Tag Archives: Iron Man 3

Interconnected

I’ve been waiting for Agents of SHIELD to really get into its groove proper. It finally did last week, courtesy of some major plot points from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Which is kinda odd, really. A feature film bearing a different name affecting a TV show that much. I mean, it makes sense within the universe they’re creating, but from a meta perspective, it’s terribly uncommon.

And that’s one thing I love about the stories Marvel Studios’ been telling. They’re all connected. This was a gamble. Back in 2008 when Iron Man came out and Nick Fury mentioned the Avengers Initiative, Marvel was asking audiences to wait a few years and watch a few seeming unrelated movies in hope of a big team up coming out later. It could have failed, some of the movies could have sucked, but they took the risk to try and build their cinematic universe.

Seeing as The Avengers made what businesspeople call a ‘crapload of money,’ it paid off. Not only that, but it was a legitimately awesome film. Best of all, it stood alone. You didn’t have to have seen any or all of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, or Captain America: The First Avenger to get it. Sure, watching those movies helped, but it was great on it’s own. Each Avenger was quickly and succinctly introduced enough for a new viewer to get what was happening.

Every Marvel movie works that way. Someone can see The Winter Soldier on its own, or after having only also seen The First Avenger, or seen all the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe chronology as well as Agents of SHIELD and enjoy it. There’s a decided effort for each film to be able to stand on its own and yet play with the others around it. They compliment each other but are not dependent on the others. It’s a fun sort of storytelling; you follow a group of independent characters and then see them all in a big event, then see them apart again.

Marvel’s asking viewers to embrace a sort of storytelling not really seen in film (or TV, really). Outside of the occasional Alien VS Predator, having independent franchises team up like what happened in The Avengers just doesn’t happen. Though it does in the comics. Their Guardians of the Galaxy title may intersect with the Avengers title, but you don’t have to be following both to understand what’s going on. Does it help? Sure, but it’s not a requirement.

Consider the last episode of Agents of SHIELD, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” What happened in The Winter Soldier directly affects the show in a massive game changing sort of way. Like in the comics, they’re weaved together to stand alone but also enhance each other. “Turn, Turn, Turn” offers a different perspective on what happened in The Winter Soldier and the film shows the big picture of the events in the show.

This also makes great business sense. See, Marvel’s smart; they know that not everyone will watch every one of their movies. It’s to their benefit for every film to be as stand alone as they are. It allows them to remain accessible to anyone. Winter Soldier deftly sets up Steve Rogers as being a man out of time who feels a bit lost in a way that doesn’t feel obtrusive to someone who’s seen the prior movies, yet so that someone new can follow what’s going on. It plain works. Add in the fun of getting more understanding the crossovers and Marvel’s market expands.

I’m so glad Marvel managed to pull this off. Things like seeing Bruce Banner at the end of Iron Man 3, references to Stark tech in The Winter Soldier, and Sif showing up in Agents of SHIELD remind me of the Iron Man and Spider-Man cartoons I’d watch as a kid where anyone could and would show up. Somehow, Marvel did it: they made a cohesive cinematic universe. Now I really wanna see what happens next in that world.

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Top Nine Movies of 2013

I have weird taste. I love pulp, but I love heart, and I love a movie well done. In light of that, here are my top nine movies of 2013. Some movies didn’t make the cut. I really liked 12 Years a Slave for what it managed to do, that is create a story about slavery was genuinely moving yet not a white guilt tract. And I thought Her was fantastic as I did Star Trek Into Darkness, but all those aren’t on this list.

So what movies are? These are the ones I loved and the ones that stood out. They may not objectively be the best films of the year, but to me, they are.

(Wait, why nine movies? There are a bunch of movies I haven’t seen yet [Fruitvale Station, Desolation of Smaug, Dallas Buyers Club, etc] so there’ll be a tenth spot open should something else really stick out)

9. Rush
This movie will surprise you. It seems like an über macho racing flick. What it is is a slick drama, with more time spent on the emotional lives of the drivers than the race track. What we end up with is an engaging, beautifully shot film. And c’mon man, F1 cars are great.

8. Drinking Buddies
There’s a lot to be said about this movie, especially because it says so little. It’s a quiet film about relationships that’s gorgeously shot. It sticks to you not because a lot happens, but because it feels so true to life.

