After the box office and critical success of 'The Avengers', 'Iron Man 3' is the first entry of Marvel's Cinematic Universe Phase Two. Or, the first stand alone adventure that will keep audiences happy until 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron'.
Picking up after "the events in New York City", we find ex-military industrialist turned self-made superhero, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) a shell of his former self. Sure, he's still acerbic and brilliant and snarky, but Tony's suffering from superhero PTSD. He can't sleep, thanks to recurring nightmares of falling through an inter-dimensional wormhole, and any brief mention of New York is enough to give him an extreme anxiety attack.
Tony, being who he is, knows he needs help, but instead spends time tinkering, creating and building an entire fleet of new Iron Man suits.
While Tony is close to cracking, two events threaten to send him all the way over the edge. First, an international terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsly) is bombing US targets around the world. There have been nine attacks thus far, and the weird part is investigators have been unable to find any trace of the bombs, or The Mandarin. Second, a man named Aldrige Killian (Guy Pearce) returns from Tony's past to pitch Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) -- who is not only Tony's girlfriend, but the President of Stark Industries -- on a new technology that will allow them to hack and unlock the full potential of the mind. Tony's long time bodyguard, Happy (Jon Favreau), thinks Killian has romantic eyes for Pepper.
When Happy is nearly killed in the next Mandarin attack, Tony, in complete denial of his current capabilities, publicly invites The Mandarin to bring his jihad right to Tony's literal front door, where upon Iron Man gets his ass fully kicked and left for dead.
Here begins the true struggle of 'Iron Man 3'.
An Iron Man adventure where Tony Stark is all alone and stripped of his super-suit. What a terrific challenge. A man who, in previous adventures, flies around the world to blow up his enemies, must rely on wits and MacGyver-style creativity to solve a series of mysterious bombings before The Mandarin can attack on America's highest office.
'Iron Man 3' was co-written and directed by Shane Black, who helped resurrect Robert Downey Jr's career with the hilarious and hard-boiled 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang', created 'The Lethal Weapon' franchise, and was on and off the top of Hollywood's highest paid screenwriters list during the spec script boom of the 90s. If you're familiar with Black's work, you'll see a lot of fun parallels in 'Iron Man 3' -- the Christmas time setting, a man teetering on the edge of insanity who usually works alone but must find a way to team with a partner, helicopters destroying a beach front home etc. Black is the king of using genre conventions to subvert expectations, something he does quite well in this film. The other co-writer is Drew Pearce, who wrote and produced the British television series 'Lip Service and 'Damage Control' -- he also penned drafts of a couple big movies in development, Downey's 'Sherlock Holmes 3' and 'Mission Impossible 5'.
What a fantastic choice to liven up the franchise that seemed a little stalled in its second entry. Not to say 'Iron Man 2' is terrible, it just falls prey to the idea that the sequel adventures must involve Iron Man fighting bigger, badder Iron Man style suits and/or robots. Sadly, CGI v. CGI fist fights are less important than personal character stakes.
And that's what 'Iron Man 3' does so well. It's character-centric and plays more like a detective or, at times, a '90s action buddy cop movie when Tony has scenes with Col. Rhodes (Don Cheedle). It's funny; I think most of us keep a soft spot for whatever cinematic era in which we come of age. For me, that's 80s and 90s action movies. Here we have a movie that, tonally, feels like 'The Last Boy Scout', but is actually a superhero flick. What fun. 'IM3' manages to feel epic, with mansions rolling off of cliffs and planes exploding in the sky, but very intimate. And I love all the human and personal challenges, which I think ground the film when we're dealing with potentially supernatural or superhuman antagonists.
The action scenes themselves are also well paced and framed, with a clear sense of geography. Having seen the film a couple times now, it's still a pretty exciting thrill ride. Brian Tyler's score is great too, really upping the emotional connection to the story as well as the suspense and tension.
Finally, while the special effects are perfect, my only real issues with the movie is that it eventually succumbs to the need for a overly long CGI-climax firestorm, and I'm not sure Tony earned the final choice he makes in the film. We obviously can't get too in depth here without spoiling the climax or the film's conclusion, but let me try to skirt around things. One, having seen the climax a couple times now, I think it's a cut above the normal CGI-slog fest. I really enjoyed the way they made this personal with Pepper, but also that she wasn't simply a damsel in distress. But I wonder if the climax is, after a movie of human-sized struggles, a little too easy at times. Further, I wonder if Tony's final moments are a bit of false jeopardy given the forthcoming 'The Avengers 2'. Speaking of those guys, where are the other Avengers?
