Review Roundup - Lesson number three

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

When I was young we used to watch the Marvel Action Hour on TV. The memories are pretty fuzzy, but besides those moments when the Fantastic Four went up against Galactus, the main thing that stuck was simply how cool the idea of Iron Man was to me. So I was pleased that the original movie outing pushed the right buttons, but the sequel left a bad taste. It's grown a little more on me since, but still misses the mark. So to nobodies surprise, this is an easy improvement on Iron Man 2. Despite liking the cast, and thinking Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke were great additions, it just wasn't a good enough follow up thanks to messy plot points and worst of all - anti-climactic set pieces. Here we get a more focused story, though the running time feels too long. Looking into the deleted scenes a lot was already trimmed; perhaps they should have gone further. Also on the downside, despite a better plot the motivation of the villains is a little unclear, and I think my major complaint has to be throwaway lines being used to explain major points, particularly towards the end.

The action is fun and inventive, and honestly the best parts are probably the scenes without the armour. Or at one point, just parts of it. There seem to be complaints that Tony Stark is in this too much without the suit, but I felt there was a good balance and having him need to use his wits to escape and having to improvise was a great choice. There is an excessive robotic showdown at the end, but it's got enough variety in the battle, and the big bad and his minions are used in ways that mean it's more fun to see that just a repeat of the finale in the original movie. The big trailer selling points of a plane crash and a helicopter attack are also very well done. They also add a few new technological advances to keep the man in a can idea fresh, adding to the visual fun and the action beats in new ways.

Onto the subject of bad guys, there has been a lot of debate on the Mandarin, and how that turns out in the events of the film. I didn't mind it that much but to avoid going into too much detail will just say it wasn't that unexpected and was far more amusing that irritating. I can see why it was done but can easily see why this caused all the fan rage. Everyone else has their moments, and again the cast is likeable with Guy Pearce being a good addition. The others are as good as in the previous two movies, and the character banter is done well. It is a darker entry to the series, but in other places has a lot of humour which stops it becoming too one note. As I said the film length is an issue, but imagine it's because of the way the cast plays off each other and how much their improv may have stretched out the scenes. There's a dreaded child actor moment which appears in the mid section, but thankfully doesn't outstay it's welcome even if personally that's where it could have done with some more cuts in the editing room.

In the end it boils down to how good the characters are and not how much CGI they throw about, so there I put it about equal with part one, in places higher but neither has huge amounts of depth in a serious way. I think this pulls enough new ideas to make it a more human story, and helps me forget the basement particle accelerator moments in part 2. The first still edges it because of a simpler plot and that original arc. Here Tony's relationship issues have some closure, and though there are some PTSD anxiety attack moments that don't seem to get enough explanation, it's an interesting weakness to include so I can give it a pass. Perhaps almost dying in a vacuum and seeing aliens invade would do that. Overall it rounds them off as a set, and I can see Iron Man becoming an Avengers supporting team member in future appearances, rather than being in another sequel - I guess time and profits will tell. 


Review Roundup - Into incoherence


First things first, well this is certainly a fantastic looking film. The art department has created some amazing stuff, the opening on an alien world is eye popping, the set pieces are all pretty spectacular and the general look is full of great visuals and designs. There are a number of fun, kinetic sequences. Some of the characters are well done, and the cast works well together for the most part. Unfortunately the rest of it is kind of messy, and it comes off as a "too many cooks" effort with far too many ideas thrown in and everything on screen all at once becoming bigger than just the visual effects. There is misplaced fan service, unnecessarily overblown schemes, and not enough focus on character where matters.

The underlying problem is that whoever wrote this needs to be sent to Rura Penthe, and looking at the credits it's a mix of Transformers 2 and Prometheus - not a magic combination. They had three people working on this, and maybe that's the problem. It's kind of a shame to see them waste all of the budget like this when there is clearly talent on the production. While it's not an offensive Transformers type money burning disaster (headache inducing car crash cinema in more than one way) the material here is still mostly useless with some very odd story choices that add nothing to the overall plot while revisiting arcs we've already seen in the previous movie. It's a compelling series of scenes and action beats, and it never feels boring, but rather than building up from their rebooted universe with a strong script it's like they were trying to link each set piece together retrospectively or kept adding extra moments to an earlier, less cluttered plot.

The 2009 effort wasn't exactly a great movie from a writing perspective either (it falls over itself in the third act several times) but it was at least mostly coherent; it was simpler and worked way better as a character piece even when they seem to be very overdone and almost cartoon like at times. Some of the cast are good as I have said, but others seem to fall quickly into the "give them something to do" category rather than being written with more practical roles in mind to suit their rank or position. McCoy seems to be sidelined in particular. Others are still miscast as they were the first time (Chekov, Scotty - sorry fans) but I liked the villains even when certain elements have been thrown in without any real thought to them... I won't go into spoiler material here. The trailers are pretty misleading but none of the twists are very satisfying or ultimately effective in a meaningful way. Revenge stories are far to easy and get used way too often.

In the end the exciting battles, chases and shoot outs are pointless without anything underpinning them as a framework to tell the story. A recent poll voted this worst ever Star Trek film, and while I don't agree it's not a great entry and they need to put some real effort into the next one to give it some meat, some depth and some gravity. With another commercial success on their hands, it's hard to say if that will ever happen. I was entertained, but not much else.