lot on his mind and he develops crippling anxiety episodes that prevent him from sleep and his ordinary business.  His relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) suffers and he spends his hours of insomnia devoted to developing advanced Iron Man suits.

A new villain enters the scene by the name of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a middle-eastern terrorist threatening the American way of life.  He plants suicide bombers in various U.S. locations, but investigators quickly learn that his destructive pigeons have no formal explosive parts or materials.  Stark’s trusted bodyguard, Happy (Jon Favreau) follows one of the suspected threats only to be found victim to another terrorist attack.  In a rage, Stark invites the terrorist to his front door for a mano-a-mano confrontation.

kingsleyJust when our hero’s former botanist colleague, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) arrives at the Malibu fortress to warn Tony of suspected terrorist involvement from the odd-duck geneticist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the Mandarin unleashes a massive attack to wipe out Iron Man for good.  The structure of Stark Industries falls to rubble.  Tony awakens abandoned, homeless, and all but defeated in a snowy Tennessee town.  His only armored suit has run out of juice, he’s been considered dead, and so he seeks refuge in a shed with the aid of starry-eyed boy, Harley (Ty Simpkins).

To stop the Mandarin from his further promised attacks (namely on the U.S. president), Stark investigates a trail of coverups involving an American soldier terrorist who may have been brainwashed by the Mandarin.  The truth about his death may procure the information Stark needs to defeat his most devastating human foe thus far.  Young Harley and Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle) provide Stark the assistance he most certainly needs to stop the ultimate threat.

What to say about Iron Man 3?  How about: It’s awesome.  Flat-out awesome.  It’s witty.  It’s funny.  It’s action-packed.  It has more memorable moments than I can count.  I enjoyed it even more than The Avengers.  Some won’t.  And that’s fine.  But as a character-driven film with a concrete villain and driving plot, Iron Man 3 is a breath of fresh air.  I’d love to talk about some great sequences and some great moments of dialogue, but why spoil the fun?  Just know, this movie is funny, witty, quotable, and features breathtaking action sequences and the sharpest of digital effects.  It has to because the list of digital effect credits was seemingly endless.

But underneath all of its witty lines and gargantuan fireworks is a resonating story about a great protagonist up against a powerful villain.  Writer-director Shane Black (this guy from the 1987 masterpiece Predator) wisely pushes Stark to the brink and brings his story full-circle.  The film doesn’t have the gravity of a Christopher Nolan superhero picture, but Iron Man 3 is stupendous in its own regard, and a film I would return to much faster than any of those Batman films.  If the audience reaction from the crowd I saw it with was any indication, this trilogy-capper will be a massive hit and entirely well-received by viewers.  I can’t wait to take my wife and see it again.  As for a star rating?  Should I do it?  Should I really do it?  Ah, I’m all in (even if I regret it later).

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Rating: 3.0/5 (1 vote cast)

The Hurt Locker

Here is the sharp, intelligent action-thriller audiences have been craving and probably missed.  Why the studio opted to keep this one in limited release is beyond me.  “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days), could’ve broken the stigma on Iraq-war films and, with some solid marketing behind it, may have easily performed to the tune of at least $60 million, or a total similar to 2005’s “Jarhead.” Oh well, so much for living in the past.  The intensity of the film can still be taken on its own terms, and luckily “The Hurt Locker” has been making the rounds in most critics’ top-ten lists for the year, receiving a lot of Best Picture buzz and wins around awards’ circles.  And the credit is most certainly due.  This film is razor-sharp.

Jeremy Renner (28 Weeks Later) shows off some acting chops as Sgt. William James, the new team leader of a group of bomb diffusers operating in Iraq.  He has two other soldiers working with him to provide his cover fire as he dresses himself in a protective bombsuit to disarm the weapons.  His rogue-like ways soon test the other members’ trust in their squad-leader, and the risk of their already-dangerous job increases.

This film has a superior director in Kathryn Bigelow, whose amazing talent and feel for the material makes for a truly ambitious film.  Her movie captures much of the action ‘pow’ while keeping it in a realistic, intense, and intelligent environment.  The actors help, especially Jeremy Renner whose performance has received a good deal of attention.  While the film caught critics’ attention last year at film festivals, it is finally earning its keep this year.  Granted, the film didn’t get enough exposure or box office performance to find a Best Picture Oscar, but the Academy nominations are certain, and Bigelow might walk away with a much-deserved “Best Director” statue if she can fend off former hubby Jim Cameron and his “Avatar” opus.  “The Hurt Locker” is easily one of the best war films of the last decade, and I’m glad to see it finding the recognition it’s received this year. 

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Rating: 2.8/5 (4 votes cast)