7. Much Ado About Nothing
I like Shakespeare. I like Joss Whedon. That combined with a fantastic cast (Clark Gregg and Amy Acker and Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher and Ashley Johnson and BriTANick!?) yields a really fun interpretation of the play.

6. Iron Man 3
Yeah, Iron Man 3 had to be here somewhere. I wrote a bunch on it when it came out and I stand by everything I said. It’s a blindingly fast paced movie that takes Tony Stark’s arc to a brilliant conclusion.

5. The Spectacular Now
Here’s a movie by the guys who wrote (500) Days of Summer and it feels a lot like said movie. Which is a good thing. It’s a coming-of-age story that discards a lot of the usual tropes of the genre in favor of a far more compelling, quiet story that rings of Say Anything… It’s great.

4. The Way Way Back
Yeah, another coming-of-age film. What The Way Way Back does so well is layer its film in charm and sweet without ever coming as trite and saccharine. We’ve got great performances (Sam Rockwell never disappoints) and a beautiful score that serves to create a story that feels very true.

3. The World’s End
This one could be classified as a coming-of-age story too, seeing as it’s about Gary King dealing with having to grow up. Only because this is Edgar Wright it’s a lot more than that. What we have is a moving story that’s part about friendship, part about old dreams, and part about the end of the world. It’s all balanced beautifully between drama and comedy with enough heart sprinkled throughout.

2. Gravity
As I touched on before, Gravity is what science fiction does best. It’s a story about reality, about people, set against a backdrop that heightens the entire affair. A brilliant performance by Sandra Bullock adds to the intensity of the film that really should have won Best Picture.

1. Pacific Rim
Yes. Pacific Rim. I’ve written a lot on this film since it came out and I stand by all of it. What could have easily been a big, dumb, testosterone fueled movie is instead a much more nuanced film that’s still about giant robots beating the crap out of giant monsters. Amidst all the spectacle there’s a strong emotional core about friendship and family. It’s an unusual movie rife with heart and a touch of social commentary.
There are so many reasons I’d enjoy this movie even if it was big and dumb, but because it’s so much more, because there’s so much behind the spectacle, it’s my favorite film of 2013.

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Formulaic Formulas

There are a lot of people who, when it comes to movies, say there’s a distinct formula to how everything works. Some people blanch at the thought, others say it’s blame for the derivative nature of, y’know, everything.

Well, there is a formula.

Sort of: there are these certain moments you can use to plot the course of a movie’s story. Just about every good story will hit these beats. They may not always be as pronounced as in another film, but they do happen.

Now, this isn’t bad. This isn’t the same plot, it’s the same moments. Campbell outlined this over sixty years ago where he outlined the Hero’s Journey in his Hero With a Thousand Faces. For my purposes (and as a way to prep for homework), I’m gonna be using what Viki King lists in her book How To Write a Movie in 21 Days mixed with what I learnt last semester.

Let’s look at Iron Man. Because I love the movie and I analyzed it for a midterm. As the movie opens we’re introduced to Tony Stark; genius, billionaire, playboy. We’re also introduced to a central theme: Tony’s irresponsibility. Now that we’ve got all that set up, it’s time for stuff to happen, like getting shrapnel in his chest. This changes his life, so what’s he gonna do about it? Tony opts to make his life count and builds the prototype Iron Man armor and breaks out, returns home, and shuts down Stark Industries’ weapons manufacturing; thereby crossing the point of no return.

Welcome to Act Two. This is where we spend time dealing more with Tony’s inner workings, figuring out who he is. He builds a new armor, continuously improving it, almost as a symbol of his working on himself. Of course, if this was all that happened in Act Two it’d get boring quick. So we force Tony to recommit to his goal. How? His weapons are still being given to the bad guys. He suits up and fights them, proving that yes: he is Iron Man, he’s done just sitting around. From here things only escalate. Obadiah Stane becomes more obvious in his villainy, leading up to where the worst possible thing happens: Tony loses his Arc Reactor and Stane goes after Pepper. This in turn leads us to the climax: Tony suits up with an underpowered Arc Reactor and fights Stane and wins. So concludes Act Two.

Now we’re tying up lose ends, Tony’s alright and, in a press conference, says that, yes, he is Iron Man. And the movie ends.

