Thursday, December 5, 2013

'Catching Fire' Review

After caving in and going to see the first "Hunger Games" before I had finished the book, I was determined not to make the same mistake with the second entry in the series, "Catching Fire" and finished it in time to get about three quarters through the latest ten pound juggernaut by Stephen King. Not only did I like it as much as the first book, I liked it better. The political intrigue, interpersonal conflicts, and crazy, out of left field ending left me rabid to read 'Mockingjay' as soon possible, a craving that I have unfortunately had stave off since 'El Cheapo' here does not want to pay a premium for the hardback. Needless to say, I was very excited to see the film which looked to be a pretty direct translation of its literary counterpart.
The story picks up close to a year after the ominous ending of the last movie when, in a final play of desperation, Katniss and Peeta perpetrated a percieved act of defiance against The Capitol by coming within a hair's breadth of committing suicide via poison berries before the gamemakers altered the rules to allow for two victors. As the film opens we see that the fruits of victory have come with a hefty cost as Katniss and Peeta have become reluctant celebrity puppets for The Capitol and are forced to attend an ostentatious victory tour through all of Panem's oppressed districts. Reluctantly, they are turned into government mouth pieces espousing the greatness of The Capitol all the while pieces of their souls are slowly being chipped away with every lie they have to say in order to preserve their own skin and that of their loved ones.
But their compliance does not suceed in appeasing The Capitol's callous, vindictive Head of State, President Snow, who, in a ruthless attempt to ensure Katniss's death, (the only female victor to ever come from district 12) as well as dismantle what he views as the potentially destructive sphere of influence that has grown within the ranks of vicotorious tributes, adds a cruel twist to the rules of the latest Games declaring all of the competitors will be reaped from a lottery of their district's former male and victors.
Forced back into the searing pressure cooker of the Roman-esque Capitol and its arduous pre-games preparation, the tension builds as Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of the competitors, some of whom haved thrived from the notoriety of being crowned as victors, others of which are mired in substance abuse and mental instability due to the survivor's guilt and post traumatic stress they have to cope with everyday, face off on a sweltering, trecherous tropical themed arena.
While I was pretty impressed at how seamless the book to movie translation was for "Catching Fire" I did miss the omission of the part of the book in which Katniss has a chance encounter with some people who claim to come from a place that ends up playing heavily into the end of the story. With this bit of intrigue building entirely left out, the big reveal at the end of the film comes off as a little bit flat. I also wished that the relationship between Katniss and Johanna Mason, another former victor had been portrayed as a bit more adversarial and contentious like it was in the novel.
One area in which I thought "Catching Fire" really excels was in its truly villainous portrayel of The Capitol and the heinous lengths it sill go to to ensure keeping control over the 12 districts, sanctioning its ironically titled "peacekeepers" to act like gestapo going in and doing whatever they want in the name of the powers that be with no regard for personal property or well being. Donald Sutherland gives a particularly great performance in this movie as President Snow who, while projecting a steeley, guarded demeanor in the first film, truly demonstrates this time around that he will happily kill as many people as it takes and not loose an ounce of sleep if it means ensuring the continued wellfare of The Capitol. A key scene near the beginning of the film between him and Katniss is adapted perfectly from the source material and sets up the ominous tone of events to come.
Jennifer Laurence once again does a fine job as Katniss Everdeen who is caught in the tidal wave of events around her and is more concerned with protecting protecting Peeta and those she cares about back home rather than embodying the symbol of hope other people have come to view her as.
In conclusion, I thought that "Catching Fire" was a very well done sequel, that, in the vain of "The Empire Strikes Back" gave us a closer look at the enemy and built up our emotional investment in the characters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review

I loved the first 'Thor.' The story of a vain, arrogant and war hungry god having to learn of the strength in humility and the precious nature of all life was a gem that stood out in a summer crammed with prequels (X-Men: First Class) and origin stories (Green Lantern, Captain America: The First Avenger). Filled with gorgeous visuals, larger than life action, and touching insights into the human condition, Thor succeeded in hitting nearly all the right notes and aside from 'The Avengers' which I want to put in a whole seperate category altogether, it is still a pretty tough call between the god of thunder's cinematic debut and Robert Downey Jr.'s first turn as Iron Man for which one is my favorite Marvel studios film to date.
After having very much enjoyed 'Iron Man 3,' Marvel Studios' first film in it's post Avengers 'phase two" stage, I had very high hopes for 'Thor: The Dark World." Perhaps a little too high as it turns out.
