Iron Man 3 Review

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Phase Two of Marvel’s Avenger’s Initiative begins with a bang with “Iron Man 3.” After the disappointment that was “Iron Man 2,” the adventures of Tony Stark got back on course with “The Avengers” which could have been called “Iron Man and the Hulk and Friends.” The appeal of Iron Man struck audiences when his first solo film back in 2008 managed to be one of the best superhero films around. It was also the first building block for Marvel’s cinematic universe that would eventually lead to last year’s “The Avengers.” Looking back at the after credits scene in which a rather Nick Fury-looking Samuel L. Jackson came onto the screen to announce to the world Marvel’s plan, it’s still hard to swallow just how successful Marvel’s plan was; a millions-of-dollars gamble that ended up not only being a cash cow, but the movies turned out pretty good for the most part, too. Sure, the aforementioned “Iron Man 2” was a disappointment, but even that wasn’t terrible. “The Incredible Hulk” didn’t resonate as well with audiences as the studio would have liked, but it wasn’t a complete failure, and spawned a Hulk in “The Avengers” that stole the show. And while “Thor” and “Captain America” weren’t the box office smashes the Iron Man films have been, they managed to be enjoyable and successful enough to garner sequels.

The point here is that this entire Avengers thing wasn’t a sure bet, but Marvel managed to pull it off. It wasn’t perfect, but the pay off with Joss Whedon’s super hero extravaganza was well worth it. Now that the dust has settled and Marvel is rolling in cash, the next phase has begun to prepare for part two of the Avengers. Iron Man 3 kicks things off well enough. It’s not fantastic, and doesn’t live up to the first film, but it’s steps ahead of “Iron Man 2” and feels like a slightly different take on Iron Man than what we’ve seen. Director Shane Black steps in to replace Jon Favreau, who directed the first two films. The change in direction is felt throughout the film, but the Iron Man character, or should I say Tony Stark, manages to stay intact.

What I’ve always liked about the Iron Man films is that it’s not just about the super hero. From the beginning, the films have done a good job of focusing on the man in the suit while also staying true to the super hero roots. With a talent like Robert Downey Jr. playing the character, it’s hard to not peel back the suit as much as possible. It can be argued that “Iron Man 3” spends too much time on Tony the man and not the super hero, but it delves a little deeper into his demons and brings the trilogy full circle in a way. When we are introduced to Tony Stark in the first film, he is a egocentric, womanizing billionaire, and we have witnessed him mature throughout the franchise.

But where the films have played up Tony Stark, his supporting cast has never really gotten the spotlight they may deserve. The same can be said here, but it’s an improvement. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts finally gets some things to do rather than just being Tony’s secretary and lover, the damsel in distress that every mainstream super hero movie seems to need. She’s still sort of that, but becomes more of an aggressive character than what we’ve seen. And Don Cheadle’s Jim Rhodes gets a complete makeover, making the transition from War Machine to Iron Patriot. In the comics, Iron Patriot was the altar ego of former Green Goblin Norman Osborn, who formed his own team of “dark” Avengers, which was comprised of villains posing as super heroes. So the film puts a very large twist on that. I don’t exactly know if it was completely necessary. The U.S. government already has a star-spangled superhero in Captain America. But in the context of the film I suppose it makes sense; they don’t exactly want a weapon of mass destruction being called War Machine at a time when a terrorist is threatening the country.

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That brings me to the villains. The film plays heavily on our fear of terrorism. Iron Man’s greatest foe in the comics, the Mandarin, is presented in a new light as an international terrorist gunning for Tony Stark. Ben Kingsley has fun with the character and I personally wish he could have gotten more screen time than he did. Alrdrich Killian is the second villain, a businessman working for the Mandarin with his sights on ruining Tony Stark’s legacy and a connection to Extremis, a project that is turning amputees into super criminals. All the Iron Man films have featured a psychotic businessman in some way, but Killian is different and Guy Pearce infuses a good balance of charm and insanity into the role. The only thing I didn’t like about the character was that I don’t feel his motivations or goals were made all that clear. Does he want to destroy Tony Stark? Does he want to take control of the country? Does he want to fuck Pepper Potts? Why’s he so pissed to begin with? It can piece some of it together, but the rest is still a tad confusing. There’s a huge twist at a point in the film that I don’t think anyone saw coming that I am conflicted over. Part of me can’t help but be disappointed because this isn’t exactly the movie I signed up to see. But the other part respects Shane Black for making such a ballsy move.

So despite some missteps story wise, the film is a good character study of the title character in the aftermath of the battle with Loki’s army in “The Avengers.” He forms a special bond with a little kid that almost steals the show and reveals Tony’s humanity. But just because Tony spends a good deal of time outside of the suit doesn’t mean the action sequences aren’t up to par. In fact, they’re the best out of all three films. An attack on Tony’s home and a plane sequence are the standouts, the latter being exhilarating on the big screen. A big complaint about the first two films was that the final battles were both very disappointing and too fast. Black seems to have heard these complaints and went all out with the conclusion to this film. It’s an orgy of Iron Man armor, explosions, and high-flying spectacle.

