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)
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The Avengers

The summer movie season has officially arrived, heralded proudly by the amazingly awesome film that is The Avengers.

Joss Whedon has a special place in my heart as one of the most under-appreciated directors in Hollywood. Although there’s some of his work that I could pass on, most of it is tolerable to a level equal of any other TV faire, or in several cases, some of the best work I’ve seen come out of Hollywood in years. His other work includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and my all-time favorites Firefly and Serenity. So when I heard that they were tapping Whedon to helm Marvel’s 5-year endeavor of bringing all their heroes into one unifying film, I was thrilled.  Whedon is a master at character-driven pieces, and with a strong potential for a film like The Avengers to become the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat visual effects buffet (where you know the food isn’t all that amazing, but there’s just so much variety and so much to try that you keep going back, even though you know you’ll feel awful for it later) that’s just what this film needed to keep it grounded.

To sum my thoughts up: this is the best experience I’ve had at the movies since seeing Serenity in 2005. Although I’m sure the film had its fair share of flaws, I was completely unaware of them because I was simply having too good of a time. It was filled with humor, action, and heart and even managed to bring me close to tears at one point. Never once did I consciously think about the 2.5 hour run time, which is an excellent sign.

For those that aren’t familiar with The Avengers, here’s a brief recap. A top secret government organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., under the guidance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is given the task of protecting the world from threats beyond the capabilities of normal men. In preparing for this task, they recruit the world’s greatest heroes (each of which joins the group from a pre-existing stand-alone film) – Iron Man, a.k.a Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and the Hulk, a.k.a. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). They’re also joined by secondary characters Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together, this team must defeat Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, as he attempts to invade earth with an alien army and rule over mankind.  Sound action-packed? It is!

They even manage to represent all of the primary colors in their outfit choices!

Here’s where I think Whedon succeeded the most. Each of these characters is amazing in and of themselves. You have Captain America -a super solider, the perfect specimen of man, Iron Man – a genius, billionaire playboy with a high tech suit of armor, Thor – a demi-god from another realm, and the Hulk – a scientist who becomes an unstoppable wrecking ball when he gets angry — and none of them get along. Ultimately, despite all their super-human abilities, they all suffer from such basic human flaws, and THIS is the genius of Whedon (who not only directed, but rewrote the script). Whedon gives us a reason for all these people to not only come together, but work past their differences for the greater good.

The unstoppable cloud from Green Lantern, which killed the strongest Green Lantern, and fought off droves of the galaxies best defenders... but was then defeated by Ryan Reynolds because he wanted it bad enough.

The film also succeeds in finding a villain which is not too easily defeated, but also not overwhelmingly powerful and still somehow easily defeated to conveniently wrap up the storyline (see Green Lantern). This is no small feat seeing as how the combined power of the Avengers would decimate just about any opponent.

On an acting level, Downey Jr. delivers that classic wit and charm we’ve all come to love from the Iron Man films, Evans plays the out-of-his-element good soul that won us over in Captain America: The First Avenger, and Hemsworth does a great job at helping the audience take the somewhat out-of-place absurdity of a demi-god seriously.

Finally a Hulk we can cheer for, as he smashes his way into our hearts with pure, unbridled anger.

But perhaps the most noteworthy performance is that of Ruffalo, who replaced Edward Norton as Bruce Banner after the studio and Norton had a bit of a disagreement following The Incredible Hulk movie. Part of it is the writing, part of it is the effects team, but FINALLY we get to see the Hulk as we’ve always wanted to see him. Not part of some artsy “soul-behind-those-eyes” interpretation by Ang Lee, but as a man with some control over the beast, that ultimately enjoys smashing things. It’s refreshing, and at times, quite hilarious. (Two specific moments come to mind, but I won’t spoil them.)

Agent Coulson was apparently brought on board for his super human adorableness.

If I had to choose a specific favorite character of the film, I actually think I’d choose Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. Coulson has appeared in several of the other Marvel films, acting as a sort of character glue to bring all of the films and their characters together.  His role is much more pivotal in this film than in the others. He almost becomes a representative of the audience – an everyman amongst super-humans, with many of the same reactions we ourselves would have. I won’t spoil anything else, just expect good things from Gregg’s performance.

Again, this film was so wonderfully executed, and although it probably won’t be an Oscar contender outside of the technical categories, it is a great little piece of escapism at the movies, and an enjoyable thrill ride. Marvel did it right with their plan to establish a universe for their films to co-exist in, and with Iron Man 3 starting production this summer, Thor 2 in the fall, Captain America 2 next winter, and The Avengers 2 after that, we can expect great things in the coming years. Now if only they can work out a deal with Sony to get Spiderman in the next Avengers film. Time will tell!