While not a terrible movie, 'TDW' fails to recapture the charm, majesty, and out right sense of wonder that radiated from its predecessor. Unlike the first 'Thor' which, under the inspired and innovative vision of actor/director Kenneth Branagh almost every bit as much a shakespearean drama as it was a stylish and fun action adventure film, 'TDW' often feels like a clunky, plodding, by the numbers sequel, amping up the elements that worked well in the first movie but to little effect since the film, like its antagonists, the dark elves who want to return the universe back into a place of chaos and nothingness, ultimatley feels ill devised, overproduced, and hollow.
In the begining of the film, we learn that the nine realms have been plagued by war since the bifrost, a cross dimensional bridge allowing safe passage to and from worlds has been destroyed and marauders are using the opportunity to strike against Asgard's weakened defenses. Down in the trenches with his fellow comrades Thor (Chris Hemsworth) leads the effort to repel the vile forces that would seek to do harm against his home turf along with the other neighboring realms that fall under his protection as heir to the throne. With the worst offenders locked away with his half brother, Loki, in the dungeons of Asgard, the fiercest fighting seems to be behind him.
However, a threat of untold magnitude rears its pointy ears in the form of the Dark Elves, led by Maliketh "The Accursed," (Christopher Eccleston) who plans to annihilate all life as we know it with the obvious exception of him and his vampiric like race by harnessing the power of a mysterious antimatter/tomato soupy looking substance called "the aether." Through lengthy exposition we also discover that this is not the villain's first bid to wipe out all of creation, and that the aether can only be utilized as a cosmic eraser every 5,000 years when all of the nine realms align in an event called "the convergence."
Of course, were else would the aether be hidden than right here on earth/midgard, where Jane Foster, who is still in romantic detox after being seperated from her man/god at the end of the last film, comes across some wierd going ons in an abandoned warehouse across the pond and unwittingly becomes a key piece in the cosmic struggle that is about to unfold. As the threat level rises and the stakes reach an all time high, Thor is forced to seek out help from his traitorous half brother, Loki, knowing full well that he may be inviting a knife in the back at any given moment.
Despite my misgivings about the film as a whole, there were some components that I very much enjoyed. The primary two being Chris Hemworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. As Thor, Hemsworth once again does an outstanding job of making someone as seemingly unrelatble as a god completely relatable to everyday people. How can anyone not relate to someone who is crazy in love but saddled with obligations and the high expectations of work and family? As Loki, Tom Hiddleston once again turns in an unforgettable performance as the slithering, sarcastic villain you cannot help but like and hope will come around to good though he always has a dubious trick waiting up his sleeve.
I also liked that Thor's mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) had an actual role to play in this movie and was not just relegated to background scenery. Anthony Hopkins once again gives a good performace as Odin though in my opinion, his character came off as a little too cold at times. As Maliketh, Chris Eccleston has a pretty cool asthetic but his character is dull, uninteresting, and not as great of a physical challenge for Thor as he should have been. As Jane Foster, Natalie Portman does a good job conveying the emotional rigors of wanting a normal relationship with her man/god and how his cross dimensional galavanting complicates things a bit. Not to mention she looks georgeous but that is the subject of another blog.
I really wanted to like this movie and to its credit, it is quite a bit of fun, but not a whole lot more than that which is a bygone conclusion when a studio lets netting the largest audience they can take precedence over telling a good, meaningful story and making the best sequel possible.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'Riddick' Review

I was pretty surprised when I found out there was going to be another Riddick movie. Originally introduced in the 1999 sci fi space thriller "Pitch Black," Vin Diesel's , goggled, muscle bound anti-hero, Richard B. Riddick, a dangerous and unpredictable convict with surgically altered eyes that allow 50/50 vision in absolute darkness became popular enough with audiences and fans of the genre that the studio eventually released a sequel/spinoff, "The Chronicles of Riddick," in 2004. Vin Diesel once again gave a memorable performance as the relentlessly hunted fugitive who just cannot help but insert himself right in the thick of trouble, but the film itself, with its overblown production, plodding narrative, and shaky, so-so special effects was not as well-liked as its leaner, edgier predecessor and failed to be the kind of mega profit yielding hit the studio undoubtedly wanted it to be. So the franchise went into almost a decade long hibernation until this past September's release of "Riddick," the revitalizing third entry in the series that discards most of the action/adventure bombasticity of "Chronicles" and returns to the darker, more suspense driven tone of "Pitch Black."