We can run Iron Man 3 through a similar break down: Tony’s introduced as an insomniac, the big issue of the movie comes up shortly after (he feels vulnerable; is he Iron Man or is the armor Iron Man?). Then his world changes: the next Mandarin attack leaves Happy Hogan injured. So Tony issues a challenge and his mansion is destroyed, creating his point of no return. Act Two begins with a broken Tony who, over time, rebuilds himself. We soon reach the midpoint where Tony recommits to his goal: he goes to the Florida mansion to continue doing the hero thing. This is followed shortly after by the worst thing possible: Air Force One is attacked, Pepper captured, and Rhody’s armorless. Then the climax at the docks and the resolution at the cliff. See? Still works.

But what about a movie that’s not about fighting bad guys? Like (500) Days of Summer?

Tom’s normal world is introduced by the narrator and the theme is brought up shortly after (what is love?). Then we’re given the inciting incident: Tom and Summer meet. The point of no return comes when they sleep together. From there we build their relationship, culminating in the midpoint where they break up and Tom fights with himself about whether or not go after her. The worst possible thing is portrayed to Regina Spektor’s “Hero”: Tom find out she’s engaged. The climax is Tom looking for work and Summer getting married. The resolution? The talk on the bench and Tom meeting Autumn.

Movies need these beats; without the midpoint Act Two starts to sag and gets dull. Without the worst thing possible happening (even if it’s not earth shattering), the climax loses its potency. We need some semblance of normalcy for the protagonist to leave behind. It all has to happen in some form, scale, or another.

Anyway, with all that done, I now have a quartet of movies to watch and break down. See you next week.

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Heroic Motivation

I’m gonna do something a little different this week. A few weeks ago I wrote a post as a sounding board for a Research Paper I had to write for a class. Now I figured “hey, why don’t I post that research paper?” So I am. It’s much longer than a usual post (nearly 5 times as long), but I feel like it’s one of the best things I’ve written. So here it is, in all it’s A-, MLA-ish glory:

Heroes. There’s no such thing.” So says Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin in Iron Man 3 as he threatens the titular hero and, to an extent, the villain is right. Lately, heroes, particularly in adventure narratives, have taken a turn for the unheroic. Where once there were heroes like Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins who, through and through, were good to the core, now heroes are of a murkier sort. Even Iron Man is not a clear cut hero. In the past, protagonists were motivated to do their heroics simply because it was good. They were the good guys; the prince saves the princess and slays the dragon because he’s good and the dragon is evil. But time went on and fiction began to explore princes who weren’t so clean cut, heroes who weren’t good for the sake of good. Yet these protagonists remained heroes; they would still ultimately rise up to do the right thing and save the day (even if saving the day had little effect on the outside world). So what is it that motivates these protagonists who aren’t strictly heroes to heroism? Perhaps it would do to examine reluctant heroes from books, movies, video games, and television as diverse as Pi Patel, Tony Stark, Nathan Drake, and Malcolm Reynolds in the hopes of finding some commonality between them. What drives characters who are ordinary teenagers, irresponsible playboys, selfish treasure hunters, or lawless rebels to acts of heroism?

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Becoming Iron Man

I hate spoilers. I really do; I swore off social media for the two days in between the Lost finale and when I could watch it. That said, this post deals with an aspect of the ending of Iron Man 3. It’s not one of the huge twists, but it’s a little surprise. It’s been a week since it came out so I feel alright writing about it.

S’yeah. Spoilers.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Well, first spoiler, Tony survives. But the main one I’ll be addressing is that he decides to get the shrapnel out of his chest once and for all, negating his need for an Arc Reactor. This takes place in the resolution, after the climatic battle with The Mandarin. Although it seems to come almost out of left field, Tony getting ‘healed’ is the culmination of his growth over the series.

But hang on, if getting the shrapnel out was that easy, why didn’t he just get it out at the end of the first film? Because he chose not to. See, the cave in Afghanistan was Tony’s rebirth. In it he was forced to come face to face with his wrongs; namely that the weapons he created were being used to fight those he made the weapons for. It was during this time that Yensin, a fellow captive in the cave, implanted Tony with an electromagnet to keep the shrapnel at bay as he lacked the resources to perform adequate surgery.  Tony then created the original Arc Reactor to power the magnet and the first Iron Man suit. This was his rebirth, from that moment on Tony was Iron Man. When he returns home he builds a new Arc Reactor rather than finding a topnotch cardiologist to remove the shrapnel. Why? Because this is who he is.

