Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3 [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  M. Zoller Seitz (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review

Iron Man 3 [2013] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Shane Black along with Drew Pearce based on the Marvel Comics characters and story lines created by Stan Lee [IMDb], Larry Lieber [IMDb], Don Heck [IMDb] and Jack Kirby [IMDb]) continues an IMHO remarkable string of excellent and often honestly thought-provoking and even EDIFYING blockbuster films based on those comics.  Indeed, I find myself at times in awe of the capacity of the films based on the Marvel Comics brand (Spider Man [2], The Hulk, Thor [2], Iron Man, Captain America [2] and together as the Avengers [2] as well as the X-Men [2]) to both entertain and offer adults (both parents and religious ministers working with young people) platforms to discuss with young people the basic moral dilemmas presented in the films/stories.

I do believe that a good part of Marvel Comics' success in this regard has been Stan Lee, et al's decision to make their characters -- comic book characters that they are -- multidimensional or "conflicted." The Hulk (Robert Bruce Banner) has to deal with "anger issues" perhaps even more so than the average person because when he gets angry he turns into a gigantic green ball of fury.   Spider-Man (Peter Parker), nerdy high school kid, suddenly given a super-power as a result of an experiment gone awry struggles to see how he could use that special power now for good.  Thor Odinson may have been the son of a (Norse) God (Odin) but he was forced to learn humility (in the comic, Odin banishes Thor to earth in a wheelchair.  The movie is kinder to him, but still he must learn to be humble).  In the present case, Iron Man (Tony Stark) the (in his youth) playboy son of a Howard Hughes-like weapons contractor/patriot/genius of a father has to learn how to use his talents, money and power again for good -- that is, for GOOD (for "America"/"the world") but also for the good (small g) of the people/friends who've been around him and cared for him as he was "growing up" even as "growing up" for him (like many others of his/my generation) really extended into his 30s and 40s.   I can't help but find the message in all these Marvel Comics stories (in the words of Peter Parker's uncle: "With great power comes great responsibility...") as being OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE / EDIFYING and expressed in a language that truly a 10-12 year old could understand and internalize (while even giving adults much to think about ...).

I would also add that "not all comics are equal."  I've had more issues with some of the DC Comics based films because in those comics the emphasis on their superhero/supervillain characters seems to be on the prefix "super."  So DC Comics' "superheroes" are super good (or at least can do no wrong even if they, like Batman, often go above/beyond the law) while their "supervillains" are generally "super Evil," with the only character development there being that a small-time evil character (a small-time thug) gradually becomes a big-time SUPER villain/thug (that's basically the trajectory of the Joker).  Despite this, I actually liked the DC Comics based Dark Night [2008] (above all, for the performances, after all Heath Ledger's Joker was simply incredible ... if incredibly Evil).  But I did not particularly like the rather "popular nietschean" (bordering on "triumph of the will") Green Lantern [2011] and I really disliked Dark Knight Rises [2012] which seemed to me to me either wildly propagandistic or akin to a high schooler's attempt to conflate the Batman comic with Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in either case a real disappointment but one perhaps becomes more or less inevitable if one makes one's characters either "super good" (or at least super powerful) or "super bad."  In any case, I've found Marvel Comics' more "conflicted" characters far more interesting.

Okay, to the story here.  The film begins with us being told that the story about to play out in the present / recent future actually began with an incident that took place 14 years back, in 1999, when then still irresponsible but definitely super-rich, late 20-something/early 30-something bon vivant Tony Stark (played in the whole film series by Robert Downey, Jr) was partying-up New Years at a Davos-like conference in Switzerland, except he wasn't there to help plan "world monetary policy," or work to "bring an end to malaria," (or even to "fix oil prices...").  He was there really just to party.  And so we see him taking to his hotel room a rather good-looking botanist grad-student named Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall).  She's trying to show him some data and he's more interested in her.  Following closely behind Tony and Maya is another somewhat needy looking but above all, male gradstudent, who also wants to catch the ear of Tony Stark with regards to his project, but Tony isn't interested in him at all.  Tony dismisses the male grad student with a promise that he'll talk to him (on the roof-top of the hotel) sometime the next morning.  Of course, Tony never bothers to show-up on said roof-top the next morning.  Whether Stark purposefully sent that male grad student up to that roof top "to meet with him" that following morning just to make a fool of him (because Stark never showed up) or whether Stark just forgot, it was clear that Tony Stark didn't particularly care ...