Double crossed and left to die on a strange, hostile planet were just about everything wants a piece of him, Riddick must fight for survival and regain the "edge" that was dulled through years spent idling over an undesired throne. In what are probably the most memorable scenes of the film Riddick forces himself to adapt to the challanges of his new environment, cunningly devising methods for dispatching some of the planet's more nefarious indigenous lifeforms and inadvertantly adopting a four legged friend in the form of a cross hyena/wolf creature that latches on to the "back to basics" loner as a cub as the two develope into a somewhat more heavy metal version of Timmey and Lassie.
But his observations earlier in the film lead Riddick to believe that there is something sinister lurking within the planet and itching to burst forth when the land is moistened and muddied by the massive thunderheads that are fast encroaching. Choosing to roll the dice and take his chances Riddick locates a vacant outpost intended as a waystation for mercenary outfits in between jobs and triggers a homeing beacon that alerts nearby bounty hunters to his proximity on the planet. Soon a rag-tag looking crew of mercenaries arrive, eager to cash in on the substantial bounty on Riddick's head by "literally" taking off his head. The scene becomes even more crowded when they are joined by another team of bounty hunters, the leader of which has a personal stake in capturing Riddick that ties back to the events of "Pitch Black." To sum up the rest of the movie in a nutshell, the two opposing merc outfits form an uneasy alliance to help hunt down their common prey. Things do not go as planned (big shocker there.) The rains come and all hell breaks loose.
Although a definate improvement over "Chronicles," I found Riddick to be somewhat of a mixed bag. While some parts of the film, specifically the first act function with a clarity and singularity of vision that is both refreshing and engaging, other parts come off as a bit muddied and not as well thought out as they could have been. At one point there is a violent altercation between two characters that is literally has no ramifications and is never followed up on. One of the characters tagging along with the bounty hunters that arrive first is a believer who is given to reciting scripture whenever things get dicey but turns out to be a completely superfluous character whose faith does not pay off an any way but to prompt a cheap, typical tough guy line from Riddick, "Let's leave God out of this." The interactions between the two competing teams of mercenaries are pretty trite and generic and the film loses some momentum in the third act, fizzling as the action becomes more or less formulaic and predictable.
Moving on from my few complaints there are other parts of the film that go a long way in compensating for the areas in which it stumbles. The parts of the film were Riddick is forced to become "survival man" are very memorable and entertaining. Vin Diesel effortlessly slides back into the role like he never stopped playing Riddick during the nine year interval between this film and the last one. The scenes featuring Riddick "Ghosting" the arrogant and overconfident mercenaries who start out falsley assume they have the upper hand are definately a highlight and there is also a scene were some characters are faced with the dilemma of whether are not to open a safe that may be primed to explode that comes off as genuinely suspensful. I also thought the CG in this movie looked pretty impressive. The world looks rugged and arid and the creatures look menacing and creepy. One can definatlely tell that they were able to funnel a lot more of their budget into good looking effects by setting the story on a smaller scale.
Though not as solid a film as "Pitch Black," "Riddick" is definately a fun and unapelogetically violent venture that benefits from its smaller scope and well deserved R rating. I truly hope the film yields a positive enough response to re-energizing the franchise so I do not have to see the next one when I am pushing middle age.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel Review

One of my earliest memories of Superman was when I was very young and my parents and grandparents took me to a show one afternoon at the Ringling Bros. Barnemum Bailey Circus. One of the performances featured a man being shot out of a cannon. Pretty standard faire for a big top performance, except when the cannon boomed the figure that jettisoned from the barrell was no longer the same performer but rather an amazing being with an electric blue costume, scarlett cape, and a big letter S emblazoned boldly across his chest. I couldn't believe it. It was Superman.
Years went by and nothing outside of the characters monthly adventures in the pages of DC Comics could ever quite recapture the feelings of awe and wonder I experienced at witnessing the first and greatest superhero of all time fly out of a cannon as a child. As charismatic and memorable as Christopher Reeve's performance was, the Donner films, stymied by the technology or lack thereof of the late 70's, did not do it. The WB show, Smallville, with its modest t.v. production values and amped up teen melodrama did not do it. 'Superman Returns,' a romantic love letter to the Reeve and Donner incarnation of the character that failed to take flight due to its backwards focus and lackluster, washed out feel did not do it. No, nothing in Superman's live action history had ever truly suceeded in evoking that same feeling of amazement and wonder I felt all those years ago at a circus in Sarasota Florida. Not Until now. Not until 'Man of Steel.'
