It looks like I have to recant some of the things I said about this movie last week and even more things that I thought and said privately but didn’t think were fit for publication. Iron Man 3 is a better movie the second time around. It has a cleverness to it that caught me completely by surprise in the second viewing.
I’m still not willing to call it a fantastic movie. The stuff with the little kid is still really grating and out of place. I’d argue he doesn’t even serve to move Tony Stark any further along on his emotional journey. He’s just a walking anxiety attack trigger, exposition monkey, and dumping ground for Stark’s wonderful way of being mean to people. Seriously, is he ever nice to anyone in these movies? Maybe to Pepper and maybe to other people when they aren’t actually around but I swear they keep trying to make the most unlikable protagonist in film and are consistently bailed out by Robert Downey Jr’s unbelievable ability to imbue the role with his own charisma.
This is an excellent script that holds up better the second time around. The payoffs feel a little more earned when you know what’s coming up and can search for the hints. This backfires a little bit because there’s a point in the early second act when Stark basically has all of the information he’s going to get but doesn’t put it together until it’s literally spelled out for him. Hurts the super genius tag a bit. I also have no idea why they need to kill the president except that it raises the stakes for the third act. That was two complaints in a row but I swear I thought much more of this as an action film this time around.
It’s important to heap praise on Don Cheadle this second time around. He does an amazing job with a rather small part (come to think of it I’m not sure anyone other than Downey has what I’d call a big part) of just needing to be the glue of whatever scene he’s in. He can be the concerned friend, the butt of a joke and a really legit action star even outside of his armor. Totally thankless job and he plays it really well. I was completely entertained with him this time through.
Fanboys are still going to hate this movie with a passion in five years. Write that down for me.
Arvin’s Take: Upon second viewing certain perceived plot holes actually closed themselves up, so to Shane Black’s credit, the overall beat-by-beat plot is actually strong for this genre (Avengers’ script is more problematic). He’s clearly of a generation that understands planting and payoff, even if sometimes the plant is really subtle or the payoff is disappointing.
Such is the case with The Mandarin, the portrayal of whom, if I was a die-hard Iron Man fan, would probably offend me even more than I already am. If the reason for neutering his character is to deflect the racist overtones of his character then his reimagining a nationless, cultureless terrorist was more than adequate, and the reveal undercuts the honest work the script had put towards making him a realistic modern villain. It doesn’t help that the marketing of the film up to its release contained a whole bunch of Mandarin lines and imagery that aren’t in the film for some reason.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “There are no second acts in American lives” but this weekend I bet his heirs are hoping there are no second weekends in American blockbusters. I really hate that I just wrote that. Let’s just go.
Last year, when The Avengers set the record for the highest grossing opening weekend it held surprisingly well for week two. I have to assume Iron Man 3 will do a similar job of holding audience and is prepared to put up something in the very high eight figures.
Opening this Weekend
The Great Gatsby: It’s a shame I probably won’t get to review this movie because a Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby movie with a soundtrack executive produced by Jay-Z is almost certainly the coolest movie released this year which doesn’t feature The Rock driving a fast car. If only it weren’t in a thousand fewer theaters than Iron Man 3. Or if only overly slick adaptations of books had the same appeal as stuff blowing up. Alas.
Peeples: I’m legitimately stunned that it looks like I’m going to get two full years through this project and not see a single Tyler Perry movie. Thrilled but shocked. I don’t know anything about this movie except it has a billboard on Hollywood Boulevard that seems to indicate it’s about a girl bringing her new boyfriend home to meet her stern father. I would complain about how tired this concept is but I just raved about how much I want to see a movie based on a novel that’s almost 90 years old.
My Prediction: I can’t imagine a scenario where The Great Gatsby has the steam to knock off Iron Man 3. Gatsby has a ceiling that’s likely somewhere around $45 million and that’s best case scenario. If Iron Man 3 makes $43 million this weekend there will be Disney executives throwing themselves out of windows.
Arvin’s Pick: Iron Man 3 is due for about $75 million for its second weekend. Baz Luhrmann has yet to make a movie that’s grossed over $60 million in its entirety. He also hasn’t opened a film at number one since Romeo + Juliet 17 years ago. The Great Gatsby will be his biggest hit ever, but between Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness I don’t think we’ll be covering The Great Gatsby in this blog.
I’ve been kind of agonizing over what to say about Iron Man 3. It’s such a weird pastiche of different ideas that barely feels like a coherent movie. The rational adult in me didn’t much care for it at all. The kid in me was completely blown away.
