So, where do we go after The Avengers? That film was just so big, so grand, so over the top, that the question of where Marvel goes with their Phase II was one that I was really wondering. Could they go bigger? Do they save "big" for The Avengers now, with each individual hero's film now smaller? Really, where do we go from here?
Well, Marvel is kicking off Phase II with the guy who started their run at the box office in the first place, Tony Stark, back on screen with Iron Man 3. There were a few creative changes behind the scenes. Jon Favreau, director of the first two films, steps down as the director this time, although he does reprise his role of Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's chauffeur and bodyguard (and now head of Stark Industries security). ("You know what people would do when I told them I was Iron Man's bodyguard? They'd laugh in my face!" A great line in the film, explaining why he chose his new vocation.) Taking over in the director's chair is Shane Black, the legendary Hollywood screenwriter who pretty much invented the cop-buddy genre when he wrote Lethal Weapon back in the 80s, and kind of launched Robert Downey Jr's comeback with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang back in 2005. With promises that Iron Man's arch-enemy the Mandarin would finally be rearing his head, the game was set for Phase II to begin.
It's a few months after the events of The Avengers, and Tony Stark is still rather stressed out from the experience. He's having nightmares about the battles, has become prone to panic attacks, and not even he can answer the #1 question people ask him, "So how did you get back through that wormhole?" As such, he's become obsessed with the idea of protection and spends his nights in his workshop producing bigger, better armors. His friend and sidekick James Rhodes, recently re-branded as the Iron Patriot ("War Machine sounded too aggressive. Iron Patriot tested better in focus groups.") is on the hunt for the terrorist known as the Mandarin, who has launched a series of attacks on American soil. And Pepper Potts is being wooed, both personally and professionally, by her old employer Aldrich Killian to come back and work for him. When one of the Mandarin's attacks puts Happy Hogan in the hospital, Tony takes on the mission to track down the Mandarin. This leads Tony Stark on a mission to confront demons from this past, battle his personal demons, and finally bring the Mandarin to justice.
As always, Robert Downey Jr thoroughly owns the role of Tony Stark. He's so full of charm and swagger and pithy one liners that you just can't help but love the guy. In the mid-section of the film, he actually even picks up a kid sidekick, and their banter with one another is priceless. It's nice to see Gwyneth Patlrow even gets to get in on some of the ass-kicking as Pepper Pots this time around, as she does get a little more to do than just be the damsel-in-distress. Don Cheadle is great too as War Machine/Iron Patriot. Seriously, give him his own movie at this point. And the Mandarin...oh my God. There is a great plot twist concerning the origins of the Mandarin, and the way it's revealed in the film is just so damn funny...I don't want to give it away, but trust me, it's fantastic.
I also want to give props to Brian Tyler's score. One of my main complaints about the dearth of superhero films over the past 15 years is there's been a true lack of iconic superhero themes that I'd put alongside John Williams' Superman theme and Danny Elfman's Batman theme. And while Tyler's Iron Man 3 doesn't reach that iconic status, you can at least pick it out of the soundtrack.
However, I did find that the film slowed down a bit in the middle. It kind of dragged on for a bit while
(I also found it tough to follow what was going because, at the very crowded theatre where I saw it, the 8-year old girl I sat next to grew restless and kept checking her cellphone, wandered down the aisle to check on her father and brother who were sitting 5 rows down, and all other kinds of restless kid stuff.)
All in all, I find it was a very good and very entertaining film, if only it lacked more "men-in-suit" action.
Oh, and I've got to hand it to Jon Favreau and what he started. The truth is, when Nick Fury popped up at the end of Iron Man's credits, Marvel wasn't planning their "Phase I" yet. Favreau just thought it'd be a cute post-credits scene. But the post-credit scene has now become such an ingrained part of the superhero film genre. Back in 2008 with the first film, it was just me and the other half-a-dozen people who usually sit around until the end of the end credits. And now, the entire dang audience stayed riveted to their seats to the post-credits scene this time around.