My opinion, well worth the trip to the theatre to see this film as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen. Although IMAX and 3D are not necessary. (I saw it in 2D and loved it.) And be sure to stay until the end of the entire credits. Marvel sticks in their usual stinger about a minute in which sets up some element of the next film, but this time they also gave an added bonus at the very end.  In fact, the cast shot the scene immediately after the Hollywood premiere. (If you look closely you’ll notice that Evans had to wear a prosthetic piece on his face to hide the beard he’d grown out for another role.) This added bonus doesn’t really add anything pivotal, but it’s sure to leave you laughing at its pure, simple randomness.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (7 votes cast)
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Due Date

When I saw the previews for director Todd Phillips’ Due Date, it looked pretty obvious what I was getting myself into. On the surface, Due Date appeared to be a 21st century reboot of the 1987 comedy, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Planes is a classic. Martin and Candy are comedic legends. Trying to update a great film (even if they aren’t explicit about it) is always tricky business and rarely a good idea. Still, the previews, the re-teaming of Zach Galifianakis and Phillips, and the inclusion of Iron Man sucked me into believing it would be worth seeing. Sure, Due Date was sure to have its quirks. But coming off Phillips’ surprise hit The Hangover, it didn’t seem reasonable to think with Downey Jr. on board Due Date wouldn’t be another pleasant surprise and a interesting twist on old favorite. Sigh. While premise wise Due Date is almost a carbon copy of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Due Date derails (sorry, had to use it) somewhere between Alabama and the Grand Canyon.

Due Date is the story of workaholic Peter Highman (Downey Jr.) and his misadventures with fellow traveler Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis). Highman is on business in Atlanta and needs to get home for the birth of his first child across the country in L.A. Normally just a few hour flight away, Highman is kicked off his flight and placed on the nation’s “no-fly list” while his bag and wallet are carried off on the flight without him. With few options and only five days to get home before the birth, Highman is offered and accepts a ride by a strange co-traveler, aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay. Let the hilarity ensue! Kinda…

To be fair, Due Date is not without its moments and Downey Jr. and Galifianakis do seem to have some comedic chemistry. Still, it seems most of the comedic set-ups and gags are wasted on the lowest common denominator, which becomes endlessly frustrating as the movie continues to develop. So many potentially hilarious moments are cut short or never develop at all just so that Galifianakis can do something completely over-the-top and bizarre. Sure, the thirteen year-old kid who snuck into the theater sitting behind me thought it was funny. But it’s not what I was hoping for.

The movie’s most glaring flaw comes in the form of the relationship that develops between Downey Jr. and Galifianakis. In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Candy and Martin develop a friendship that comes across as heartfelt and genuine in the movies final scenes. In Due Date, the friendship between the movie’s two leads seems bizarre and forced. I’m still scratching my head as to why Downey Jr. ever develops any sort of affinity towards Galifianakis other than the periodic drug usage that occurs during the movie. Galifianakis comes across as so over-the-top and sometimes downright disgusting that there is no conceivable way anyone in their right mind would be able to put up with him for five minutes let alone five days. That’s what was so brilliant about Candy’s character in Plains, Trains, and Automobiles. He is an everyman, an annoying and attention starved everyman, but still an everyman. Candy strikes the right balance between endearing and irritating. Galifianakis leaves us only with absolutely strange to the point of ludicrous.

In the end, Due Date was a serious let down. Sure, I laughed at times. But what could have been a nice update of a classic turned into a sophomoric affair. To say cheap gags and middle school boy humor abounds in this one is an understatement. This one might be worth a rental but definitely not worth the price of seeing it at your local megaplex. In fact, it might be more worth it to look up your local listings and see if the old John Candy and Steve Martin flick is on somewhere. It probably is, and it’s free and far more enjoyable.

Rating:

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Iron Man 2 (Take-Two)

Guess what? Summer begins early, as it does with the year’s major blockbuster movies.  Robert Downey, Jr. is back in action shooting to thrill, and let me just say, “Iron Man 2,” while not coming out blazing, still knocks last year’s hideous kick-start “Wolverine” out of the park.

Director Jon Favreau and his star Downey hit the jackpot two years ago with the release of “Iron Man.” Not only did it manage to be the year’s second biggest domestic hit, bested solely by “The Dark Knight,” but it inched past Spielberg’s return to “Indiana Jones,” and even managed to become one of the year’s best-reviewed films.  Audiences loved it even more.  With the release of Marvel’s second installment, the winning streak continues, but not nearly to the same effect.