Overall, “Iron Man 3” can be considered a risky departure from the first two films, and “The Avengers,” in terms of storytelling but never loses the appeal and charm of the character. Stark may be maturing, but he’s still as much of a wise-cracker as before. The film ends on a relatively questionable note, which becomes even more questionable considering the recent disputes over Downey’s contract. Whatever happens with the future of the Iron Man franchise, “Iron Man 3” can be considered a respectable conclusion to a trilogy.

3.5 stars

Star Trek Into Darkness: Spoiler Review

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

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J.J. Abrams is one tricky bastard. The sequel to his 2009 reboot is every bit as surprising in its revelations as it is exciting in its edge-of-your-seat action. Near the half-way point of the film, Abrams drops a bombshell on the audience. The thing about it, though, is that the revelation may be more surprising in the fact that that it was never leaked than in the fact it was in the film. Abrams treats his secrets as if they’re his enemies; he keeps them close. The filmmaker is a master at keeping what he has up his sleeve there until the end product is released to the public.

The surprise in question is the fact that, wait for it, Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain is not John Harrison as we’ve been lead to believe. He’s actually Khan, who, as fans of the original Star Trek would know, is one of the series’ most notable villains. As someone who hasn’t seen “The Wrath of Khan,” the moment when Cumberbatch utters the phrase “My name is Khan” didn’t have as much of an impact as it did with the people behind me, who were obvious fans. But I am familiar with the film and character, so I knew the overall impact it would have on the film as a whole.

It’s hard not to imagine how the film would have been if Abrams had taken more chances story wise. The reveal that Harrison is actually Khan did two things: it offered a major turning point for the film which called back to classic Star Trek. But it also put a new kind of pressure on the film, whether intentional or not. Khan is a classic Trek villain and probably the most well known. Abrams did take a chance introducing him into his take on the franchise, there’s also a lot of what-ifs. What if Abrams hadn’t made Khan the villain? What if he stuck with what the character had been previewed as? A rogue Starfleet operative seeking revenge, who may be a nod to Khan, still would have made for an interesting character, especially under the dynamic performance from Cumberbatch. The fact that he’s Khan elevates the film for moviegoers familiar with the character to a point where maybe they’re more invested in his actions, but not much else beyond that. It reminds me of the Robin-dilemma in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan chose to introduce a character that is as Robin as Robin can get without going fully-Robin. Except in this case, Abrams chooses to go fully Khan.

So does it pay off? After the reveal is made, the bar is set higher for the villain’s actions, even to someone who hasn’t seen the original “Wrath of Khan.” Keeping that in mind, I’ll say that Khan is a cunning, powerful, and worthy villain that is much more dynamic than Eric Bana’s Nero in the first film. Throughout the movie, Cumberbatch had complete control and it was always a thrill to see what he’d do next, even if his plan is reminiscent of most movie villains’ plans nowadays (the whole get-captured-because-I-want-to shtick . The only problem I had with the villain was the way he’s taken out. He’s built up to be so powerful, and then is defeated by a few stun gun blasts and a swift punch from a raging Spock in a battle that pits Khan, the unstoppable force, with Spock, the immovable object. This leads to a slightly disappointing conclusion, in which the events of the film are wrapped up so briskly that it’s hard to comprehend just what was so important about the whole thing if it weren’t for how engaging it was while it was happening.

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But Khan’s defeat isn’t the only thing about the conclusion that disappointed me about this film. Towards the finale, Kirk dies an unexpected death. The scene is powerful, and adds an extra layer of emotion to a film ripe with action and entertainment. We see Spock in un-Spock-like form, nearly breaking down, as Kirk passes away behind a glass door after the two make a moving exchange. It falls expertly into the film’s theme of life and death, and what exactly that means to each character. This is all undone as Kirk is promptly brought back to life at the end using Khan’s blood. In a series that is sure to spawn a third entry, Kirk’s death probably would have been a poor marketing strategy, especially considering just how fun Chris Pine’s take on the character is. But from a story-stand point, the loss of the character would have been a total game changer and I would have liked to see how it’s handled in a third film. It also would have been a good send off for J.J. Abrams if he doesn’t come back for the third installment. His contribution to the franchise would have been left with a U.S.S. Enterprise crew reeling from the loss of their captain and perhaps a Spock who’s more in touch with his emotions.

Despite these gripes with the ending, I highly enjoyed the film from start to (kind of) finish. The film is a force of action, entertainment and thrills to be reckoned with. If it doesn’t surpass the first film in this category, it at least equals it and gives it a run for its money. It also adds another layer of character development, at least to Kirk and Spock, who’s friendship is a driving force for the film when Khan isn’t on screen. Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine are perfect as Spock and Kirk, respectively, and have a good chemistry on screen as their friendship evolves. Simon Pegg and Karl Urban as Scotty and Bones are terrific comedic gems despite the film delving into darkness.  Zoe Saldana’s Uhura and Alice Eve’s Carol don’t do much, but what the film lacks in powerful female leads it makes up for in testosterone to the max, every feminist’s nightmare but an orgy of action that satisfied me.

