I don’t like to feature films I find a little disappointing, but both of these biopics failed to live up to the expectations created by the respective subjects and the many fine actors involved. Still, it’s worth shining some light on them as both are directed by women (albeit both written by men), and perhaps others will enjoy them more than I did. Both have a lot to commend them, after all, despite my tepid reviews.
Andrew Bujalski can’t really shake his weird indie beginnings (why would he want to?), and even this film which some commentators have suggested is him going mainstream — by which, in comparison to his last film Computer Chess (2013), means largely more surface sheen to the bright, nicely-framed cinematography, and a more famous roster of cast talent — hasn’t necessarily reduced the overall oddness. Partly it helps to have Kevin Corrigan around, an actor who never fails to radiate weird, awkward vibes whatever he’s doing. He’s Danny, the character seeking the results of the title, a newly-rich, newly-divorced man looking to get in shape, hence contacting Trevor (Guy Pearce)’s fitness centre and being assigned Kat (Cobie Smulders) as a trainer. Pearce and Smulders really put across their characters well, with their can-do upbeat personal training ways, though it’s Trevor who’s particularly filled with the self-help platitudes (particularly in some hilarious YouTube videos we see for his holistic fitness philosophy). Kat has an angrier edge, and rebuffs Danny’s maudlin advances on her. It would be easy to take against the film; Corrigan and Smulders, or Smulders and Pearce are hardly anyone’s idea of perfect romcom pairings. But that’s partly the point: this isn’t trying to be the perfect romcom. It’s deeply awkward at times, and it’s no less weird than Bujalski’s earlier films, but it gets, as they say, results.
Director/Writer Andrew Bujalski; Cinematographer Matthias Grunsky; Starring Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at home (streaming), London, Sunday 24 January 2016.
I have rather pedantically used the fully written-out title as it appears at the start of the credits sequence, though the posters stick with the number.
As far as I’m concerned, when watching a superhero action film such as this one, the key question is whether you feel immersed in the mythology and are swept along by the story sufficiently to put out of your mind quite what the villain’s motivations are, or how conveniently elements of the action setpieces come together. For surely those would be caveats if it weren’t for the fact that I enjoyed the whole enterprise enough to not really worry about them. Along the way there were also enough purely comedy moments which made me laugh (mostly thanks to Ben Kingsley’s character) that I consider this a good film, and certainly an excellent sequel.
The central characters are well enough established from the previous two films and the ensemble piece The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble, 2012), but for the sake of getting up to speed — which is done in this film via an opening sequence set in 1999 — they are Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), massively wealthy playboy and inventor of the title’s robotic iron suits (which of course he wears to fight crime, foil plots, et al.), and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), initially his business partner, but by this third film far more his life partner. They now live together by the Californian coast, but Stark is dealing with fallout from the previous film, unable to sleep and suffering from periodic panic attacks whenever the life-threatening events in New York are mentioned (which they are, by several characters, such is his media profile). His character is ever more wisecracking, mumbling and bumbling along to fulfil some version of the eccentric inventor stereotype, while still being a supercilious dandy (on which point, my friend Mark over on Freaky Trigger has provided a handy guide to the Marvel universe’s male characters). Paltrow has less to do, as ever, though looks suitably alarmed/threatened/threatening as the film’s plot requires, and at the very least has a far more active role in several of the sequences.
The antagonist for this film is another character seemingly hewed from the ‘mad scientist’ mould, Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce). In the opening sequence, he is a stooped, lank-haired presence consumed by delusions and labouring under some kind of unstated disability, for which it is implied that the shadowy Extremis project of Dr Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) promises a cure; thirteen years later he returns, rejuvenated and apparently well-adjusted. Undoubtedly there will in future be theses written about the Extremis programme of genetic mutation to ‘cure’ disabilities and the resulting strain of fire-breathing superhumans, but for the film’s purposes it’s a convenient way to get Stark to refocus his energies on saving America and defeating the public face of the enemy, Ben Kingsley’s Bin Laden-like ‘Mandarin’.
The heart of the film is the tensions between Stark, Killian and the shadowy ‘Mandarin’ figure, and how these develop. There’s a constant jokey comedic undertow which leavens the slightly stultifying action scenes, and as ever Downey is the actor who really carries the film through. He is assisted in this in a few memorable sequences by a 10-year-old Tennessee kid (Ty Simpkins) and less memorably by an under-utilised Don Cheadle. In the end, that lightness of touch to the characterisations carried me through action sequences that at times threatened to be deadeningly thudding displays of mechanised destruction, and I left largely satisfied. Plus, the post-credits sequence also reminded me how much I enjoyed Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner character. To see the two of them together again properly would be a treat.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director Shane Black | Writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black (based on the comic book Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby) | Cinematographer John Toll | Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle | Length 130 minutes | Seen at Cineworld West India Quay (2D), London, Tuesday 7 May 2013
My Rating good