Okay, fast forward now to the present (or recent future), a strange vaguely Osama bin Laden looking character calling himself The Manderin (played by Ben Kingsley) starts hijacking television signals/appearing on TV following various explosions presenting himself as "an educator" and making it clear that he wishes "to teach America a lesson."  Okay, except, The Manderin doesn't look at all like the male grad student that Tony Stark blew-off at that conference in Switzerland in 1999.  Who looks kinda like a much better groomed, more mature version of that grad student is a European techno-industrialist named Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce) who comes visiting Stark Enterprises' CEO (and Tony Stark's now girl-friend and since he's realized that he has to start maturing, rock of stability) Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow).  Aldrich tells Pepper that Tony Stark's "never given him the time of day" but that he has been working on a project (regarding brain mapping/chemistry) that could interest Stark Enterprises and since she's the CEO maybe she "could take a look at it ..."  

Well, one of Stark Enterprises' security guards, nick-named "Happy Hogan" (played by Jon Favreau) sees Aldrich and Pepper talking.  He's already somewhat irritated that Aldrich wasn't wearing the security badge that he was supposed to (but just had it in his pocket) but when he sees the two talking he gets even more irritated because he sees the conversation as basically Aldrich hitting on her.  So he calls Tony Stark...

Tony's not particularly concerned (he has other toys/projects on his mind ... that's part of the reason why he made Pepper the CEO so that she would worry about the "big stuff" while he got to play with his gadgets, above all with his Iron Man suit / machines).  So Happy Hogan decides to follow the all-too-well-groomed Aldrich after he leaves Stark Enterprises' facilities.

Hogan follows them to Hollywood in front of Mann's Chinese Theater.  While he's there, there's an explosion and Hogan is wounded.  Soon after the explosion, the Manderin, again looking like a slightly Chinese-accented Osama bin Laden figure (dressed perhaps like a bearded traditional Chinese monk of sorts) again hijacks the world's television signals.  He proceeds to give the world "a lesson" about "Chinese cookies," saying that they are actually an American invention.  So he tells the world that he had decided to destroy another faux Chinese but in reality American creation (Mann's Chinese Theater) to set the record straight.  It seems clear to viewers now that whoever this Manderin is (1) he really, really hates America, and (2) he's crazy...

The next day after visiting his good-natured underling Hogan lying in a coma in the hospital when asked by reporters what he'd do, Tony Stark issues a challenge to "The Manderin, whoever he is," that he'd meet him anywhere he wishes, that he'd beat him and probably kill him "not for patriotism, not for some other high minded motive, but simply for good old fashioned revenge ("you hurt a buddy, now you'll get yours...")  Stark then also (somewhat stupidly) publicly announces to The Manderin (and to the rest of the world) his Malibu address.  And so the Manderin soon pays a visit... the rest of the movie proceeds from there ...

Like the marvel of many of the Marvel Comics stories, this is both a simple story and actually a relatively complex one.  And throughout, we watch Tony struggle with his demons:  He's smart, he's wealthy and as a result at times very powerful.  But he's also at other times quite stupid and has to constantly work on keeping his priorities in order.

Also playing out in this film (and really in the whole Iron Man series) is our own society's struggle to settle on what would be the best/optimal relationship between government and wealthy "captains of industry" like Tony Stark (who is part Howard Hughes, part Bill Gates, part Donald Trump).  Stark often does things better than his friend and U.S. military counterpart Colonel James Rhodes (played by Don Cheatle) or for that matter better than the President.  But Stark, perhaps more like Bill Gates than Donald Trump or our country's various oil men here, thankfully never really pushes the line: Yes he can do a lot of things better than the government, but he also doesn't have to take responsibility for the whole nation.  Rich/powerful as he is, Stark has trouble taking responsibility for his own life, his relationship with Pepper, much less his own firm - whose management he actually outsourced to Pepper.  Could someone like him really take responsibility for the whole nation?  It'd be one heck of a ride ;-)

Again, a fascinating movie ;-)

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