The mentality persists into the second film. Despite the palladium in his chest slowly killing him, removing the shrapnel and negating the need for the Arc Reactor isn’t an option. Why? Because it’s part of him, as he says “the suit and I are one.” He’s Iron Man, and so he has to live with it. Does Tony want to die? No. But Tony can’t go back to his life before the cave; Tony’s the atoner. He acts in the hope that Iron Man might somehow set right Tony Stark’s wrongs. To remove the shrapnel and the Arc Reactor would be, in his mind, to renege on what he promised himself to do when he left the cave. It’s not just part of him, it is him.

Iron Man 3 tackles this idea; who is Tony Stark and who is Iron Man? If his armor doesn’t work and he’s left without it, is he still a superhero? Tony has to work through these questions in the movie, he has to find a real answer to Captain America’s challenge in The Avengers: “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?”

Tony has to learn to be Iron Man without the Iron Man armor. He spends much of the second act without his armor or the resources to build one. Back to basics, Tony is once again in the cave from the first film. Though in the first film he emerges from the cave clad in the Iron Man armor, in Iron Man 3 he emerges from the cave without a new suit of armor, just a few gadgets (he gets the Mk 42 back later). But the transformation is done, Tony no longer relies on the suit to be a hero.

Iron Man 3 is based on the Extremis comic-arc which concludes with Tony injecting himself with a modified version of the Extremis virus, which basically allows him to control the armor with his thoughts. In his words, it’s so he can become Iron Man inside and out. Though Tony doesn’t go through the same process in the film, the end result is figuratively the same. Whereas in Extremis Tony essentially merges with his suit, in Iron Man 3 Tony learns that he doesn’t need a suit to be Iron Man, that even without it he can still be the hero he became.

So Tony finally gets the shrapnel out his chest because his identity as Iron Man is no longer reliant on his injury. He’s gone past that; now he knows that if you strip everything away, Tony Stark still is Iron Man.

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Where It Needs To Go

So here’s the deal you make when you tell a story. Actions have consequences. I don’t mean of the physical variety (you destroy a support, the roof caves in), no, I mean emotional consequences. Sometimes you have to deal with those.

Well, sometimes you don’t. Look at romances like Star Wars or other more light hearted fare. Han gets frozen in carbonite, Leia’s planet gets destroyed, and Luke blows up the Death Star and everyone on it. But the movies opted not to deal with emotional repercussions, and it’s fine since it didn’t keep with the theme. The Star Wars movies are inherently fun and relatively light hearted, angst and baggage need not apply.

It’s hard, though, to get in to it. Exploring emotional trauma is difficult. It’s easier to go the route of “good guys win, everything’s great now!” Of course, if the good guys don’t win, hey, half the work’s done.

More or less, anyway. Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds fought for the Independents who were soundly defeated in the Unification War. It left him with a great loss of faith and a desire to be unfeeling. Everything that happened haunts him throughout the TV show and into the film. He doesn’t want to get close to people, but he won’t let anyone harm his crew. Mal isn’t the Mal we see in flashbacks, the loss cut deeply into him and shook him to the core. It’s all hallmarks of him being haunted by the events prior.

Which, finally, brings me to Iron Man 3. As a series, the films have done a good job of dealing with emotional consequences. Iron Man 2 serves up the question of what would Tony do if the thing keeping him alive started to kill him? The answer was a reckless lust for life which we see play out and, at times, leave him a hungover wreck. That movie dealt all that, letting us move past that and into The Avengers where Tony decided to be truly selfless, a massive leap forward in his character.

So what now? So where does Iron Man 3 go with a Tony Stark who’s not a selfish playboy? With the Avengers he helped saved the world, so the next story would be Tony saving the world again, right? No. Iron Man 3 asks how can Tony come back from what happened in New York. This is where the story needed to go. Not doing so would be a disservice to the character. It had to explore what a character like Tony would do in light of acting completely out of character and volunteering his life. What are the ramifications? We find out that he’s not okay. He’s broken, he’s been awake for days on ends building suit after suit, keeping himself occupied while trying to protect himself – and those he loves. The man feels vulnerable, he’s just a man in an iron suit in a world where there are supersoldiers, aliens, ‘gods’, and a Hulk. Without the Iron Man armor, Tony realizes he’s just Tony. He suffers an anxiety attack at the mention of New York and can’t sign a little girl’s drawing of him saving the day without scribbling a speech bubble above Iron Man saying “Erin help me”. These aren’t spoilers, by the way, this is where we meet Tony as the film begins. This has become his normal. We get to see him fight out of it.

