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 Town

Ben Affleck continues to reinvent himself quite successfully with the engaging action-thriller The Town, his second outing as director following his debut with Gone Baby Gone three years ago.  Sticking with what works for him, Affleck returns to Boston-set crime dramas, and his abilities behind the camera prove that within this particular sub-genre he can compete with the best in the biz, including Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese.  The mere fact that he bests Mann’s recent Public Enemies and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster by a wide margin tells us we’ve got a new player in town.  No pun intended.

The Town tells the story of a band of thieves led by Doug McCray (Affleck).  The film opens with McCray and his three cohorts entering a bank under the veil of ghoulish skeletal masks and dark cloaks and armed with automatic weapons, escaping with the bank’s entire loot in a matter of minutes.  Upon their exit, James (Jeremy Renner), the reckless one of the bunch, decides to grab a bank teller, Claire (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage.  Blindfolded throughout her capture, she is eventually released and left unharmed.  The guys become worried that she might leak incriminating information to the feds, so Doug takes it upon himself to follow her.  She approaches him in a laundromat where they strike up conversation, and Doug (having taken an interest in her) decides to cross a dangerous line in asking her out for a drink.  Eventually, their casual friendship turns into something serious, and Doug is forced to hide his criminal life from her as he continues to participate in further high-risk heists.

These heists are orchestrated by a dangerous Irishman, Fergus (Pete Postlethwaite), the same operator that resulted in Doug’s father’s incarceration.  In fact, Doug has essentially been enslaved into his line of work as a professional thief.  I was never exactly sympathetic for him in his position, because despite his protective feelings for Claire, his loyalty to his family, and his longing to know of his disappeared mother, Doug never frowns upon stealing.  He is leery of James and his violent tendencies, not because someone may end up getting hurt, but that he may end up paying for James’ mistakes.

If I have one complaint about The Town, it’s that I don’t know what Affleck wants to say here.  He walks a fine line of upholding Doug’s character as a career criminal because he may have a soft heart.  His position is definitely conflicted, but does he really deserve to be painted as a hero?  One who shoots at police officers and keeps stolen government money…

I can’t say this complaint in any way pulled me out of the tension of the film.  Throughout two gripping hours of excitement, Affleck had me on the edge of my seat.  In much the same way, Gone Baby Gone had me conflicted regarding its moral position, however, I still found it to be 2007’s best and most overlooked film.  The Town proves Affleck knows what he’s doing, and perhaps purposefully chooses to push audiences into debate.  If Christopher Nolan can cause us to debate about the nature of reality, why can’t Affleck cause debate over moral issues?

I feel like I’m leaping the track here, so as for how well put-together The Town is, let me just say an action-crime picture hasn’t been this well-done since Heat.  Sure, The Departed is a better film, but it didn’t have rousing shootouts like Affleck conjures up.  Not only are they well-done, but they also have purpose.  The film itself becomes so engrossing from the opening scene, that what follows only adds to the suspense.  I cared about Doug McCray, even if I realized I didn’t quite agree with his position.  I felt for Claire, the hostage who unknowingly enters into a relationship with a man who quietly understand her trauma (for obvious reasons).  Even the character of James, compelled to one-up any sort of  opposition resulting in a penchant for violence is desperate for Doug’s loyalty, and longs for a semblance of a family.  The actors are extraordinary here, playing versions of characters we’ve seen in many crime-thrillers, but they pull it off remarkably well, and add authentic touches in their performances—most notably Affleck, himself, and Jeremy Renner (fresh off his Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker).  We are even presented with the determined FBI detective, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) tracking McCray’s clan, desperate for useful evidence against a party he already knows to be guilty.  Every one of the performances feels spot-on, as does the authenticity of the film.

I was so impressed with how believable The Town is executed.  From the robberies, to the chases, throughout the FBI investigation, and Affleck’s presentation of his hometown, I never felt as though the film became overblown, even through certain contrivances of the story and the enormity of the action sequences.  Looking back on the film, I realize the entire romantic relationship between Claire and Doug only serves to construct a movie plot, but I still remain so impressed with Affleck’s film.  In many ways it is both wholly original, and yet completely unoriginal, with direct comparisons made available to the aforementioned Heat.  Affleck’s presentation of the material sidesteps all comparisons that could be made, as it truly feels fresh and exciting, and is the best action film in quite some time.  Look for The Town to be a front-runner for award attention this year, and certainly don’t miss it.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (3 votes cast)