I walked out of the movie with a smile on my face because it’s a very good big action movie. The action beats are consistently excellent and surprisingly varied considering most of them are “Iron Man fights someone that’s really hot” or some variation thereof. Robert Downey Jr. brings his A game to the non-armored portions of the movie. Mixing in some really nice (if not entirely earned) existential crisis work on top of his usual crackling comedy. If there really won’t be an Iron Man 4 this is a good end to the series and one that’s totally worthy of the standard they established.
Spoilers from here on out. Honestly, grow up, but there’s your warning.
This is a movie that comic nerds will hate in a year and pretend they’ve always hated. There are a lot of silly things in this movie and a lot of cliche things in this movie that won’t age well. No one is going to like the Mandarin plot twist by the time Avengers 2 comes out. It undercuts a lot of the actual dramatic tension of the movie to deliver a couple scenes of cheap actor jokes that we’ve all heard before. it also eliminates one of the only Iron Man villains anyone has actually heard of if the franchise actually does continue. The little kid that dominates the second act feels borrowed from an 80s film and probably should have been left there.
What makes a movie like this a success? The obvious answer is money which this is stacking to the ceiling but is it good? It’ll probably take repeat viewings to be completely sure but I know I walked out of Iron Man 3 wanting to buy as many toys as I could get my hands on and that has to be worth something.
Arvin’s Take:Iron Man 3 has more similarities to Dark Knight Rises than I’d like to admit: both feature their heroes stripped of their costume for most of the story, both have villains using terror tactics and misdirection to exact vengeance on the protagonist, and the hero “gives up” adventuring by the end of the film.
Unfortunately, like The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 also shows disinterest in the overall concept of its source material. Kudos to Shane Black for making as much of an auteur piece as you can in a comic book film, and indeed the movie nails your nostalgia for 80’s and 90’s action comedies, but it’s clear he’d rather be making another Lethal Weapon or Last Action Hero than telling an iconic tale of Iron Man versus the Mandarin. In fact, neither Iron Man (as one would traditionally envision him) nor the Mandarin feature in the climax of the film at all. It’s the type of diversion from the essence of a character that would maybe work in a comic book where the storyline would be disposable novelty, but as a capper to a trilogy it doesn’t feel like it belongs.
Pain & Gain is, visually, a great movie. Like it or not Michael Bay has established a visual aesthetic that has become the dominant style for an entire generation of filmmakers. There’s a slick quality to the movie that really meshes well with the setting of mid-90s Miami and the self-help seminar-obsessed characters. Unfortunately all of this is on top of a terrible movie because Michael Bay has no idea how to make watchable films in general and he especially doesn’t know how to make comedies.
The biggest problem in this movie is that it’s supposed to be a comedy and it’s rarely funny. When it is the joke is driven in to the ground like a young child who says something that makes a room full of adults laugh and then repeats it for the rest of the day hoping to get a repeat of the same reaction. This is especially true of Ken Jeong’s performance. i single him out because this is his second consecutive Michael Bay movie where he’s used in basically the same way. One has to start wondering if this is what Jeong thinks is funny in real life which is inexplicable for such a talented comic actor.
The plot is also boring. I’ve started to judge movies based on how far in to the movie I look at my watch and then how often after. I got around 50 minutes in to Pain & Gain before checking the time and then was checking about every five minutes thereafter. These are not good numbers for a director as frenetic as Bay. There just isn;t enough plot to support a two hour movie and it leads to a lot of repetition of plot points and character moments. I understand that it’s a movie based on a true story and that leads to certain limitations and contrivances but not everything has to be a movie guys.
The Rock is excellent. He’s by far the best part of the movie and he’s doing something different than you’ll see in any of his other movies this year. I hope he starts a religion soon or something because my fanatic love of him needs to make more sense in context.
Before I post Arvin’s thoughts on this movie I want to point out that this man has a film degree from a prestigious film school. You’ve been warned.
Arvin’s Take: Based on our post-movie check-in (I don’t really like talking at great lengths with people about their opinion of a movie immediately after seeing it), I think what I’m about to say will counter what Art’s said, the first time so far this year. Pain & Gain worked for me, in that this is exactly the type of movie you’d expect based on the true story of these sleazy meatheads. It’s intense, over the top, narcissistic, and completely delusional, and if a common wish in these types of movies is to “get inside the head of the criminal,” I think Bay does as good of a job as any other director who would specialize in these genres, like Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann.