A from the ground up re-imagining of the predominant superhero in all of fiction, 'Man of Steel' is a moving symphony of pure awesomeness that excels in honoring the timeless and beloved nature of the source material while at the same time making Superman relavent to a modern audience by inserting him into a world that starkly mirrors our own.
Everyone knows the story. Of how on the doomed planet Krypton a brilliant scientist and his wife who are desperate to prevent their newborn son from having to share in their world's fate place him in a rocket and send him to earth were he lands in the heart of midwestern America and is discovered and raised by kindly, salt of the earth farmers and later grows to discover he posesses amazing, unearthly abilities, etc. In 'Man of Steel' we are deftly re-familiarized with all of these hallmark tenants of classic Superman lore but in innovative and thought provoking ways that succeed in adding layers of depth, complexity, and sheer emotional weight to the story and its characters.
Rather than assuming any kind of pre-concieved devotion to Superman the film instead invests the audience firmly in the journey of Clark/Kal El from the beginning as we witness the tumultuous events surrounding his birth. The challenges he faces as a confused and scared young adult grappling with his otherworldly abilities and alien lineage in light of his fierce love for his adoptive parents, the Kents. His lonliness and isolation as a drifter yearning to use his abilities for good and posessing the means but not the method. And the immense payoff of when he finally takes to the skies, fully at peace with himself and knowing exactly who he is.
'Man of Steel' marks the first time were a film's action and effects have truly been worthy of a movie with Superman in it. When Kal El dons the flowing red cape and defies gravity for the very first time it is not the elegent aerial dance it has been portrayed as in previous films but a violent and rapturous excercise that leaves the viewer in a breathless haze like they have just ridden the world's wildest thrill ride in the dark without the safety bar. Likewise the physical confrontations between Kal El, the villain, General Zod, and the latter's cadre of rogue Kryptonians who have arrived on Earth to take Kal El "back to Krypton" in a sense are nothing short of stunning to behold in terms of the impossible speed and sheer physical power that is on display.
The real life implications of super powered, extra terrestrials showing up on Earth and having it out in densely populated areas are not something that is glossed over in the film as we see the immediate military response that such a threat would provoke and the utter chaos devestation that ensues. Similarly, flashback sequences of Jonathan Kent urging an adolescant Clark to hide his gifts and not try to be a hero for fear of how the world would react are given all the more weight in later instances were Clark/Kal El is forced to use every one of his powers to its maximum potential.
Probably my biggest nitpick of the movie is that I wish the script could have somehow acknowledged Clark Kent's talents as a writer as it would have given a key scene at the end of the film a little more weight and credibility. Whatevs.
I do not know any greater compliment I could give Henry Cavill then to say that his earnest and "down to earth" (pun intended) portrayel of one of the most iconographic figures in all of fiction made me believe in "the man" before "the super." Posessing all of the charm, warmth and confidence of the many actors to proceed him yet imbuing the character with the doubt and vulnerability of a man searching for his identity and torn between two worlds makes this incarnation of the man of steel all the more human and superhuman at the same time. Amy Adams was absolutely terrific as the tenacious and trouble prone investigative journalist, Lois Lane, who comes to be drawn more to Clark/Kal El's humanity rather than his extra-terrestrial origins. Her chemistry with Cavill is palpable and reinforces what is arguably one of the greatest relationships in all of comics. Russell Crowe completely owns every scene he is in as Kal El's Kryptonian father, Jor El who, to my delight, is given quite a bit more to do here than we have have ever seen with previous iterations of the character, playing an Obi-Wan type role in the eventual mentoring of his son. Michael Shannon evokes a sense of cold, unflinching, militaristic might as General Zod, a villain who is very much the hero of his own story and as we come to find out, cannot help but be anything other than what he is. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are perfectly cast as Kal El's adoptive parents Jonathon and Martha Kent. I wish their characters had been given a little more screen time but each of their performances suceed in conveying the kind of sturdy and wholesome midwestern values we see reflected in their son's actions as Clark Kent and later as Superman. I will not name all of the supporting cast, it is a pretty lengthy list, but all of the actors truly inhabits their roles and bring something memorable to the table here.
I would be remiss not to mention composer Hans Zimmer's masterful work on the score for 'Man of Steel.' From tender tinklings of piano keys to the primal explosions of percussion Zimmer's score amplifies the content of the film, making the more intimate scenes are the more poignant and the super-powered battles all the more brutal.