“Iron Man” did the impossible.  It blended moderately abundant action sequences into an impressive character study of Tony Stark, a weapons creator so self-absorbed and ignorant to the reality of the business he deals in.  Upon a rude awakening, Stark changed his vision for developing the ultimate weapon, eliminating multiple trigger-fingers, and standing alone as the sole necessary weapon of the United States.  “Iron Man 2″ picks up where we last found Tony, only this time out, returning director Jon Favreau seems to be less interested in the thrills so predominant in the first outing.

In “Iron Man 2,” Stark has to take on the U.S. government, demanding that the Iron Man weapon be turned over to the military, as well as face off against multiple foes (Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke) trying to end his career and his life.  His friendship with Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is tested, as is the sexual tension between him and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  On top of that, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) starts hanging around to try and encourage Stark to stop fooling around and join the Avenger initiative.  Add in the fact that his new secretary (Scarlett Johansson) seems to have a secret looming and the reality that Tony’s power source that keeps him alive also has potentially fatal side effects on his body–it seems the man sure has his work cut out for him.  So much going on and so little intensity… But where’s all the kaboom??

It might be scary for fanboys to find out that “2″ may have significant meaning in regards to the action on display in the film–the movie literally contains two action sequences to devour.  Not to say that burdens Tony Stark’s latest adventure, but it does allow for the content of this installment to be swarmed by multiple subplots and characters that never really advance the story in an exciting way.  Granted, this isn’t the cobbled mess that “Spider-Man 3″ was, it just hasn’t the finesse of the film that preceded it.  Since no one could describe this as “an action-packed thrill ride,” Iron Man 2 luckily has brilliant actors and a very solid director in Favreau to save it.

This movie is totally, completely and utterly about Robert Downey, Jr.  Sure, we have all these great supporting actors, but every reason to see this movie rests upon the shoulders of a more-than-capable star portraying the single most interesting superhero character in the history of cinema.  Yes, I said that.  Who needs Bruce Wayne and his whiny-baby, cloak and dagger, angry teenager antics?  Who cares if Peter Parker can’t figure out if he’s more capable as a  human in love, a protector of New York, or an emo break-dancer?  Who wants to waste their time wondering why Wolverine can’t get his claws together and tell his past to go find someone who cares?  Tony Stark doesn’t play those games.  Downey has a fully realized character–top-dollar hilarious and engaging.  The movie goes for long stretches without things blowing up, and Downey manages to capture our attention with his inventiveness and brilliance as actor.

If the movie never reaches the level of the 2008 predecessor, it’s because the movie has a lot more down time and subplots.  The studio seems so bent on bridging “The Avengers” movie two years out, that Stark’s story suffers, and the movie becomes overwhelmed with exposition and witty banter.  At least it doesn’t kill the movie, and the action in the film really does deliver even in its limited doses.  Even Favreau allows himself to have a little game time, upping his role in the film, and kicking some butt in the middle of the big finale.  “Iron Man 2″ may not be the film that ups the ante as far as sequels typically go, but the movie still manages to be plenty entertaining for two hours, and it contains a fully-realized hero that consistently breaks all the rules and dares to be wholly memorable.  Even if fanboys are left wanting more explosions, I’m sure they’ll be satisfied with this outing and jazzed about the upcoming showdown.

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Iron Man 2

This is why great movies shouldn’t have sequels. Make no mistake, Iron Man was a great movie. It took a character from the depths of obscurity and made him a national symbol. Sure it was a comic book movie, but it had more heart and more flare than a lot of more serious films. The story of a man totally absorbed in himself and his own pleasure being changed and using his power to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves was truly inspiring, led by a truly gifted actor. The action, while limited in quantity, was excellent in quality.

How do you follow an act like that? Well, at the command of the almighty dollar, Marvel Studios had to try. To be fair, what they came up with is watchable, in fact clearly a better sequal than their colossal disappointments of Spiderman 2 and X2: X-Men United, but it has none of the power of Iron Man.

The scene in Iron Man where Stark rescues the villagers from the Ten Rings is a scene I’ll probably never forget. It took two thirds of the movie to get to Stark’s first heroics as Iron Man, but it was well worth it.

If you’re thinking that, now that we have the origin story out of the way, we’ll get some extra action and heroics, think again. Marvel has to cram in more subplots and implausible characters to eat up time. Well, that’s not so bad, you say, more plot development is good, right?

Not when the writers are used to writing for comic books. Comic books have room for stories that go in circles, whereas movies simply don’t. For example, in part 2, Stark finds out that he’s dying due to the effects of the reactor core he built in part 1. Precious time for action sequences disappears forever while he remodels his workshop to build a machine and creates some “new element” that was supposedly impossible to create through a process the movie never even tries to explain. This new element magically cures his ailment and everything goes back to normal, so it doesn’t even drive the story. If I were to read through a decade’s worth of monthly comic book issues, I would expect some filler crap like this, but for a movie, it’s just wrong.

