Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is the film we have been waiting for since Dark Knight Rises. It has a phenomenally powerful heroic arc for many of its characters, pits our hero against a terrifying enemy, gives us a nice love story, and does it all without wallowing in darkness and a fairly nihilistic worldview. And it is explosively funny at perfect moments.

As of its release, Iron Man 3 is the best movie of 2013.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released May 3, 2013

Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black, based on the comic by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

Directed by Shane Black 

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebecca Hall, Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Paul Bettany, William Sadler, and Ty Simpkins

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Iron Man 3 comes chronologically after Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. In this story, the events from The Avengers are referred to as ‘New York’ from the year before. This is important, because the heroic efforts Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) made in that conflict have left their mark on him. He is torn up and is having trouble sleeping. 

But he’s been working obsessively with his suits, making them able to move remotely and even be controlled by Jarvis (Bettany) so they can be nearly autonomous. At the same time, Rhodey (Cheadle) is using the suit the US Government appropriated, which is now called the Iron Patriot. Rhodey and Tony are still friends. Pepper (Paltrow) is very worried about Tony. He is unable to stay in bed, is acting a little too manic, and their relationship is suffering. She wishes he could have a life without the suits.

Meanwhile, there is a terrorist called the Mandarin (Kingsley) who is incredibly well outfitted for mass destruction. He is bombing all kinds of places and appears to want to knock the world’s systems completely off balance. But there’s also another bad guy named Aldrich Killian (Pearce) who is a brilliant inventor and developer and who seems to have a personal bone to pick with Tony Stark. And this guy is not entirely human.

When Tony’s home and lab are completely destroyed, Stark is left with his one final suit, panic attacks, and a pushy kid (Simpkins) who might be able to help him save the world. The Mandarin’s plans move forward, putting countless lives in danger, and Killian’s plans do much the same. Now Tony has to somehow rescue his relationship, the president, and the entire world from a madman who is bent on molding the world after his own vision.

Leading to a visually stunning showdown that does all kinds of crazy things that will come as a surprise to most viewers.

Critique

There’s not much bad to say about this film. It starts with a script that knows how to throw punches at our hero, leaving him on his back, nearly dead, in the snow. The script allows characters to explore relationships and to inhabit their emotional space. This consists of allowing scenes to continue for enough time to let us see the character do natural, often heroic things.

The script also allows for all kinds of humor at surprising and perfect times. Most of that humor is clever dialogue, but it’s so effective because of its timing. Furthermore, the bad guys are ruthless and smart and incredibly dangerous. They win every encounter because they’re better prepared than anyone else.

As expected, the acting is excellent. This is a surprising role for Ben Kingsley, but the guy really gets it done. Guy Pearce is effectively smarmy and villainous, as are the sidekicks. The role of Stark was of course written for Robert Downey Jr, but there is more asked of him here. He has to move beyond clever snark to real self exploration, while staying true to himself. He does that well. Gwyneth Paltrow is as Gwyneth as ever, but the presence and acting of Rebecca Hall offsets the Gwyneth factor nicely.

The effects are remarkable. Seamless, creative, stunning, and altogether wonderful.

You’re going to love this movie.

Content warnings: Lots of superhero violence and some at times creepy or difficult images. Nothing gory.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

Iron out the kinks in your relationships, man (or woman!), and share this review with your friends. Then drop a Hamilton and go see this flick.

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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 doesn’t have quite the freshness that the first Iron Man film had, but it offers an interesting villain combination in Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke and the set pieces are mighty fine. The character of Tony Stark continues to be far more than meets the eye and the acting and deceptive light-heartedness of these films really sets them apart.

Plus, Don Cheadle.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released May 7, 2010

Written by Justin Theroux. Based on the comics by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Samuel Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, and Clark Gregg

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

After revealing that he is Iron Man, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is immediately targeted by the US government, who wants to confiscate his technology, aided by Justin Hammer (Rockwell), a rival weapons manufacturer who has no ethics and a chip on his shoulder. At the same time, a vengeful genius Russian inventor, Vanko (Rourke) targets Tony and hatches a plan to kill him.

When the plan fails, Hammer and Vanko team up, while at the same time, Tony’s friend Rhodey (Cheadle) grows increasingly concerned about Tony’s mental stability and becomes torn between his loyalty to his friend and his nation. While all of this is happening, we learn that Tony is being steadily poisoned by his arc reactor and that Tony needs to find a way to make the reactor safer– but this requires the use of an element that doesn’t exist.

Add to all of this the presence of Agent Coulson (Gregg) and Nick Fury (Jackson), who seem to want Stark to get involved in some kind of heroic initiative. Supporting Tony through all of this and running Tony’s company is Pepper Potts (Paltrow in one of her only palatable roles), who is also Tony’s love interest.

These tensions result in lots of explosions, snappy dialogue, and a heroic arc that takes Stark to a showdown with some seriously nasty weapons created by Vanko and Hammer.

Critique

Downey Jr. seems to have been made for this role– or maybe it’s the other way around. The edgy snark that is laid over the top of kindness, fear of hurting those he cares about, and honor, is once again deftly handled by probably the only actor who could pull this off. His performance is very well complemented by Cheadle playing a conflicted Rhodey and Rockwell doing his characteristically great job playing a layered slimeball.

The story is well-crafted also, with conflicts and tension arising from high stakes personal issues as well as global issues. Favreau keeps the pace moving along at an engaging clip, leaving time for characters to have moments that help them grow, but leaving no lag whatsoever.

As a sequel, Iron Man 2 is one of the few, such as Empire Strikes Back, that takes the original story and satisfyingly adds to it, despite not having quite the level of fresh wonder of the first. This film bursts with charm, humanity, humor, and action. It’s hard to enjoy Mickey Rourke, but he is quite convincing as a vengeful thug– although his ability as an inventor strains credulity.