Of course, I cannot go without acknowledging the dynamic vision of director Zack Snyder's who may have very well made the definative Superman movie for a new generation of fans and has hopefully established a template for what will hopefully be a burgeoning DC cinematic universe. Unlimited heapings of appreciation can be accredited to Producer Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer, both of Dark knight trilogy fame, who understood how to bring Superman back to the biggest stage of all, and more importantly, how to do it right.
Since the massive success of The Dark Knight trilogy and the rise of Marvel Studios with box office juggernauts like 'Iron Man' and 'The Avengers,' the last son of Krypton has slid into becoming somewhat of an underdog of the very film genre that ironicly, 'Superman: The Movie' created in 1978. Rather than watch Superman fight for truth, justice, and the American way, a more cynical generation of movie goers preferred watching superheroes who were snarky, womanizing, tech geniuses and perpetually tormented, anti establishment rage-aholics. Now that 'Man of Steel is finally out there for people to enjoy I hope audiences around the world finally see Superman the way I, and countless other fans do. All the while covering their ears from the roar of the cannon blast.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

I have never been a big Trek guy. Do not get me wrong. Like any self respecting lover of sci-fi/fantasy I grew up with a healthy appreciation for the franchise. That can mostly be accredited to my Dad, who could  almost never clean his fish tank or do anything productive around the house on Sunday afternoons without an episode of 'Next Generation' going on the t.v. This was my very first exposure to the world of Star Trek. I had never been that familiar with the original 1960's series, and have yet to really sit down and watch one of the feature length films starring the original cast all the way through. Shameful, I know. What can I say, I just always thought light sabers were way cooler than phasers and that the breathtaking aerial maneuvers of a squadron of X-Wings facing off against a fleet of Ti Fighters was a lot more fun to watch than the sluggish, submarine type warfare of The Enterprise going up against a Klingon warship.
Prior to the summer of 2009 my ambivalence toward Star Trek was pretty much a direct reflection of the current social malaise the franchise had seemed to run itself afoul of after a handful of disappointing feature films and a general lack of excitment having to do with any new material they were putting out on t.v. Then J.J. Abram's 'Star Trek' came out and changed everything. Fresh, exciting, and infinately entertaining, Star Trek 2009 achieved the nearly impossible task of satisfying longtime devotees of the classic television series while at the same time birthing a new generation of Trek enthusiasts.
Now in the newly released sequel to the popular 2009 reboot, titled 'Star Trek: Into Darkness,' we are  thrown back into the action with Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Dr. Leonard "Bones" Mccoy and the rest of the crew of The Enterprise as they continue their ongoing mission of exploring new worlds, sometimes, as in the film's rapid paced, Indiana Jones-like opening, with unintended, ideology altering consequences.
After some initial re-introduction to the characters we grew attached to in the first film, the story really gets going when a Starfleet archive center is destroyed in a suspected terrorist attack perpetrated by a mysterious figure only known by the alias of "John Harrison" who, lo and behold, happens to be a former member of the organization itself. When escalation of Harrison's vendetta against Starfleet exacts a personal toll on Kirk, the impaulsive and hotheaded young Captain volunteers to lead a revenge mission to the planet Harrison is taking refuge on to either execute or retrieve the rogue officer. But of course, things are not what they seem...
As with the 2009 film, the entire cast of The Enterprise shines in their respective roles. Chris Pine once again perfectly embodies the trademark swagger and charm of James T. Kirk while adding a fresh and uncharacterisic dimension of uncertainty and vulnerability to the character who, in a dramatic departure from the punk kid who gets everything he wants at the end of the last movie, actually has to earn the vaunted position of Captain this time around after meeting his match in the formiddable John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a downright frightening and venemous performance as the imposable and enigmatic "John Harrison." As far as I am concerned, this guy can write his own ticket for any role he wants to play in an eventual Batman reboot or 'Man of Steel' sequel. Zachary Quinto again perfectly portrays Spock, a being of pure logic who in spite of coming across as nearly robotic at times allows his decisions to be based increasingly out of the most primal of emotions as the stakes are raised, the body count gets higher, and the people he cares about most are threatened.
