Blu Review: Iron Man 3

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THE SET-UP
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) faces yet another impossible challenge, as a mysterious figure called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) stages a series of terrorist attacks, with some aimed at those closest to him.
Directed by Shane Black 

THE DELIVERY
Some spoilers to the plot are revealed below. 

Having to follow two Iron Man films and The Avengers is no easy task, and Iron Man 3 had some high expectations going into its spring 2013 release. While it didn’t live up to all of the hype (and honestly, what movie could), Iron Man 3 is an entertaining film, better than the second, but not quite as good as the first. While the core story is a good one, the apparent need to outdo the other films with special effects actually hurt it. Indeed, Iron Man 3 is a perfect example of how too much of a good thing can backfire.

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Much of the criticism of Iron Man 3 has come from comic book purists upset about the characterization of The Mandarin (in comic book lore, The Mandarin is to Iron Man what The Joker is to Batman), played by Ben Kingsley. If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it, but I will frankly say that I didn’t mind the “change” they made to the Iron Man mythos in this respect. Had the film been stronger overall, I think there wouldn’t be as much outrage, but in the eyes of some, not realizing The Mandarin’s potential may be considered another missed opportunity.

The premise of the film seemed interesting, as Tony Stark reels mentally from the aftermath of the events in The Avengers. Things get more complicated when The Mandarin begins randomly attacking civilians, and when Happy (Jon Favreau) is among the victims, Tony must rise to the occasion. Ultimately, the film strives to prove that it is not the suit, but the man who makes the hero.

It seems odd, then, that a film trying to preach the triumph of man over technology is constantly undermined by relying too heavily on technology to tell the story. At every turn, we get extravagant special effects, eye-popping visuals, and impressive pyrotechnics. If Robert Downey Jr. hadn’t already won the audience over with his performances in three other Marvel films, there would be no human element to root for this time.

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This is not the fault of Downey; in fact, when he is on the screen, the movie really works. However, he has to share the screen with so many other characters and subplots, the movie never really feels like it is his to own. There’s Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), who seems to wear the Iron Man armor as much as Tony does. Happy (Jon Favreau) gets a subplot, James Rhodes’ War Machine/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) gets a subplot that goes nowhere. Even Harley (Ty Simpkins), some random kid Tony meets, gets a subplot. And that’s just the good guys.

Besides Kingsley’s Mandarin, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), Savin (James Badge Dale), Brandt (Stephanie Szostak), and one other foil (I won’t reveal that particular spoiler) all get a chunk of screen time, and it’s just TOO MUCH.       

If you listen to the audio commentary by director and screenwriter Shane Black and screenwriter Drew Pearce, the issue of quantity is discussed. They actually admit that early drafts had as many as FIVE major villains. While the film’s content was streamlined, there is still way too much there. It isn’t just the abundance of characters and subplots; it is the overdone special effects. In one extended scene, we watch as Tony Stark uses a 3D hologram of the crime scene at Grauman’s Chinese Theater to discover the culprit and expose the Extremis element. What, a cop couldn’t have discovered the obvious clue off-screen and save us the trouble? Frankly, it is silly and unnecessary, and it seems inserted just to have another cool 3D CGI shot. 

Even though this overabundance of CGI and technology weighs down the film, Iron Man 3 still manages to entertain. Even the Iron Brigade battle at the end, which seemed like just a good excuse to make more Iron Man figures, is chaotic fun, although it lacks the visceral edge a good action scene needs. 

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In the final analysis, whether or not you enjoy the film depends on how much you are willing to gloss over. Iron Man 3 may not be great, but even average Marvel films are better than most other superhero films today, especially when you have Robert Downey Jr. involved. He is the only reason why this film has any watchability or replay value. I’ll definitely see it again, but I will likely watch Avengers first.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
If there’s one really good thing going for this Blu-ray, it is the technical presentation. It is nothing short of fantastic. The video image is near perfect, with excellent detail and deep, rich colors. High definition has a knack for exposing bad CGI, but here, the blending between the real and digital worlds is seamless. The 7.1 DTS HD-MA mix is impressive, with lots of low end and a good balance between music, sound effects, and dialogue. 

