I’m now halfway through the Marvel blog-a-thon, and up next is a pair of sequels: “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World.” “Iron Man 3” was well-received by critics but proved to be a bit polarizing among fans due to its villain “bait and switch.” “Thor: The Dark World” performed well in theaters but is one of the lower-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe films, according to Rotten Tomatoes. How well do these films hold up to repeat viewings?
Iron Man 3 (2013)
“Iron Man 3” was the first solo MCU film after the epic team-up “The Avengers.” I remember there being some concern as to how well these solo films would play after such a large-scale event movie like “The Avengers.” Would these smaller films now feel like a bit of a letdown? However, with a $175 million opening weekend, “Iron Man 3” proved audiences were still very much on board with more stories about these individual superheroes.
I’ve already commented many times during this blog-a-thon how much I love Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark, so I won’t fill up another paragraph here. 😉 Downey still seems to enjoy playing this character, and I think the MCU owes much of its early success to him.
Whether you love “Iron Man 3” or hate it, one of the good things about this movie is that it does make an effort to be something different. It’s not just a retread of the first “Iron Man” film (“Iron Man 2” perhaps tried too hard to copy its predecessor). The film allows the hero to have some surprisingly vulnerable moments, showing some of Tony Stark’s panic attacks after the events in “The Avengers.” It’s completely understandable that he would have lingering anxiety after what would have been the extremely traumatic experience of fighting aliens and flying a bomb up through a wormhole into space. Sometimes superheroes in films seem invincible — physically, mentally and emotionally — and I’m glad Marvel let us see a (slightly) more realistic portrayal of how a superhero might deal with the aftermath of an event on the scale of the New York attack.
What divides some fans on this film is its portrayal of the main villain, Tony’s famous arch-nemesis the Mandarin. In the film, Tony discovers the Mandarin isn’t real: he’s just a character portrayed by a bumbling actor named Trevor Slattery who’s been hired by a scientist to create a distraction by spreading terror (I’ve got to hand it to Marvel — I definitely didn’t see that coming!). “The Mandarin” is just a smoke screen for the real villain, Aldrich Killian. While the twist did not bother me, I can see why some fans were upset; this is a well-known Iron Man villain, and some fans felt betrayed. I love the bait and switch concept in itself, but maybe Marvel could have done this with another villain and saved the Mandarin for a future film, with a portrayal that was more in line with what fans were hoping for. Still, I think there definitely is a chance the whole Mandarin thing could be a double blind; maybe Slattery is only playing dumb and is actually using Killian, who only thinks he’s using Slattery. We’ll have to see if Marvel returns to this villain in the future.
That being said, I think the themes in “Iron Man 3” are very relevant, and feel perhaps even more relevant now than when the film was released. Our enemies are becoming more and more difficult to identify or capture. Like the Mandarin in this film, today’s terrorists are using smaller-scale attacks to create fear, further spreading that fear through media. I think we’re drawn to films like “Iron Man 3” because we want to believe that there are still heroes in this world and that evil doesn’t have to win.
Anyway, I’ve spent too much time talking about “Iron Man 3.” 😉 Let’s move on to Thor’s sequel…
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Although not as polarizing as “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” is one of the lower-rated Marvel films. After watching it again, I’ve decided that it will probably end up at the bottom of my revised ranking. I did have a blast watching this in the theater; I went to see it with a bunch of friends who are also huge Marvel fans, and there are a number of fun (and funny) moments in this movie. However, the overall plot is not one of Marvel’s strongest and the film’s villain is one of the most under-developed.
The film’s primary villains are the Dark Elves, led by the vengeful Malekith. Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston, who is perhaps best known as the Ninth Doctor on “Doctor Who.” Eccleston is a fine actor, but he’s not given enough to work with here. Despite how cool and eerie the Dark Elves look in this movie, Malekith remains a vague and generic villain. I would have liked to see more background on the Dark Elves. What is their history and culture? How do they fit into this larger universe? Malekith needs more personality (again, this is the script’s fault, not Eccleston’s); he’s definitely evil but he’s not as intriguing as Loki or as scary as Ultron.
I also wish the film makers had done more to play up the significance of the Aether, a nebulous red substance that fills Malekith with a dark power he intends to use to destroy the universe. In a mid-credits scene that’s actually a teaser for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we learn the Aether is an Infinity Stone, like the Tesseract from “The Avengers.”
There are definitely some good things about this film, though. The visuals are spectacular, and I like how the film blends science fiction and fantasy. The final battle, which has Thor and Malekith dueling as they jump through portals between worlds, is pretty cool. This film also has my favorite ever Marvel cameo, having Loki briefly transform into Captain America and allowing Chris Evans to play Loki playing Captain America (it’s great).
It’s also interesting that the best part of “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t even Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth!). Hemsworth is great, as always, but Tim Hiddleston steals the show as Loki and also gets the most significant character arc. Loki has done plenty of bad things, but we never get the sense that he’s pure evil. He’s terribly conflicted, and while he resents his father Odin, he deeply loves his mother, grieving for her when she is killed protecting Thor’s girlfriend, Jane Foster. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have great chemistry, and I enjoy watching them banter as brothers. I’m also certain we haven’t seen the last of Loki, as the film’s twist ending reveals Loki is now impersonating Odin and ruling Asgard.
Up next is the double-bill I’m most excited about on the Marvel blog-a-thon list: two of my top Marvel movies, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”