Similarly, after Stark seemed to have gotten a new set of priorities in part 1, in part 2, we get more of him staggering drunkenly, driving sports cars, and trying to score. When someone turns over a new leaf, is it unreasonable to expect them to never relapse? Probably. But that’s not the point. Why are we paying to watch the same stuff over?

Unlike comic serials, which are expected to keep a story going perpetually, a movie can, and should, present a coherent story that stands on its own and doesn’t waste time with filler. Judging by the buzz among nerds over the past few years, and by the easter eggs in both Iron Man movies, Marvell plans on changing this. Iron Man 2 is actually set-up for movies about Thor and the Avengers (who include Iron Man). In other words, Marvell plans on making movies more like comic books, written not so much to entertain as to advertise the next movie and keep you coming back for more. This might score with the hardcore comic nerds, but I doubt the general public will tolerate it for long.

I should probably say that Iron Man 2 is not horrible, and is even kind of entertaining if you turn your brain off. I’m sure there will be a third one, and I’ll probably see it. After all, both Spiderman and X-Men made improvements with their third installments. Once Iron Man 2 is out on video, it won’t be a bad way for you to kill two hours.

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Sherlock Holmes

The other big release living in James Cameron’s shadow over the holiday season, “Sherlock Holmes” pits Robert Downey, Jr. in the titular, brilliant detective character, this time in a 2009 F/X-filled upgrade courtesy of Guy Ritchie.

The plot is a little shaky, but seems to involve the sorcerer Lord Blackwood’s attempt to take over the world in all-too-evil fashion.  After his capture and sentenced hanging early on, he returns from the grave to entice the interest of the doubting Detective Holmes and his most trusted counterpart Watson (Jude Law) to investigate.

Law and Downey have a real chemistry here, consistently delivering the laughs and swashbuckling fun. In fact, this end-of-the-decade rendition of the classic character is both unlike anything audiences have seen before and perfectly suitable. The film boasts an infectious “Pirates of the Caribbean” vibe, and Downey is always worth the watch.  Having recently jump-started his career again, it’s a pleasure to see the talented A-lister swashbuckling his way through this fast and often funny adventure film. But to my digress, the film has the wrong director: Guy Ritchie. He takes a lot of directorial nods from his “Rock N Rolla” and “Snatch” to deliver a confusing, almost uninteresting narrative.  The plot never kept me involved, even when the set pieces and two lead actors did.  With that said, the action and comedy deliver for the most part, and for that reason “Holmes” will be a fun time for most, you will just wonder what’s going on.  I have to express my minor disappointment, but nonetheless, I am looking forward to a more engaging sequel.

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Iron Man

In the late 1990s I heard lots of chatter about some dude named Robert Downey, Jr. Apparently he was an actor who was in rehab a lot, from what I gathered, and there was also some sort of connection with the TV show Friends. Then came the new millennium and he faded into gossip magazine oblivion, only to be all the rage again when Iron Man was released. This was a movie I, regrettably, never saw in theatres. I do have the mega-ultra-edition DVD courtesy of my brother from last Christmas, and before that my wife and I watched it on Netflix, so perhaps I can retain a smidgen of street cred there.

The movie itself is more like a prequel than anything, as Tony Stark, played by Downey Jr. (can I just say Downey from here on out? I believe I shall.), spends much of the first half in a cave constructing the beta version of his famous iron suit. After that he spends the next 30 minutes building and testing version 1.0, and is actually only Iron Man for the final act. His stint as a superhero, in fact, is limited to one brief incident involving the rescue of a handful of villagers being bullied by his former captors from when he was in the cave at the beginning of the movie. So the title should really be something indie-ish or alt-culture like Becoming Iron Man. I doubt that would have flew well with most mainstream moviegoers this side of the Ross Film Theatre, though.

Without dwelling too much on somewhat misleading premises, though, I must say that the movie is, above all else, just really entertaining. And much of the fun of the movie comes from Downey, who plays his role as the gabillionaire playboy without a conscience to the hilt, chewing every scene he’s in and gleefully asking for more. He’s just fun to watch, whether he’s bantering with top military brass (Terrence Howard, inhabiting a role that should have gone to Cuba Gooding Jr.), playfully chiding his personal assistant, the ever-elegant Gwynneth Paltrow, or copping an attitude with his sidekick–an omnipresent computer voiced by quintessential “that one guy!” Paul Bettany. The movie could have probably been called “Iron Man Eats A Bowl of Fruit Loops” and it would have been just as fun to watch.

Of course the special effects are off the hook, the music is catchy, the acting all around is solid, but kudos really go to Mr. Dryer Sheet, who reminds us why some movie stars really are stars.

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