The more I watch 'Iron Man 3', the more I like it. The nitpicks listed above aren't even terrible problems, or boring scenes. I'm just wondering if one undercuts tension and the other feels a little forced. And, while I think Tony Stark/Iron Man works best when balanced out by the entire team, there are so many ambitious, bold, and smart choices going on with this movie, it's not hard to rank 'Iron Man 3' as one of the better Marvel features.
If you're a little tired of the same old superhero movie, or of the 'Iron Man' franchise, you might just want to give this one another look.
9.24.2013 UPDATE: The original version of this review has been revised to reduce the number of first act plot points described in the summary portion.
Also, some of you will note that the 2D and 3D movie review ratings are slightly different -- 4.5 stars for the 2D and 4.0 stars for the 3D. These may seem odd, or confusing, but I made this choice for two reasons. First, watching 'IM3' in 3D does negate some of the film's overall enjoyability. Second -- and this is more important -- I'm still a little torn by the 4.5 rating I gave the first version of the 2D review. Honestly, slapping a definite number on a motion picture is my least favorite part of the review process. Movies are too subjective. As much as we want to talk about structure and logic and special effects and definable qualities, movies connect with us on a gut level for thousands of reasons, large and small. As such, when I first sat down to review 'IM3', I expected to give it a 3.5 or a 4.0 star rating. In my second and third viewings for the HDD review, I was surprised to find my enthusiasm increasing. Honestly, I was stuck between 4.0 and 4.5 stars, and simply rounded up. By keeping the 2D review at 4.5 and the 3D review at 4.0, I hope this -- despite the potential confusion for those who only look at star ratings or aren't reading these words -- allows the combined averaged rating to equal 4.25 stars. Probably still be too high for some, but that's okay. For me, having thought more about it and seen the film a fourth time, 4.25 is most accurate. Thank you for understanding, reading, and commenting.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-Ray
'Iron Man 3', from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, is available in a couple different forms. This 3-Disc edition includes the Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and a DVD. In this packaging, the Blu-ray 3D is nested above the DVD on the right. The Blu-ray is on the left underneath a paper insert with the code to download an HD Digital Copy (Compatible with iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play) and 12 Music Tracks from and inspired by the motion picture. Both Blu-rays are compatible with Regions A, B, and C, though at this time we have only tested Region A. The Blu-ray 3D has only one trailer: 'Thor: The Dark World. The Blu-ray previews include 'Thor: The Dark World' as well as 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.', 'LEGO Marvel Super Heroes', 'The Lone Ranger', and 'Iron Man Hulk Heroes United'.
There is also a 2-Disc "Combo Pack" version of 'Iron Man 3', which includes only the standard Blu-ray and the DVD. Click here to read that review.
Blu-ray 3D 3.5/5 stars
'Iron Man 3 - 3D' stumbles onto Blu-ray 3D with an incredibly dark MVC MPEG-4 encode, framed in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Marvel's 3D conversions have been hit or miss. 'The Avengers - 3D' looked pretty great, but darker movies like 'Thor' have been less impressive. 'Iron Man 3' is brimming with nighttime action sequences, and they look pretty crummy. You're missing details all around, and colors are muted. To counter balance this problem, I cranked my display (a 65-inch VT series Panasonic Plasma) brightness setting up from "50" -- where I watch all other 3D content -- to about "60". Only then could I see any of the shadow detail. So with a little tweaking, 'Iron Man 3' can look almost like its 2D counterpart, though contrast and other settings now need to be fudged.
The real trouble with this conversion is the film's framing and editing style. 'IM3' is clearly shot and edited for two dimensions -- meaning, the cuts are a little too quick, and individual shots are framed with lots of out of focus foreground characters / objects. These people / things tend to be unnaturally flat and/or should be popping out into negative 3D space. Instead they touch the bottom or side of the frame and ruin the 3D effect overall. We also need to talk about ghosting. If you have a ghosting-prone display, this movie is a bit of a problem child; if you do not, let us know how this movie looked to you. The odd part is I'm used to foreground ghosting (on titles and other pop out effects), but I've never seen it with objects and characters that are pretty deep or in the background. Look at Happy's ID badge, or the security guards by the fountain at the Mandarin compound. Overall depth was lacking too (I spot checked by flipping my active shutter glasses up and down, and many scenes were quite clear), and there are no substantial pop out effects.