The biggest problem with the story is not doing an adequate job transitioning the characters from “I’ve got my eye on the American Dream” to “now let’s commit kidnapping, torture, and extorion” (In reality the guys had been pulling scams consistently leading up to the kidnapping) but again if Mann or Scorsese had tackled this story there’s good odds they would’ve glossed over that part too. So it’s good enough.
Next week is the start of summer blockbuster season. This is the last week of picking up the pre-summer scraps. Oh boy!
I want to believe Oblivion can repeat this weekend but it appears to have a couple big factors working against it. I haven’t heard fantastic word of mouth on it at least anecdotally but more importantly it shares a lot of audience with next week’s Iron Man 3 and might be facing a lack of enthusiasm. I expect a slightly bigger than 50% drop for Oblivion which should take it out of contention for the weekend.
Opening this weekend
The Big Wedding: The previews make this movie look ghastly. It’s a big cast romantic comedy centered around a wedding and I’m not sure what makes it different from all the other movies with about the same premise. None of the actors in this are quite big enough to push this to a number one opening on their own steam certainly not with the theater disadvantage and the relatively weak marketing. A strong third place showing is the likely ceiling for this film.
Pain and Gain: I don’t know that it’s possible for a movie to be running more ads than Pain and Gain is. I’ve been traveling most of the last month and I still feel like I’ve been under a constant barrage of hype for this movie. It seems to be effective as the movie is opening in 300 more theaters than it was projected at last week. Add that to Mark Wahlberg and The Rock and it looks like a winner to me.
My Prediction: This should be a light week and anything over $20 million is likely to walk away with this weekend handily. Pain and Gain is the only movie with that kind of upside this week so it has to be the pick. Someone please shoot me in the head I’ve clearly watched too much NFL Draft coverage as I am using “upside” in sentences.
Arvin’s Pick: Having seen Bad Boys 2 twice in theaters, I rewatched it again earlier this week as a refresher, and it’s finally starting to lose its novelty. The Fast and Furious movies are too classy, I need another fix of Michael Bay action sleaziness. I don’t think audiences liked Oblivion enough to hold it up for another number one, so even with Pain and Gain likely underperforming it should make it to number one. I’m scared that another viewing of Oblivion so soon is going to take away the remaining good impressions I had of it.
I went in to Oblivion really wanting to like it and I spent most of the movie doing just that. It is, for the most part, a genuinely compelling movie and a solid attempt at making a non-franchise science fiction movie. These are the kind of movies that should be encouraged even if the individual efforts have some odd flaws.
Tom Cruise has to do almost all of the work here. His character is a maintenance technician for autonomous drones so the lion’s share of the dialogue in the first half of the movie is over headsets. I suppose this means Andrea Riseborough is working just as hard as she’s also delivering most of her dialogue through an earpiece but being a vague wet blanket and subject of a bizarre dream sequence appears easier than discovering that everything you know about the world is wrong. My point is you need either a phenomenal actor or a real movie star to anchor a movie with a cast this sparse and Cruise is at least one of those.
There’s a great visual aesthetic here. Director Joseph Kosinski is showing all the chops he showed in Tron: Legacy and I really wish that didn’t sound like an insult. It’s pretty, it’s well-shot, and he uses completely distinct styles to differentiate the different spaces the movie uses. There seems to be some liberal borrowing of other styles going on: the Scavs look an awful lot like Predators and the drones look like they’re taken from the Portal series of video games. There’s an entire sequence late in the film that looks like it could have been a test reel for Portal 3. I’m sure these are intended as homage and I’m not sure either of these visual ideas originated in the movies I attribute them to. This is sort of the nature of science fiction to crib from itself. It doesn’t feel like genre canibalization and should probably be tolerated.
My biggest complaints about this movie relate to plot twists. To start there are about two too many and what might be the best one is given away in the previews. Anyone who’s watched a preview for this movie and seen Morgan Freeman probably has a good idea of what the first plot twist is, that the people Cruise thinks are aliens are, in fact, humans. This doesn’t need to be a revelatory piece of information but the movie seems to think it is as much of the first hour of the movie is dedicated to pondering the mystery of these alien forces and their motivation. I hope that this works for people who managed to avoid the previews but for me I was just begging for them to get the hell on with it by the time they did. After this emphatic change of the tone of the movie there are three more solid “everything you know is wrong” moments and a handful of other big swings in the direction of this movie. It’s too much and it feels like self-parody by the end. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone removed their face revealing it to be a mask concealing that they’d been a drone the whole time. Maybe that’s too close to Mission: Impossible to do in another Tom Cruise movie.