SPECIAL FEATURES
The Blu-ray includes some excellent extras, both promotional and informative. Perhaps the best extra – and the most anticipated – is the Agent Carter One Shot, even if it has little relation to Iron Man. Hayley Atwell reprises her role of Agent Peggy Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger, and she manages to easily carry the short on her own. She doesn’t need no stinkin’ Chris Evans. Bradley Whitford (The West Wing, The Good Guys) is along for the ride as Carter’s chauvinistic superior, and he’s great, as usual. 

At over 15 minutes long, the one-shot is immensely entertaining, as Agent Carter, now working stateside for the U.S government, goes on a solo mission. It does tie in to the Marvel mythology, and leaves the door open for new adventures. We even get a couple of cameos, which I won’t spoil here. Just enjoy it and hope the talk of an Agent Carter TV series comes to fruition. By the way, there isn’t an end-credits sequence like other Marvel films, but there is a mid-credits sequence that is pretty good. The end of the credits do have a nice James Bond reference, though. Just watch.

The Iron Man 3 featurettes are well done, providing a nice look behind the scenes of some of the film’s key set pieces, even though though they were meant to be promotional fluff. “Iron Man Unmasked” (run time: 11 minutes) delves into the approach the creative team took for Tony Stark’s third solo adventure. All of the actors discuss the film, and we see how they attempted to make Iron Man 3 bigger in epic scope, but smaller in personal terms for Tony Stark. We also get to see how they managed to pull off the Iron Man armor this time around (a mix of CGI and a practical suit).  

“Deconstructing the Scene: The Attack on Air Force One” featurette (run time: nine minutes) details the incredible stuntwork involved in the sequence. Of particular interest is the discussion that led to the decision to film the “skyfall” practically, with real skydivers, instead of on a soundstage in front of a green screen. Watching the scene in the film, you appreciate the fact that they used real stuntmen (and women) jumping out of a real plane. Here, you discover how they melded real skydivers with CG elements to make the final scene. It’s a great watch.

Also included is an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, and director Alan Taylor all chime in with their thoughts, as we get a quick look at shots from the film, as well as several shots from the set as some action scenes are filmed. Sure, it’s only two minutes, but it is fun to watch.

Ten deleted and extended scenes are featured. Included in that are scenes that thankfully were cut down severely in the final film, like the Bill Maher and E! Fashion Police sequences. Others are quite good: some of the scenes include some ad-libbing (especially by Ben Kingsley) that didn’t make it into the final film, as well as a different fate for Maya (Rebecca Hall). Several scenes in which Tony confronts the kid bullying Harley (Ty Simpkins) are pieced together as well.

I’m a sucker for gag reels, and we get a good one for this Blu-ray, clocking in at over five minutes. You’ll learn that Robert Downey, Jr. seems to enjoy playing Iron Man a bit too much.

The audio commentary, by Shane Black and Drew Pearce, is interesting to the extent that they readily admit the many changes the film went through, including the fact that major scenes were rewritten or cut down after filming. In fact, Black says the original cut of the film was over three hours long. Seriously. 

A dowloadable Jarvis app also allows you to access some Second Screen features, including schematics of the assorted Iron Man armor suits. You can access this particular feature from the main menu by moving your cursor to the left and selecting the Iron Man chest image.

THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 6

Video: 9

Audio: 9

Extras: 8

8

 

It throws everything but a digital kitchen sink at you (although there likely is one there in all the mayhem, who knows), but Iron Man 3 still fails to reach its lofty aspirations. It is still an entertaining film, and worth picking up, just don’t expect a classic superhero film.   

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: September 24, 2013

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 130 minutes

Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French-Canadian 7.1 DTS-HDHR, Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Special features: Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter; “Iron Man 3 Unmasked” featurette; “Deconstructing the scene: Attack on Air Force One” featurette; “Exclusive Behind The Scenes Look – Thor: The Dark World” featurette; Ten deleted and extended scenes (“Real Time with Bill Maher Segment,” “E! Fashion Police Reviews Iron Patriot,” “Outtakes: Trevor’s Accents,” “Outtakes: Gary’s Van,” “Outtakes: Boot and Glove,” “Happy vs. Savin,” “Let’s Make Television,” “Tony, Harley, and E.J.,” “Maya’s Sacrifice,” and “Hey Is That Thor?”); Gag reel. Second screen features (accessible through a downloadable Jarvis app).

Audio commentary: By director/screenwriter Shane Black and screenwriter Drew Pearce

Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

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