If you liked the first Iron Man, you’ll like this one.

Content warnings: some salty language, plenty of explosive violence, a little blood, some suggestiveness.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5           Overall: 4.5

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Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers is the best movie of 2012 and possibly the best superhero movie of all time. It is, in fact, better than Spiderman 1 and 2 and the first two Dark Knight films. Here’s a preview:

Here are the deets:

Released May 4, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Directed by Joss Whedon

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, and Paul Bettany

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The Avengers picks up where Thor, Iron Man 2, and Captain America left off, weaving their individual tales into one incredibly cohesive tale.

Loki (Hiddleston), since being foiled in his bid to rule Asgard, wants to rule Earth and has an army of baddies to wage explosive war on humanity. In order to get the baddies to Earth, Loki needs the tesseract, the blue cube that played such a huge part in Thor and Captain America. Currently, however, SHIELD, run by Nick Fury (Jackson) has the tesseract and is trying to figure out how to use it as a source of perpetual energy. He has the Black Widow (Johansson) along with Hawkeye (Renner) working as agents to help protect the tesseract, and his second in command is Agent Hill (Smulders). Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson.

Loki steals the tesseract, so Fury gathers a team of super beings, namely Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor (Hemsworth), Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Evans), and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo). Banner is ostensibly brought on board in order to use his knowledge of gamma rays to help find the tesseract, but we all know the Hulk’s going to show up.

And boy is it great when the Hulk does finally show up. Hulk smash.

The team sort of assembles, what with individual dynamics and Loki’s machinations. The story unfolds on a truck, on a hovering and invisible battleship, in space, and mostly in characters. Everything culminates in a massive and truly awesome battle in New York City. Poor New York.

Critique

There are a lot of reasons why The Avengers is so extraordinarily successful. The first reason is probably that Whedon and Zak Penn clearly have done their homework and are sufficiently steeped in the lore of the correct marvel comics. Each character is very much an individual, with only Hawkeye turning out a little flat, and the characters pretty much travel their own road. The fact that each character comes to the team with individual and clear motivations cannot be stressed enough– this is why the film is so successfully engaging and solid.

The snappy, excellent dialogue stems from the authentic and vivid characters. Humor is a natural result of personalities and situations, rather than a forced ingredient. Of course Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark gets some of the best lines, but Hulk actually becomes the source of the biggest laugh. Don’t laugh too loud; you’ll miss the second punch line. Pun intended.

Yes, Black Widow wears rather silly clothes, and her sexiness is clearly on display, but she’s also a very good character– nearly the most developed and interesting of the bunch. The way she interacts with Loki is genius.

That’s the other thing. Nobody in this movie is stupid. Nobody makes dumb mistakes in order to move the plot forward conveniently. Everybody is smart, tough, and complex. The actors imbue each character with clear, individual, interesting motivations. It’s a wonder that Whedon not only knew how to write such a phenomenal script and direct a film with remarkable pacing, but he also knew how to let these actors turn in some very fine performances– in some cases you get the feeling that the actors wrote some of the lines, they are so natural.

Stop reading my review now and go see this movie. It is the best movie of 2012 and very close to the best superhero movie of all time.

Content warnings: Plenty of superhero violence (without blood), lots of explosions, very little language, no overt sensuality

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the second installment in the franchise from Guy Ritchie, continues the 2011 trend of having a colon in your film title. Seriously. 2011 is like the year of the colon. X-Men: First Class, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1, and so on.

But more importantly, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is all kinds of good. Holmes take a step away from being a total misanthrope and the cast does a very fine job in a fairly complex storyline and some excellent production value.

Here’s a preview:

Some deets:

Released December 16, 2011

Written by Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney (and Arthur Conan Doyle)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry, and Kelly Reilly.

*     *     *      *

Story

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a complicated tale. You have a bombing, a poisoning, anarchists, a political summit, a huge weapon manufacturer, and a brilliantly evil antagonist who appears to be running the entire show.

This installment in the franchise begins with one of Holmes’ (Downey Jr.) signature disguises, picking up where the last film left off. Holmes’ heart seems to be nearly won by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and he and she have a great, snappy, chemistry-laden scene at the beginning of the show.

Then something happens and Holmes understands that Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, no relation to this writer) is very much his match. Holmes needs his friend, Henry Watson’s, help. Jude Law plays the foil very well again, by the way. The problem is that Watson is about to get married and he has a life outside of Holmes’ self-involved world, no matter how wonderful the detective’s urban camouflage might be.

Watson gets married and Moriarty threatens Holmes with harm to Watson and his new wife, played with intelligence and fierceness by Kelly Reilly. Holmes and Watson end up chasing down Moriarty’s plot while Mary Watson also plays a part in trying to take the bad guy down. We also meet Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry), played fearlessly and with some droll humor.

Add to all this some gypsies, anarchists, and some very fine deduction.

Critique

In any case, the film is fairly complex. There are plenty of slow-motion scenes and Holmes’ thought-process is illustrated well, again. The action is fun and period, and the climactic scene is quite unexpected, but nicely motivated.

All in all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows delivers an intelligent but followable plot, excellent performances, mighty fine production design, and all kinds of creative action. There is also plenty of humor and the chemistry between Law and Downey Jr. makes for a perfect heart to an entertaining film.

It’s not quite as fresh as the first one, and Holmes loses a little too much of his misanthropy and brilliance, but this film is nonetheless a fun ride. You will love Jared Harris as Moriarty. His voice and manner are perfect.

Content warning: plenty of fighting and other violence, some language, and some substance use.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4.5

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