So "Predator" is being remade apparently by Shane Black but, before I opine on that, I must divert to an earlier film of his, "Iron Man 3" which, it turns out, was something more than a figment of my nightmares. I wrote much of this review at the time but never got around to publishing I, in part because I was disorganised and lazy, but mostly because I had (then) no way to watch the film a second time and check those things my friend and I thought about it. It doesn't help that, having seen the film once, I made a vow never to buy it however, recently, I found the film on Netflix so I thought I'd try and complete the review ... here goes.
I'm a huge fan of "Iron Man" and, though I thought it could have been done better, I liked "Iron Man 2" as well. I am also a huge fan of "Avengers Assemble" which, in my book, goes down as the best super-hero film of all time. So, when I heard about "Iron Man 3", I devoured all the news that I could about it, I watched the trailers, checked the ratings and just about everywhere I looked it was rated as 4 out of 5, 8 plus of 10, Rotten Tomatoes gave it 90%, Ain't-It-Cool-News had nothing but good things to say about it, IMDB rated it at 8.1, higher even than the original Iron Man film.
So, I thought as my friend and I made our way to the cinema, there was no way this could be anything but a really, really good film. I'm just going to say this (for the record as there will be, no doubt, those who will doubt that I am actually an Iron Man fan at all), I was really looking forward to this film. Star Trek, Superman and so on are classy enough but this was the one, Iron Man 3 was (for me) always going to be the film of 2013 so much so that I watched both "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2" on blu-ray before we headed to the cinema. The "Iron Man" brand was so good, so well established, that the third film had to be good ... sure, it might not be quite as good as the first or even (worse case) the second but no one on the planet could really screw the pooch that badly. So, like millions of others around the world already had been, people with nothing but good things to say about the film, I fully expected to be thoroughly and completely entertained. Less than halfway through the film I knew I was wrong and, by the end, I was seriously wondering what film everyone else had been watching because it sure as hell couldn't have been the one my friend and I had just seen. I'll start with my ratings and then go into greater detail about why I hated this film so much.
It's unfortunate that in order to review this film fairly I will have to discuss specific aspects of the plot so, consider yourself warned, this review is going to be one huge spoiler.
Although high-tech, previous Iron Man outings have had a moral or personal component about them. In the original film we get introduced to the marvellous "Iron Man" universe in which Stark, a weapons manufacturer, demonstrating his latest weapon, the Jericho missile system, gets captured by Taliban-like terrorists and, escaping from them in his cave-built Mk 1 suit, is forced to the realisation that he is part of a system that has become largely unaccountable and that something has to change. Through a couple iterations of his suit he then goes on to take out the man who, in charge of Stark Industries, is selling weapons to third parties (including those Taliban-like forces) to be used against US troops. In his second outing, "Iron Man 2", he is combatting unscrupulous weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer and dealing with the son of his father's ex-partner who claims he denied his share of fame in the development of young Tony Stark's arc reactor technology. It's a less morally inspiring film but the plot is clear and simple and is boosted by the love interest and developing role of Pepper Potts as CEO of Stark Industries. In his third, in "Avengers Assemble", Stark joins forces with other superheroes to form The Avengers to battle Asgardian god Loki as he tries to conquer the Earth. "Iron Man 3" had a lot to live up to and, not to put too fine a point on it, failed cataclysmically.
The plot of "Iron Man 3", written (story and screenplay) as well as directed by Shane Black, seems vague & wishy washy, almost non-existent. We start with Tony Stark's voice over about our demons and how we create them ourselves as the film does a short flashback to 1999. I admit I smiled, arguably the high point of the film, when I saw Yinsen introducing someone to Stark to be immediately forgotten as Stark targets someone much younger and prettier. More to the point, Stark ignores Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) with what will be, in the future, devastating consequences ... in my mind those "consequences" appear to be the creation of this terrible movie.
Back in the current day, Stark is having PTSD-like problems following his battle with the Asgard demi-god, Loki and his allies. He's in the dog-house with Pepper Potts and dealing with it poorly, retreating to his lab to play with his super-toy Iron Man suits which, as the film starts, is on iteration 42. The Mk. 42 suit assembles from components which fly to him and assemble the suit on him and the empty suit can be remotely controlled (as can others in his collection) indeed, one blogger on New Jersey News reckoned this to be a metaphor for the film ... it's hard to be critical of that comment. Anyway, The Mandarin, a Bin-Ladin like terrorist, is threatening the US and specifically the president, taking over the television channels, setting off bombs everywhere and executing people on live TV. Stark challenges the Mandarin to come & visit him, giving him his literal address in doing so. In one sense accepting, the Mandarin sends 3 helicopters to destroy Stark's hideaway almost killing him, his guest (the young female scientist he had a brief affair with in 1999) and a seriously pissed off Pepper Potts.
Stark's home is destroyed, Pepper barely escapes in the Mk .42 and he decides that revenge is every bit as good a reason as any to go on a crusade against the Mandarin. From here on in the film becomes a confused mess of Tony Stark not wearing his Iron Man suit interspersed with weak comic sequences and fights. I suppose some of these fights are quite well done but, coming from the camp of "FX Support Films" (by which I mean I believe effects exist to support a plot and do not, alone, make a movie), I found most of them pointless and empty.
