Iron Man 3: Smaller than the sum of its parts

I’m feeling a bit too lazy to write a properly structured piece on Iron Man 3, which I saw yesterday afternoon in 3D (but not IMAX 3D). So I’m going to take the easy way out and list down a series of short segments with my overall thoughts, in no particular order.

Not enough screen time for the suits: The last trailer released showcased multiple Iron Man suits coming to the rescue and this tied in with the marketing material from a few weeks earlier when Marvel released images for 6 different suits, i.e., the Mark 17 (Heartbreaker), 33 (Silver Centurion), 35 (Red Snapper) and 38-40 (Igor, Gemini & Shotgun). As always, the geek in me really wanted the filmmakers to dwell on some of this stuff. But when they did appear in the climactic battle (in fact, I think there must have been about 20 suits flying around), the scene was too ‘busy’ for me to really appreciate and enjoy the different features and capabilities of the suits. Of course, the rational part of my brain (yes, it exists) knows that doing so would completely kill the pacing and flow of the scene. This is the sort of thing that would work great if there was an Iron Man TV show; it would be a bit like watching the Thunderbirds in the ‘70s where different episodes focused on the different Thunderbird machines.

Keep kids out of it: I was not too comfortable with the introduction of the Harley character into the storyline. It was too cutesy for me; it felt like this was being done just to make the movie appeal to that particular demographic. It really was difficult for me to accept that this hi-tech suit could be fixed in somebody’s garage. That’s the sort of plot device that works in Saturday morning TV shows, not in this sort of ‘grown up superhero’ universe.

Ben Kingsley’s the Man(darin)!: I really loved the twist with the Mandarin; not sure that any actor other than Ben Kingsley could have pulled this off. ‘Nuff said, as it’s too early in the movie’s release to be giving away spoilers.

Guy Pearce plays another corporate villain: Last year’s Prometheus featured Guy Pearce playing corporate honcho Peter Weyland, the man behind the evil Weyland-Yutani conglomerate. Here, he plays Aldrich Killian, the man who heads the shadowy AIM corporation. He also played quite a hateful character – Charlie Rakes – in the Depression-era drama Lawless. And to think I first saw this actor in drag in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Dark screen/ GSC ruins another movie for me: Right from the beginning of the film, when I put on the 3D glasses, I felt that the screen was too dark. It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but I periodically, had to take my glasses off just to see some scenes clearly, even though doing so rendered them blurry because of the twin 3D images. I have been reading up on this and there are some interesting online articles that explain the phenomenon. The main reason is that 3D glasses, due to their polarized filters, tend to cut the light levels that reach our eyes. Therefore the film has to be shot at higher brightness levels to compensate; this is naturally done for films that are shot in 3D (e.g. Avatar), but for films that take the cheaper route and convert to 3D later (like Iron Man 3 and most other 3D films), it is much more difficult to build in that extra brightness. The other culprit is the theater owner. They have to screen 3D films at a brightness of 4.5 foot-Lamberts (fL) whereas many theatres apparently screen 3D films at as low as 2-3 (fL). It is expensive for a theater to upgrade all its screens to high brightness levels, so they may do it only for screens that regularly show 3D films. For a movie like Iron Man 3, which was showing on multiple screens at GSC, it is possible that we went into a theatre that usually shows only 2D films and therefore hadn’t been upgraded to show a 3D film at 4.5 fL. Apparently, this is an issue across the world and Michael Bay wrote a letter to projectionists back in 2011, requesting them to screen his 3D Transformers film with the right level of brightness.

Overall, I thought IM3 was ok, but not as enjoyable as other Marvel films like Avengers and Captain America and the first Iron Man. The sum of the parts was greater than the whole. On the good side, I liked the humour and dialogue, I loved what Ben Kingsley did with the Mandarin, Happy’s character was fun and entertaining, Aldrich Killian was really evil and those Extremis test subjects were pretty scary. On the negative side, I didn’t care for the Harley character/ storyline, Rebecca Hall was wasted as Maya Hansen and I didn’t get to see enough of the suits. Luckily, IM3 only has Star Trek Into Darkness as real competition in the month of May, so it will make a pile of money before the big hitters like Man of Steel and World War Z come out in June; and end its US run above USD 300 million like its two predecessors. Not a bad achievement for a character that actually was a 2nd rung hero in the Marvel universe for the longest time, well behind Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. All credit to Robert Downey Jr. and it is going to be very difficult for Marvel to fill this character’s shoes with any other actor.

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