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Film Review: Iron Man 3

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Following the events in New York (as seen in The Avengers) Tony Stark is having trouble sleeping. However, when a new foe enters the fray in the form of global terrorist The Mandarin, he must put his anxieties to one side to protect those closest to him.

Some people loved The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble here in the UK) whilst others hated it. No matter how you felt about it, it can’t be denied that it was Marvel’s biggest movie to date, and so it was always going to be a pretty daunting task to follow it up. Fortunately, the task fell to Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr, probably the most enigmatic and popular of the Avengers crew.

Iron Man 3 also sees Shane Black brought in as writer/director in place of Jon Favreau (who still keeps his role has Tony Stark’s muscle Happy Hogan) and he’s done a decent job of building upon the previous two films. Iron Man 3 rattles along at a fair old pace as you’d expect from a Marvel superhero flick, although it does take more time to focus on the man inside the tin can. Here we see more of Stark the man and the film is richer for it; part of what makes the franchise so appealing is Stark’s witty dialogue and there’s plenty of that on show here.

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Now, the Mandarin. I’m no comic book fanboy but I understand that the Mandarin is kind of a big deal. A lot of people were very excited to have him in the film, and, without giving anything away, the direction in which the character has been taken is likely to prove hugely contentious. It’s a bold move and there’ll be some who like it, but there’ll be plenty who are downright outraged. In terms of the narrative, the character works reasonably well although your enjoyment of the film could well depend on your expectations of how the Mandarin will be handled.

Iron Man 3’s other villain is Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pearce. Killian has developed a drug/treatment thing called Extremis (also apparently a big deal in the comics) that can regenerate limbs and also cause the recipient to raise their body temperature to dangerous levels. Killian starts the film as a relatively minor character but gets more and more important as the film goes on. Unfortunately, the character isn’t nearly as interesting as the Mandarin, which when you see where the plot goes, makes the film all the weaker. It’s also not 100% clear as to Killian’s motives, which can make it a little confusing as to the actual point of the whole film.

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There are various other smaller story arcs going on throughout the film, some of which are significantly more successful than others. Stark’s beau Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a much more developed role and the introduction of a kid sidekick for Stark is nowhere near as annoying as it could have been. There is also a rather malnourished side plot revolving around the Vice President and his daughter which could have been pretty interesting had it been fleshed out a little more.

Iron Man 3 may be a little shallow but it’s also a lot of fun. Tonally it sits somewhere between the lighthearted feel of The Avengers and the grittier world of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy but it’s difficult to say it can be held in as high regard as either. However, should this the last in the Iron Man franchise, which it could well be, it’s still a decent note to go out on.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Lawless

Seeing Tom Hardy crack someone with brass knuckles is a thing of brutal beauty. Sure, we may be getting used to him doing that kind of thing by now (after all, we’ve seen him as the sadistic Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, cage fighting machine Tommy Conlon in Warrior and the crazy Charles Bronson in, erm, Bronson over the past few years), but when someone’s good at something, it’s often best to just let them get on with it.

The Bondurant brothers

In Lawless, Hardy plays Forrest Bondurant who along with his two brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf) are successful alcohol bootleggers, producing moonshine during the Prohibition era. Forrest is the bumbling hard man who is in charge of operations, whilst Howard likes to sample the moonshine a little too much. Jack is the runt of Bondurant litter and is in the constant shadow of his older brothers.

All is well in the bootlegging world until Special Detective Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is employed with shutting them down and will go to extreme lengths to ensure he does so. However, Forrest and his brothers aren’t keen on going quietly. The film is based on a true story and adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World.

One of the most striking things about Lawless is how violent it is. There are throats slit, necks broken and skulls caved in, and there are times when it can feel a little unnecessary and over the top. Indeed, at times the violence threatens to define the film, especially considering the somewhat flimsy plot.

Hardy & LeBeoufThere’s enough to keep the story going but there’s little else going on aside from the usual good guys vs bad guys story arc. However, it’s interesting working out who the good and the bad guys actually are. The Bondurant brothers are the ones breaking the law, yet it’s they who we root for, not the authorities trying to uphold the law.

The actual issue of bootlegging is nothing more than a MacGuffin; the real focus of the film is the relationship between the brothers and their struggle to adapt to changes in the law and technology. Due to this, it very much feels like it should be a character driven film, but with little exposition and character development (aside from perhaps Jack), it falls short on this front also.

There’s some confusion as to who the film wants to make its real protagonist. It’s narrated by Jack, but for large portions of the film the focus is firmly on Forest. It shifts between the two throughout, whilst Howard remains nothing more than a secondary character. And talking of secondary characters, there is criminal under use of the film’s leading ladies. Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) is the daughter of a local preacher and becomes Jack’s love interest in the film, whilst Forrest’s attentions are turned by city girl Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). Again, Howard doesn’t get a look in.

Both of these characters feel a little like an after thought, as if the filmmakers realised they hadn’t actually included any women in the script and so wedged them in where they could, which is a shame because they do add another dimension to the film and the actresses’ performances are excellent. Gary Oldman is also reduced to little more than a cameo; again, his character, mobster Floyd Banner, could easily have had a little more screen time. In fact, there are so many interesting characters that Lawless could well have been a mini-series, offering more time with each, although Boardwalk Empire has pretty much got that period sewn up right now.

Special Detectice Charlie RakesAlthough this review has been quite damning, there is a lot that Lawless gets right. It’s not just Wasikowska and Chastain who provide top notch performances; the acting is superb across the board. Hardy once again proves he’s much more than just muscle, and even Shia Lebeouf proves he’s got some talent there after all. With Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac on the horizon, LeBeouf is clearly trying to move away from the Hollywood blockbusters that have earned him a somewhat tarnished reputation. Dane DeHaan also gives an entertaining performance as the brainy but rickets-riddled Cricket who help the brothers with their operation.

It’s arguably Guy Pearce’s Detective Rakes who’s the star of the show, however. His creepy, eyebrow-less visual is enhanced further by his equally creepy demeanour and willingness to go to any lengths to stop the three brothers. Pearce is superb as Rakes, giving the role the attitude and uneasiness it requires.

The film also looks absolutely fantastic. Director John Hillcoat has created a totally believable snapshot of the Prohibition era; the costumes, locales and cinematography all help create an incredibly rich mise-en-scène and a world you want to invest your time in. There’s also an excellent original soundtrack, but with Nick Cave behind the script (and some of the tracks), the music was always going to have elevated importance.

Whilst Lawless doesn’t quite reach the epic heights it clearly aspires for, it’s still an excellent watch with great performances and an interesting, if sometimes one-dimensional, narrative. It could, and perhaps should, have done a little more with the subject matter and the characters, but what it has done is immensely enjoyable and a worthy addition to all of the actors’ filmographies.

Words: Chris Thomson

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