Little of this specifically makes for a bad film but before I go on to my major criticisms (and spoilers) I'll divert to deal with other aspects of the film as I have to get deep into the film to explain why I hated the film so much.
The performances themselves were pretty good. Robert Downey is his usual, larger than life self, though arguably more detached than in previous outings. Though Paltrow acts well, her character is mostly angry and largely underused, taking a step backwards from the secretary promoted to CEO we've come to know in earlier films to a role seemingly inspired more by the screaming female support stereotype. Jon Favreau was, as ever, entertaining but, spending most of the film in a hospital bed, his primary role seems to be to act as a vehicle for a late movie joke about how much he loves "Downton Abbey" (a UK period drama I seem, again in a minority, to have difficulty distinguishing from any other upmarket soap).
Paul Bettany's voice overs are, of course, as flawless as usual though I think someone must have disabled his wit circuits. Other actors were largely competent even if there was little real passion.
Sound & FX are, by and large, superb, the action sequences are (on the face of it) competent and certainly appear to have the required "wow" factor as expected in most big-budget science fiction/superhero flicks these days. The music was, I assume, competent though the truth is I don't remember which stands out only inasmuch as it presumably failed to inspire. That may seem harsh but previous Iron Man solo outings have made heavy use of rock and metal bands with "Iron Man" being fairly varied but mainly classic bands and "Iron Man 2" mainly using AC/DC. To me that music has become as much a part of the Iron Man character as Iron Man himself but in "Iron Man 3" the choice was made to use a much more modern pop, rap & rock music style which, in my not-so-humble opinion, didn't work, it's just not Iron Man.
The final thing I want to mention before moving on to my major criticisms is the relationship between Tony Stark & Pepper Potts. As said earlier, Stark is in the doghouse which seems to hinge around the PTSD-like mental issues he is suffering as a result from his combat with Loki and his allies and as a result has retreated to the lab working on iteration after iteration of his iron man suit. The effect that has on his relationship with Pepper Potts is obviously supposed to be a point of interest in the film but all it really seems to achieve is lessening of intensity in their relationship, a cooling off like some kind of loveless marriage. In another setting that might have worked but this is a film about superheroes (one superhero in particular) and in this film, it simply doesn't.
Now, before we get down to it I want to give a final spoiler warning ... you have been warned.
The plot was, quite simply, awful. In the film the US Government is able to identify the most likely origin point for the Mandarin broadcasts, but apparently can't get off its collective arses and go to see what is there despite the fact that it is in the US. To add to that stupidity, bearing in mind that the entire film (outside of the early flashbacks) takes place in the US, Tony Stark decides to attack The Mandarin's base without his armour. In that scene he is clearly going after (and likely to meet) a bunch of heavily armed terrorists, unarmoured and alone ... watching the film with bemused disbelief, my friend and I were forced to ask why he didn't call 911? In a scene about halfway through, where Stark and Rhodey have been captured, the big bad, who has changed himself genetically to have super powers like many of his experimental subjects, actually spits fire more like a dragon or magic. It might have been funny had the supporting film been better but as it stood, it was just pathetic.
Iron Man's suits are a huge problem, particularly Stark's new Mk. 42 and it is worth making a few observations. The suit is made of multiple components that assemble on Stark, on demand, using controllers ("micro-repeaters" I think he calls them) embedded in his skin yet those repeaters seem irrelevant since, soon after, it assembles flawlessly on Pepper Potts who has none? To some degree I can accept this idea in a lab environment but in order to do so out of that environment each component must have its own intelligence, guidance and power systems something that is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Again, in one of the scenes where Stark is captured he requests his suit come to him (bear in mind the abysmal plot places him in Florida and the suit in a wooden shed in Tennessee a journey of some 830 miles according to the movie. First of all, a glove smashes its way into the room, then a boot, leading to another abysmally comic scene where Stark is fighting several terrorists flying on one boot and fighting with one glove. Yet back in Tennessee the remainder of his suit is unable to escape the wooden shed it is in apparently because the wooden door is locked by a chain a padlock. Enter (actually re-enter since he was in it earlier) one small kid who blows the lock apart with a supposedly harmless device Stark gave him to scare off a bully earlier and I have to ask would Stark genuinely give a child something that dangerous? To scare off a bully? Regardless the suit is freed and arrives at Stark's location about a minute later having flown 830 miles to reach him (it's actually 830 or so nautical miles, nearly 950 conventional miles) but let's go with 830. Just for comparison Concorde, travelling at Mach 2, would have taken nearly half an hour to cover that distance whilst the world's fastest plane, the X-15 travelling at 7,200mph, would have taken some 12 minutes. Stark's Mk42 ... correction pieces of Mk. 42, travelled at around 830 miles per minute, that's close to 50,000 miles an hour which causes all kinds of physics problems, heat from extreme atmospheric friction, that such a speed would exceed escape velocity, the non-aerodynamic shape of the individual pieces and that aside from my earlier comments regarding intelligence, power capability and guidance etc. Even if we put aside the major physics issues (this is, after all a film built simply to entertain) what we are being asked to accept is that a group of independently flying, guiding, intelligent, powerful armour pieces, can fly half way across a continent in minutes, yet are completely incapable of getting through a rickety wooden door secured with a rusty chain.