This is what makes Tony’s character so interesting. He’s haunted by his past. The whole reason he’s Iron Man is because he’s seeking redemption for the harm he caused. Tony isn’t a cut and dry character. He’s vulnerable, far from the ‘invincible’ used to describe his armor. Iron Man 3 dares to peel back the armor and get at the man inside. We’ve established the superhero, we’ve sent him to hell and back, now let’s watch him try and stand. It’s a daring move, one that can go the path of creating a character too caught up in his own angst or one that has barely enough. Yet Iron Man 3 nails it.

I love Iron Man. He’s been one of my favorite superheroes since I was a small kid. Why? I remember explaining it once when I was around 7 or 8; because underneath all that armor, Tony’s just a regular guy. Iron Man 3 delves into that and it’s all the better for it. Go see it; it might be my favorite not-The-Avengers Marvel movie yet.

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I Got You

Did you see that new Iron Man 3 tv spot that dropped earlier this week? You should. Because this blog post is about it. If you haven’t seen it watch it here.

See that bit at the end? When Pepper has the suit on and saves Tony? That’s crucial. You see, Tony Stark saves people. He’s a hero. That’s his job. But sometimes even the savior needs saving.

Y’know what makes Tony Stark so special as a hero? He’s incredible vulnerable. He doesn’t have super-strength or a healing factor or amazing reflexes. Heck the guy has heart disease! It’s much of the rationale behind the armor (and apparently the plot of the third movie), he needs to protect himself from threats bigger than himself.

He hides this vulnerability, though, wrapping it up with sarcasm and glibness. He doesn’t want others to worry. We see this in Iron Man 2 when Tony’s arc reactor takes a turn for the worst. He draws into himself and lives recklessly until he finally pulls himself together and beats it. Yet through it all he doesn’t tell Pepper, the person closest to him, about it. He doesn’t want anyone else to worry over him or freak out. It’s his mix of pride and stubbornness that makes him want to do it on his own.

It’s a thread that weaves its way through all his movies. One of the most crucial moments in Iron Man comes near the climax, after Obadiah Stane takes Tony’s arc reactor. The man struggles to get to his garage where his other arc reactor is, but falls just short of it. Then Dummy, the robot who Tony’s been ragging on, picking on, and calling useless for entire movie, hands him the old arc reactor. Tony acknowledges it with a simple “good boy”. You have to realize that this is Tony admitting he can’t always do it himself. Later on in the climax he asks Rhodey to keep the skies clear and Pepper to help him finish off Stane. In 2 and The Avengers he does the same thing, trying his best to do it all alone. There’s a moment during the final battle of The Avengers when Tony defers to Captain America for strategy during the climax. This again shows his growth in the team, he knows he can’t do everything by himself. It gets mirrored again when Hulk catches him: he was saved.

All this has to do with that moment in the trailer where a suited up Pepper protects Tony from the falling debris. In that moment he’s being taken care of, he’s being saved by the person he usually saves.

There’s even more to it though. Presumably Tony orders the suit to go after Pepper (I say presumably because in that teaser Tony ordering the armor to fly is from a different scene) as the mansion’s crumbling around them. He does this at his own expense, he has the suit protect her not him. Tony’s no longer the selfish git he used to be. Remember in The Avengers when he’s arguing with Captain America? Steve calls him out on being self-serving, on always trying to find a way out. That moment of him opting to just save Pepper as opposed to suiting up himself and fighting out shows just how far he’s come.

“I got you,” Pepper tells Tony upon saving him. It’s a weird turn for him, but not unwelcome. Tony, who’s usually sticking it out alone, now has someone saving him. He’s not alone anymore. In another trailer we see him and Rhodey getting ready for what I’m going to assume is the final battle. He’s grown out of his prideful independence and learned to rely on others.

But he still protects them. “I got you first,” after all.

 

By the way, Iron Man 3 comes out in 33 days. This won’t be the last post on Iron Man 3. My apologies. Actually, no, I don’t apologize.

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