Arvin’s Take: I really liked Tron: Legacy; it was a gorgeously designed film, mostly coherent and not overstuffed, which raises it above a lot of recent sci-fi flicks. Oblivion might aim a little lower as far as flashy design but its execution might be even better. In all technical respects the film is flawless (no CG Jeff Bridges head). I often lament how bland sci-fi and fantasy movies’ actual imagery looks compared to their concept art; Like Tron: Legacy, Oblivion has no such disconnect, and I can recommend it based on aesthetics alone.
That said, Oblivion falls short with its badly paced story and half-baked themes. It recalls the flimsy high concept that the Matrix films are founded upon, except there’s only about an hour’s worth of ideas in this two-hour film. It would work as a nicely disposable Twilight-Zone-esque short story but stretched to two hours the audience is given too many slow and repetitive moments to dwell on how impractical the overall conceit is.
I always feel silly doing the traditional previews when there’s only one movie opening. Let’s try not doing that.
I saw a TV spot for Oblivion today that was actually advertising that it had the director of Tron: Legacy and that was certainly surprising. It’s not like Tron: Legacy did bad business or anything but it wasn’t exactly an acclaimed piece of cinema and I don’t think anyone raved about the direction. Also, Oblivion has Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman in it. That would seem to be the thing to put in the trailers. Not that I think the viewing public is unaware of this fact or that they have much of a choice. Oblivion is opening in 3,800 theaters and nothing else opens wide this week. It should win with a higher gross than the next few movies combined.
Arvin’s Pick: I don’t know why Oblivion isn’t being released in 3d, given how Joseph Kosinski’s last film was Tron. Cruise isn’t a slam-dunk domestic draw anymore so with a film this expensive 3D seemed like a no-brainer. Still, it’s a weak weekend so it looks like we finally get our first straight sci-fi film of 2013 to debut at number one.
It’s hard to not like 42. I like Jackie Robinson and this is a perfectly adequate telling of his story. My problem is there have been so many sports movies about racism and they all walk the same path that this one comes around and it’s impossible for it to feel fresh.
The first thing I did after watching the movie was to look up Ben Chapman, the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies played by Alan Tudyk, to see if he could possibly be as racist as he was portrayed in the movie. The answer is maybe he was but they attributed to him everything that the entire team did. It’s an entirely fair tool of adaptation and works to streamline the story but it sort of creates this mythological figure of impossible racism that’s hard to shake. The movie also sort of deflates towards the end. The racist villains fall in the middle third of the movie so the climax is all about the effort to win the National League Pennant and that’s just a series of textbook scenes out of any sports movie. I would rather the baseball season have taken a back seat to the personal dramas.
I don’t know what to make of Harrison Ford here. He goes through the entire movie talking through this growl that doesn’t particularly line up with any of the audio of Branch Rickey I can find on the Internet. Maybe this is what you get when you hire Ford these days, he shows up and just does whatever version of growling he feels like. It’s kind of like Johnny Depp deciding he would do Jack Sparrow as Keith Richards but with a lot less success. Chadwick Boseman is much better as Robinson but the montage of photos at the end underscores how little he looks like the real deal.
Arvin’s Take: Yes, of course the story of Jackie Robinson is one of the most uplifting in American history that it’s tough to portray it as anything but inspirational and feel-good, but 42’s script is so one-dimensional and on the nose, it’s easier to single out examples when it shows some wit or subtext (the “Does God love baseball?” exchange is as snappy as it gets). Every line, every scene gets rephrased for greater clarity and emphasis when it was overly explicit to begin with (Jackie’s wife throws up in the bathroom. We assume she’s pregnant. An elderly woman looks at her and says “when was the last time you had your monthly?” Clearly she’s pregnant. Then the elderly woman says, “maybe you’re pregnant”). Every character exists only as one of the four stereotypes in these types of film: unimpeachable blacks, unimpeachable whites, super-racist whites, and whites who change their mind. There’s barely even any scenes of the players just socializing. Only Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher’s character (played by Christopher Meloni) is shown any type of actual personal life (related to his suspension-causing extramarital affair) that I wonder why they bothered including it at all.