Comic Book Movie Rewatch: Iron Man Trilogy

I’ve decided to go back and watch a bunch of movies based on comic books. No real reason, just something I thought would be fun. This time it was a full trilogy: Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), and Iron Man 3 (2013).

im1Iron Man

IMDb Rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 94%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 91%

My Rating: 9/10

This is a fantastic movie. There are really only two comic book characters that I think have been perfectly cast: Patrick Stewart as Prof. Charles Xavier, and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Everyone else probably could have been played by someone else, but those two casting decisions were perfect, and no one, absolutely no one, could have been better.

Robert Downey Jr. absolutely carries this movie, but the rest of the cast is really solid. Gwyneth Paltrow is excellent as Pepper Potts. Jeff Bridges is a great Obediah Stane. I prefer Don Cheadle to Terrence Howard as Rhodey, but Howard doesn’t do a bad job. The chemistry among the cast is great. The ‘Operation’ scene between Stark and Pepper is a great example of this. Both are trying to comfort each other, and neither is doing a very good job, but it feels natural and realistic. The humor in the movie has really endured well. Even when I knew a joke was coming, it didn’t feel forced and was still amusing. I didn’t get that with some of the other Marvel movies (some of that may be from Downey Jr.’s comedic background). I’ll also add that the music and visual effects are both top notch. They add to the movie without being distracting.

The movie does have some problems, the primary one being that the plot is a little formulaic. It does a great job at executing the formula, but there are no real surprises. Another problem (one that I’ve seen quite a bit), is that it often seems like the hero is the only one who needs to practice, while the villains are automatically good at using their powers. A large portion of this movie is spent on how Tony develops his skills. He refines his suit and practices using it quite a bit. That, in itself is fine, the issue is that when he confronts Iron Monger, who hasn’t had that time, they’re evenly matched.

It’s definitely not a perfect movie, but it’s easy to see why it was able to kick off the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of all the movies I’ve gone through so far, Iron Man trumps every other in balance between cast, story, and execution. Not only that, but it’s just plain fun.

im2Iron Man 2

IMDb Rating: 7.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 72%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 72%

My Rating: 6/10

I remember not liking this movie when I first saw it. I thought that it was a poor follow up to the original, but after watching it again, I have to say that it’s better than I remembered. One of the big problems I had with it the first time I saw it was that Stark was no longer behaving rationally, and a pet peeve of mine is when characters don’t behave with internal consistency. This time through, I caught that his behavior is based on his condition. The movie made a lot more sense once I realized that Stark was convinced he was going to die.

Most of the main characters are really good. RDJ and Gwyneth Paltrow are again excellent in their roles, and Don Cheadle is an upgrade over Terrence Howard as Rhodey. Mickey Rourke makes an excellent Ivan Vanko. Basically, everyone in the main cast is great. The minor characters, however, are a different story. I really didn’t like how Justin Hammer was portrayed in the movie. In the comics he’s a legitimate rival of Tony Stark, but in the movie he’s just an incompetent buffoon. Everything he touches breaks, so it’s hard to see any justification for him rising to the position he has. Senator Stern is a little too sleazy for his debut in the universe, and Favreau put himself in front of the camera a bit too much in his role as Happy. I also wasn’t too happy with the way Black Widow and Fury were included. It seemed too much like they were added in as a promotion for The Avengers, and not because they really contributed to the story.

I can definitely see why this movie is often ranked so low in the MCU. It doesn’t hold up well to most of the other movies, even less so than many of the other sequels in the franchise. I get the sense that this movie came about as a way to capitalize on Robert Downey Jr.’s popularity rather than a way to really build the universe. It’s sad, because I really think this movie could have been a lot better.

Iron-Man-3-poster-2Iron Man 3

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 79%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 79%

My Rating: 6/10

It was really nice watching all three movies in a short period. It helped piece together quite a few things. I especially liked how the opening few scenes gives some insight into pre-captivity Tony Stark, including him meeting Yinsen.

Iron Man 3 is okay. Going in, I thought it was going to be better than Iron Man 2, because that’s what I remembered. Instead, I saw that this one doesn’t hold up as well as I expected. I liked that it continued to focus on Stark’s mental fragility. In the second movie, he’s suffering from depression and grief; in this movie, he’s suffering from anxiety and PTSD from the events of The Avengers. A lot of superhero movies make the hero more and more powerful with each film, which can make them seem less and less human. That’s not the case here. The movie centers around Tony Stark, not Iron Man, and that helps.

Despite all that, the story is a little weak. There are some okay twists, but nothing mind-blowing. I also didn’t find the Mandarin, or any of his subordinates, to be all that threatening. (Though I really liked how the short “All Hail the King” addressed the issues with the Mandarin.) I also thought that the ending, where Pepper saves the day, didn’t make any sense given that she’s never shown any type of physical skills before.

This movie feels a little trapped. It tries to stay within the MCU better than its predecessor, while still trying to focus on Downey’s outstanding portrayal of Stark. In the end, it doesn’t quite do either. Downey’s on screen charisma feels a little forced at times, and the humor falls flat. The lack of contact with the rest of the Avengers is also a problem. Stark is easily the most visible of the characters, and the most watched by SHIELD (as evidenced in the 2nd movie), but when Stark makes threats to a known terrorist and gets his house blown up, not a peep from the organization. All the ties to the universe are accomplished through memories, and that doesn’t seem to fit the larger narrative.

It was nice that the movie quality didn’t go down any more than the 2nd movie, but it would have been nice to see some improvement instead of it just staying static. I’ll have to pay close attention to Avengers 2 to see if some of the problems with this movie made its way into that one as well.

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