Then there's the question of how they know where to go? Why did they only come through windows or clear air paths? Why didn't they smash into walls? Given how long it took Stark to learn the control of the suit, how did Pepper manage it so quickly? If, as Stark later says, the suits are only coded for him to be wearer, how does it work for Pepper? At the beginning we see Stark injecting himself with the electronic devices to allow the suit to fly to him in pieces and assemble itself correctly. Why does he bother, since Pepper doesn't have them and the suit assembles perfectly for her? In fact, it assembles on her much better than on Stark.
And another question, one I only realised whilst subjecting myself to this awful monstrosity a second time and that is power, why on Earth does Stark's suit not have any power when it finally assembles on him? If we accept that the individual pieces have to power to fly themselves independently then why do they suddenly run out when they assemble on him? For a start that's awfully inconvenient to happen just at that moment but more importantly wasn't that the entire point of Stark's miniature Arc Reactor? As soon as the suit assembled on Stark would it not start drawing power from that reactor and he be supercharged ready for combat? It just doesn't make any sense.
Near the end of the film the big bad chops the suit containing Iron Man suit completely in half without injuring Stark inside it, clearly Stark ejected himself from the suit, seemingly through the back, but if so why is the rear of the suit glowing, heated from the blow? If Stark had ejected himself, the suit splitting at the back, there would be nothing there to be impacted and heated. On the subject of heating, why does it take the big bad ages to heat up the front panel of the earlier, and presumably inferior, Iron Patriot suit yet a mere second to slice clean through whatever Stark is wearing, just hours later, with his fingers?
Some of you, some of the few who have got this far, will be thinking this is all a little harsh isn't it? Maybe worse but ask yourself this, what is the iconic Stark/Iron Man quote from "Iron Man" and "Avengers Assemble"? I can think of several straight off the top of my head. My favourite from the first film is his simple statement after testing components of the Mk. 2 suit, "Yeah, I can fly" and, of course, his final words, "I am Iron Man". From Avengers Assemble" there's "Phil? Uh, his first name is Agent" and then, in response to Captain America's taunting and asking him what he is if he takes off the suit, "Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" and those quite apart from Loki's awesome, "I'm Listening?" and the Hulk's "Puny God". Even Iron Man 2 has some good quotes, granted the IMDB list is half the size of the original film or the "Avengers Assemble" ones. Think of any from Iron Man 3? There are some but they're fairly dull and the IMDB page is miniscule.
I asked my friend who accompanied me to see the film what he thought and he mailed back the following:
I can forgive a film a lot of things, as long as it takes me on the ride, well enough. Unfortunately, this one manages to fail at this, most basic of tasks. It's essentially one, enormously long, fight scene, broken up with jokes. The fights are all well shot, but too long, and increasingly silly. The director seems to have one or two shots that he likes and he uses them over and over again. Once we've seen it once or twice, it stops being a novelty, we see it coming every time.
It is, however, the farcical and embarrassing ending that leaves the foulest taste in the mouth. Suddenly the suit is entirely autonomous and available in vast numbers. This has been mentioned earlier, but it leaves the obvious problem that there's no reason to put a wearer in danger. As this is now the way the suits work, why can't Jarvis just control all the suits himself and Stark can go home and get some, much needed, sleep?
The last scenes manage to be almost unwatchable. It makes no sense, at all. I started to squirm a little because I was feeling uncomfortable for the cast and crew. Given that the story, the screenplay and the direction was all handled by the same man I have to blame him for everything.
Ultimately, we (my friend and I) agree that Shane Black, who apparently wrote, produced and directed "Iron Man 3", is to blame for this misbegotten abortion of a film but in the end the one thing I can't get my head around is that so many liked the film. The day Black foisted this dismal piece of rubbish on the movie-going public was a day to hang our heads in shame but when so many people can decide that such rubbish is not just good but worth rating of ninety percent or better close to the time of release, it's down to 7.2 on IMDB now but still running at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, actually better than the first "Iron Man" film, is the day I'm forced to the realisation that the viewing public has, by and large, lost all sense of what a good film should truly be.
Finally, and we come to the reason I am writing this now, so late after the film was released, it appears that Shane Black has decided to remake one of the films I have loved for many, many years: "Predator" (being re-made as "The Predator").
"Predator" wasn't by any means brilliant, it was a film of the eighties and I am absolutely sure that in the hands of a competent director it could do well but Shane Black is not now, nor will he ever be, that man. There are some directors, such as Ron Moore who so appallingly handled the final episode of the "Battlestar Galactica" remake (see my review here), whose names should be clearly listed on the KAFF ("Keep Away From Film") list, I assume someone has somewhere and Shane Black should top that list.
Someone has to stop him but I have this terrible feeling no one will!
Thanks for reading.
J. C. Rocks (Author: "The Abyssal Void War" series)
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