As with its 2009 predecessor, 'Star Trek: Into Darkness' is certain to thrill both new and returning fans of the mythology alike. All of the great effects, action, drama, and humor that were so prevalent in the initial outing have returned tenfold in the highly anticipated and overdue follow up. But most of all, it is the further exploration of the relationships and family dynamic of the crew that really makes 'Into Darkness' shine as we learn just how much the characters need each other to achieve the kind of greatness they would never be able to reach on their own.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

The first entry in what has been branded "Phase Two" of Marvel Studios' post Avengers superhero movies has officially kicked off this past weekened with the release of Iron Man 3. The new film marks Robert Downey Jr.'s third outing as Tony Stark, the eccentric playboy, genius, philanthropist, billionaire inventor etc., etc., whose celebrity has literally rocketed to new heights since the closing sequence of the first film when he cooly tossed one of  the most sacred comic book conventions of the secret identity straight out the window with the bold proclamation "I am Iron Man." With that, the Howard Hues-esque techno savvy innovator  became the world's first public superhero, who went on to play a critical role in helping to save the world from imminent destruction at the hands of an invading alien race in "The Avengers" last summer.
Knowing the characters penchant for excess, one would think that the heroe's hard fought victory would serve as just another ego trip for a guy who is historically lacking in the humility department. However, we soon find out that things have not all been wine and roses for Tony who now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder after coming within mere inches of the reaper's blade in the finale of 'Avengers' and is stricken by immobilizing panic attacks at the faintist reminder of his near brush with death. Compounding his near death experience is the sobering realization that for all his previous exploits, since the events of 'The Avengers' he is now merely "a man in a can" sharing the stage with gods and monsters etc. and no loinger the biggest gun out there. Distracted and unable to sleep Tony spends most of his time holed in in the extended garage/armorry/man cave of his posh Malibu homestead tinkering with his suits while leaving the running of his company to his newly appointed ceo/steadfast long suffering girlfriend, Pepper Potts once again played by the lovely Gweneth Paltrow who imbues again imbues the role with just the right amount of quirkiness and confidence.
But events transpiring around the world soon force Tony back into action as a cunning and sadistic terrorist simply known as The Mandarin, wonderfully played by Ben Kingsley, does something to effect Tony on a very personal level. From there it is all out war as Tony publicly calls out the mysterious criminal warlord who answers in kind with a full scale aerial assault on Tony's sweet ocean view pad. As opposed to the literal captivity he was subjected to in the first film the second and third acts of Iron Man 3 see Tony back in a sort of metaphorical cave with his back against the wall and having to rely on only his wits and ingenuity to get him out.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Don Cheadle as Colonial James Rhodes, a.k.a. Rhodey, who, for P.R. reasons, has had to trade in his War Machine armor for a spangly paint job and new "less hostile" codename, "Iron Patriot." John Favreu, who directed the first two films reprises his role as Happy Hogan, Tony's good friend and former bodygaurd now Pepper Potts's head of security. A title he is eager to make everyone aware of. Rebecca Hall plays Dr. Maya Henson, a former flame of Tony who returns to try help him in his time of need. And Guy Pierce plays Alldricht Killian, a brilliant scientist/genetisist with unclear motives and dubious ties to an event that occured during Stark's pre-Iron Man days.
Overall, I thought Iron Man was a very satisfying third entry in what has become Marvel Studios' flagship franchise. Downey Jr. once again proves to be variable freight train of charisma. Despite the characer's narcassism and self described "laundry list of character defects," he charms the audience with the sheer force of his personality whereas any other actor would probably come off as unlikable and leave people muttering "Jeez, what an a$$hole."
 The theme of real life consequences is also refreshing to see in a superhero movie. A person can only cheat death so many times before in begins to take a toll on them mentally, and in a dramatic departure from the stereotypical fearless hero who brushes the dust off their shoulders to go on and fight the next battle Tony spends portions of the film uncharacteristically questioning himself and reflecting that he is not as invincible as he once thought he was. In this way, the theme of his larger than life public persona serving as a sort of emotional armor comes into play as Downey Jr. imbues Stark with a newfound sense of vulnerability in his more private moments.
The humor and comedic moments that have become a trademark of the series films are still very prevalent in this third outing and in some areas come off as a little overdone and detract from some of the film's more serious themes but considering the great performances by actors who seem wholly invested in the "world" these films have created, it seems petty to find things to complain about when what we are given is so entertaining.
Personally I liked Iron Man 3 quite a bit more than the second movie which suffered from subplot overload and a clunky Avengers lead in but not quite as much as first which won audiences over with its charm and sense of fun and possibility. The film both has a satisfying and appropriate end but I cannot help but wonder what the unexpected finality of Tony's decisions will mean for the the future of the franchise and Avengers 2 in 2015? Only time and box office numbers will tell I suppose.