Despite the flaws, not everything is a visual disaster. Like I said, crank up your brightness (if possible), and night sequences look a little better. Even before I made the adjustment, there are some sequences that are outright striking and beautiful. The JARVIS interactive crime scene map is gorgeous. The mansion attack and Air Force One sequences look great too. And, like its 2D sibling, the film's clarity and overall resolution are top notch, especially during daytime scenes.
'Iron Man 3 - 3D' is dark, prone to ghosting (for some displays), and doesn't always map characters to a more natural looking 3D space. There are some fun moments, but unless you're a 3D completist, most folks will prefer the native 2D version (remember, I'm saying this as a person who loved 'The Wizard of Oz' in IMAX 3D).
Blu-ray 2D 4.5/5 stars
'Iron Man Three' blasts onto Blu-ray with an ever-just-so-shy of perfect MPEG 4 AVC transfer, framed at the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
As we expect from modern, digitally shot blockbusters, 'Iron Man 3' excels at resolution and fine details. Everything is sharp and crisp and in focus, even things in darker areas of the frame. The film's color palette ranges from golden sunsets to cool winter exteriors to lush and vibrant tropical Miami; all render well. Skin tones are even. Visual Effects integration is seamless.
The only minor (minor!) flaws are a couple quick moments of banding in night, or underwater shots, and some slightly gray black levels. Blink and you miss it type stuff. If HDD gave out 4.75 or 4.90 star ratings, I would score 'IM3' thusly.
Overall 'Iron Man 3' is a fantastic 2D high definition presentation that is, for 99.9 percent of the time, clearly demo material.
The only thing better than the video on 'Iron Man 3', is the highly detailed 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
To be fair, I do have one huge complaint, though I can't knock off any points for this. You see, I was extremely lucky, thanks to my work here at HDD, to see 'Iron Man 3' at the very same ToddAO mixing stage in Hollywood where the filmmakers mixed the film in Dolby ATMOS. Meaning, I experienced 'IM3' in one of the world's best sounding cinemas in something like 42.4 surround sound -- complete with subwoofers bigger than my couch at home and the dual overhead arrays.
I say all of that not to brag (again, just lucky), but to point out there's no way my 7.1 home system can compete with my new favorite theatrical sound format...
But it's damn close.
I'm not sure if they went in and did a near-field or home cinema specific mix, but 'Iron Man 3' is a reference quality surround experience. Sure, there's all the stuff you'd expect from an Iron Man movie -- thunderous and robust and deep LFE, extremely articulate panning effects, and extreme rear channel activity during the action sequences. But the filmmakers are very smart to not overuse the mix. There are plenty of quiet moments in the film -- even in the normally deafening action sequences -- which really highlight the track's clarity and precision. You can hear wind in the trees outside, or even little pieces of glass pinging around the room. And Brian Tyler's excellent music really shines.
So, while it may not compare to the theatrical Atmos mix, this 7.1 home cinema mix is a stunner all around. No complaints.
In addition to English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Video Service, Francais 7.1 DTS-HD High Resolution, and Espanol 5.1 Dolby Digital.
These special features are in HD, but can also be found on the film's DVD-only release. All Special Features (and HD Exclusives listed below) are found on the standard Blu-ray Disc containing the 2D version of the film. The Blu-ray 3D has no special features.
Thanks to a series of smart and subversive choices by the filmmakers, 'Iron Man 3' is a character-based thriller that harkens back to the 90s action movies where co-writer/director Shane Black came of age.
As a Blu-ray release, this 3D version of film is far from a perfect conversion, though you can get it looking pretty good by adjusting your display's brightness. The 2D picture quality is outstanding, save for a few extremely minor quibbles. The 7.1 channel surround mix, the same on both discs, is reference quality. The Special Features, which are found only on the 2D Blu-ray, are a little light, but this 3-Disc edition does include code to access an HD Digital Copy (from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, or Google Play), download the film's soundtrack, and read a free digital comic book.
If you loved 'Iron Man 3', dig 3D, find a digital copy useful, and/or think the film's soundtrack is added value, then this is a pretty great package deal. From my perspective, unless you're a super 3D fan/completist, I would save a few bucks and pick up the 2-Disc Combo Pack.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.