Overall, I would see the film in theaters again. Maybe in 3D since I saw it in 2D. I think Abrams dropped the ball on some missed opportunities to make this a real game-changing sequel. It’s not “The Dark Knight” or “Empire Strikes Back” in that regard. But it is an absolutely enjoyable film, one that is very well done under the craftsmanship of Abrams. It’s hard to tell at this point what will become of Star Trek now that Abrams is on board Star Wars, but time will tell. We waited four years for him to go Into Darkness. If we have to wait even longer than that for Abrams to come back, then so be it. He’s more than proven he’s the guy for the job.

4 stars

The Great Gatsby Review

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Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel is getting a lot of negativity thrown its way. While I have been excited for this film for some time, I wasn’t really surprised to find the majority of critics nailing it to the cross. Being based on a beloved piece of literature will tend to work against a film before the cameras even start to roll. While the critiques against Luhrmann’s interpretation have some merit, the film isn’t the train-wreck Rotten Tomatoes would like you to believe it is. Just as the title character is a man in disguise whose elaborate parties are a mere illusion, the film itself is a sincere story disguised as an elaborate spectacle. It’s sense of hope is just as large as Gatsby’s is, as it hopes to achieve the same wonders as the novel it’s based on in a very different fashion and medium. It doesn’t quite hit the mark it excels toward, but it’s an interesting take nonetheless that may be more appreciated in time.

Luhrmann’s interpretation reminds me of another literary adaptation that was met with lukewarm response. Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” had a similar type of stylized vision as Luhrmann’s “Gatsby,” something that didn’t resonate well with audiences who felt the film’s visual spectacle was a distraction from its greater ideas. Both Snyder and Luhrmann are known for their stylistic tendencies and it’s no surprise that both films are aesthetically pleasing. The difference is that it’s not expected in a film based on Fitzgerald’s novel, but I found the whirring editing of the film reminiscent of the time period it’s trying to convey, a 1920s that is boasting with parties and scandal. It may have been detrimental for some critics but I went into the theater with an open mind.

Because of this, I was able to enjoy the film probably more than those who may have wanted something a little more grounded. What may throw most off is the soundtrack, which is an unexpected concoction fine-tuned by none other than Jay-Z himself. Whoever went into this movie not expecting the likes of Jay-Z or will.i.am to ring in their ears must have been rather taken aback. Old school viewers will feel the soundtrack is a misfire, missing the point of the novel. But here’s how I see it. The story of “The Great Gatsby” is rooted in the past catching up with the present. Therefore, I find it fitting that Luhrmann chooses to mesh modern music with the roaring 1920s setting.

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Leonardo Dicaprio stars as Gatsby and fits the mold of the character well. Gatsby seems like a larger-than-life character and Dicaprio is one of the biggest names in the industry. But that’s only on the surface. Strip away the elaborate parties and fancy mansion and there’s a man who doesn’t care about any of it. He only cares about Daisy Buchanan, the woman he loved and lost and is trying to get back. Once you take the material things away what’s left is a more human character. Dicaprio makes the transition between suave businessman and lovesick child seamlessly.

Carey Mulligan is Daisy, the woman Gatsby longs for. Mulligan gives a respectable performance and she seems right at home in the ’20s. However, while the two have good chemistry, Dicaprio’s star power seems to overshadow her. Daisy is portrayed as a victim, having lost the person she loves years ago only to wed another man who now can’t stand her. Despite this, in the end we can’t sympathize with her. Her and her husband Tom, played by Joel Edgerton, aren’t meant to be likable characters. In fact, both the book and movie make a point of acknowledging this. Finally, Tobey Maguire rounds out the principal cast as Nick Carraway, the narrator reminiscent of Fitzgerald himself who puts the story into perspective. Maguire gives a performance that is never undermined by Dicaprio. In fact, while the story revolves around Gatsby, Maguire’s Carraway is nothing short of the star.

If the movie had been made by a different director and more grounded, could it have been just as good, if not better? Yes. But I don’t think that should detract from Luhrmann’s own attempt. It’s a respectable crack at a film that had much more going against it at the start than going for it. The pressure of adapting such beloved pieces of work must be a daunting task for anyone, and Luhrmann didn’t sacrifice his own unique style while still sticking to the source material. His film is, despite what critics say, never boring. The grand finale seems to be rushed a tad, but doesn’t lose its edge. In the end, Luhrmann crafts a film that was never intended to be a safe bet, and he runs with it anyway. If nothing else, Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” will be remembered as the modern-age attempt at the classic novel that failed with most and scored with some, but I give it kudos for being unique.

3.5 stars