Phase 2 of Disney/Marvel’s world domination plan begins…
Revisiting Iron Man Three just reinforces the film as being the very best blockbuster last summer had to offer. There are a number of reasons why, so since I’ve already reviewed the film proper and lists seem to be all the rage on the nets these days, we’ll tackle them one-by-one.
1. It’s a distinct vision.
What’s most impressive about the film is how uniquely it is a Shane Black production, while still perfectly continuing the universe and character Marvel Studios began all those years ago in 2008. It’s not just the Christmas setting or the buddy movie exchanges - the film has Black’s DNA all over it at even the most basic, fundamental level. Black imbues the movie with the kind of crackerjack dialogue and spot-on characterization he’s known for, while still keeping of a piece with Tony Stark’s previous appearances and continuing to build the character into an unforgettable icon.
With so many of these tentpole movies being put together by committee to be the most bland, lowest-common-denominator product imaginable, Marvel continues to stand head and shoulders above the competition by hiring the right people and not getting in the way of letting them do what they do best.
2. It takes its characters seriously, but not itself.
I can’t stress this facet of the movie enough, which alone makes it better than its crop of competitors. In a season which saw films either treat their characters as a joke (The Lone Ranger) or were dripping with unearned self-importance (Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness… pretty much everything else), Iron Man Three comes as a remarkable breath of fresh air.
Look at the main character himself: Stark is clearly having some severe anxiety issues, and things only get worse for him throughout the story. But the movie never gets bogged down in gloom and doom. For all his ailments, Tony Stark is still Tony Stark - still the witty and devious cad we fell in love with in the first place. It’s a very careful balance of tone to tell a story with a real emotional hook and yet still keeping it fun and exciting, and it’s one that Downey and Black and all involved pull off marvelously.
3. The “twist” is actually quite brilliant.
SPOILERS, if you still haven’t seen the movie:
The most dividing element of the movie would have to be its portrayal of #1 Iron Man baddie The Mandarin, who is revealed about halfway through the movie to be a fraud engineered by the real villains, Aldritch Killian and his AIM industries. This is not only a genuine surprise in a season where such surprises are either spoiled months ahead of time or painfully obvious from the beginning, it’s a legitimately brilliant and necessary aspect to the story of Tony Stark.
There’s all sorts of fascinating, Jungian psychology throughout the film, what with Tony constantly having to “retreat into his shell” (via his armor) whenever a panic attack comes on, or the “slaying of the dragon” at the end when he must confront the fire-breathing, dragon-tattooed Killian. The false Mandarin plays into this perfectly: as he’s portrayed at first, The Mandarin is the ultimate iconography of everything the western world is scared of in terrorism - striking violently without warning or provocation. But it turns out that Iron Man’s ultimate foe is nothing more than a shadow on the wall (another metaphor utilized literally in the film), and his real enemy is his darker half in Aldritch Killian - the real “shadow” of his unconscious self, which Stark was in fact responsible for creating years ago when he blew him off at a party. It’s wonderful stuff, and while it’s really only as deep as you allow it to be, the film has plenty going on just beneath the surface to chew on for days.
Plus, if the film hadn’t taken the turn it did with The Mandarin, we would have never got Ben Kingsley’s awesome bumbling around as the drunken actor Trevor Slattery, so that alone is worth the change.
The home video market is kind of on its last legs (or currently undergoing a metamorphosis, if you want to stay positive about it), so sadly that’s reflected in the extras offered on most Blu-Rays/DVD’s nowadays. But even though the pickings are slim, Iron Man Three still packs some great and worthwhile features to make it a must-buy for fans of the film and the Marvel Universe in general.
1. Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter
Probably the main selling point for this release (aside from the movie itself, of course) is this little short, which acts as sort of a Captain America 1.5. Marvel started putting together these “One-Shots” for the home video releases of Thor and Captain America, and while they were diverting, they really didn’t have much to offer. With Item 47, however (the short offered on The Avengers), they really started to have some fun with the premise, and began showing off the untapped potential of the concept… Potential finally reached with Agent Carter. Starting off with the final moments of Captain America, we jump forward a year to see what his main squeeze Peggy Carter has been up to; namely, working as a desk agent for a branch of some secret service organization in New York. She gets all sorts of male chauvinistic crap shoveled her way thanks to her superior (played by the incomparable Bradley Whitford), but while working late she’s given an operation out in the field to handle all be her lonesome.
The short is really everything a fan could want after hearing the pitch of the Marvel One-Shot brand: taking smaller characters on their own adventures while still building up the universe in its own way. There’s plenty of espionage-flavored action as Carter storms an enemy compound, and Hayley Atwell (one of the best things in Captain America) gets plenty of time to shine. Throw in some comic book references to Zodiac (really nothing more than a Macguffin here, so don’t get too excited) and the beginnings of SHIELD, and you have yourself a winner. Let’s hope future One-Shots continue on the upwards slope they’re currently on.
2. Commentary with Director/Writer Shane Black and Co-Writer Drew Pearce
Being that the other features are relatively brief, this commentary track is where you’re likely to get the most information into the making of the film, although considering it comes from Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce, it focuses mainly on the thought-process behind writing the screenplay. It’s an informative and engaging listen, and Black and Pearce have a nice back-and-forth. The only complaint I have is that there aren’t more - a track between Downey and Black would have been a thing of legend.
3. Marvel’s Iron Man 3 Unmasked
Here’s where we’re really starting to feel the brevity, as an other-wise feature-length “Making of” doc is squeezed into about roughly fifteen minutes. It’s impressive the amount of information they’re able to squeeze in - this isn’t some throwaway, EPK-styled featurette - but something a little longer would have been more appreciated.
4. Deconstructing the Scene: Attack on Air Force One
Another brief piece, but still a highly informative look at how the film’s most exciting scene was put together. Most impressive: the scene is largely practical, with a real team of stunt-divers actually skydiving to achieve the stunts.
5. Deleted and Extended Scenes and Gag Reel
There’s nothing truly remarkable on display here, although getting a look at some of the extended improvisations is a good bit of fun (and also gives us more of Trevor Slattery!). Also: the gag reel is actually funny, instead of horribly forced.
6. Exclusive Behind-The-Scenes Look: Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World
Although it’s nice to get some talking heads, this is really no longer than any of the trailers already out there for the movie. In other words: nothing to see here. Move along…
Rounding out the extras is a downloadable JARVIS app for your tablet or smart-phone, which allows you to scan the screen with your phone and access info about the various Iron Man armors in the movie, among other things. It’s neat enough and works perfectly, but is ultimately a bit of fluff.