Horror Film Review: Alien: Convenant (dir by Ridley Scott)


Why did Alien: Covenant fail?

It’s a legitimate question.  Alien itself is such an iconic horror film that, 38 years after it was first released, blatant rip-offs like Life are still being produced and, in many case, are still doing pretty well at the box office.  When John Hurt died earlier this year, he left behind a long and distinguished filmography but almost every obituary opened by discussing his role in Alien.  

Alien: Convenant received a good deal of pre-release publicity, mostly centering on the fact that Ridley Scott was not only the filming the latest installment of the franchise but that this was going to be a true Alien film, as opposed to a strange hybrid like Prometheus.  Personally, when I first saw the trailer, I thought it looked like something was a little off about it.  The spaceship looked way too clean and, for that matter, so did all the humans.  Whereas Alien and Aliens were all about sweaty, profane men and women stuck in dark and cramped locations, the humans in Alien: Convenant just looked too damn perky.  In at least one of the trailers, they were all smiling.  No one smiles in space, at least not in an Alien movie.  Still, everyone else seemed to be super excited about the trailer so I figured that maybe I was just being overly critical.

Then the movie came out.  It got some respectful but somewhat restrained reviews, though it did seem like quite a few critics were more interested in praising the longevity of the series as opposed to actually talking about the film itself.  At the box office, it performed a bit below expectations during the first week but then again, that’s pretty much been the story for almost every film that’s been released in 2017.  But then, during the second week, it plunged from being the number one movie in America to being the number four movie in America.  In the third week, it plunged again and, in the fourth week, it left first-run theaters and headed for the dollar cinemas.  When a widely anticipated film like that — especially one that is part of a historically popular franchise — heads to purgatory after only four weeks, the only thing you can blame is word of mouth.

Why did Alien: Covenant fail?

Well, there’s several reasons why this film failed to connect with audiences.

First off, the plot is rather familiar.  In the future, the crew of a spaceship picks up a radio transmission for a nearby planet and the captain (played, in this case, by Billy Crudup) sends down an expedition to investigate.  Of course, it turns out that the planet is full of facehuggers and xenomorphs and all the other stuff that audiences typically expect from an Alien film.  Also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the replicant who is the sole survivor from Prometheus.  (Fassbender actually plays two roles in Covenant.  He also plays Walter, another replicant.  One is bad and one is good.)  Basically, Covenant takes the plots of Alien and Aliens and mashes them together.  But it never answers the question of why audiences wouldn’t be better off just watching the originals.

The humans themselves are rather blandly written and somewhat interchangeable.  There’s no one who is memorably quirky like Bill Paxton or Harry Dean Stanton.  Katherine Waterston makes for a bland substitute for both Sigourney Weaver and Noomi Rapace.  Usually, I like Danny McBride but he seems out of place in an Alien film.  Genuinely interesting actors, like James Franco, Amy Seimetz, and Carmen Ejogo, are all dispatched far too early.  Probably the best performance in the film comes from Michael Fassbender but, for anyone who has any knowledge of what usually happens with replicants in the Alien franchise, there’s no surprises to be found in either of his characters.

But ultimately, the main problem with Alien: Covenant is that it just wasn’t scary.  Some might say that this is due to the fact that we’re no longer shocked by the sight of aliens bursting out of people’s chests.  However, I recently watched Alien.  I watched it with the full knowledge that, as soon as John Hurt sat down to eat, that little bugger was going to burst out of his chest and that blood and bones were going to fly everywhere.  I also knew that Harry Dean Stanton was going to end up walking right underneath the alien.  I knew that Tom Skerritt’s radio was going to go dead.  I knew that the alien would be waiting for Sigourney Weaver in the escape pod.  I knew all of this and Alien still scared the Hell out of me, as it has every time that I’ve watched it.

And I also had the same reaction when I recently watched Aliens.  Yes, I knew that the space marines weren’t going to be able to fight the aliens.  I knew what was going to happen to Paul Reiser.  I knew that Bill Paxton was going to end up chanting, “Game over, man!”  I knew that aliens were going to be bursting off of chests all over the place.  I knew it was all going to happen and yet, turning out all the lights and watching Aliens still left me feeling shaken.

The difference between those two films and Alien: Covenant is that the first two films felt authentic.  The ships felt lived in.  The characters felt real.  Both films were full of rough edges and small details that invited you to try to look closer.  You could watch those films and imagine yourself on those ships and talking to those characters.  You got scared because you knew that there was no way you’d be one of the survivors.  Everyone pretends that they would be Sigourney Weaver but most of us know that, in reality, we’re going to be Veronica Cartwright, sobbing and useless.

Alien: Covenant, on the other hand, is a very slick movie.  Nothing about it feels real and there’s no real emotional impact when the aliens show up and start killing people.  You never feel as if you know the characters, beyond whatever feelings you may have toward the actors involved.  “Oh,” you say, “the alien just burst out of Billy Crudup’s chest.  Well, he’s got another movie coming out so he’ll be fine…”

For all of the technical skill that went into making it, Alien: Covenant has no soul.  And, for that reason, it’s never scary.  (Sadly, Life felt like a better Alien movie than Covenant did.)  Hopefully, if there is another Alien film, that soul will be rediscovered.

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

Trailer: The Rover


A lot of people are probably going to be inclined to dismiss The Rover out-of-hand simply because it stars Robert Pattinson.  I suggest that, if those people need proof that Pattinson is capable of more than Twilight, they should go watch Cosmopolis.

And besides, even if you aren’t a fan of Pattinson’s, you should still be willing to take a chance on The Rover because it was directed by David Michod, who previously directed the absolutely brilliant Animal Kingdom, and it co-stars the great Guy Pearce.

The Rover will be released in the summer of 2014.

 

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Iron Man 3”


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I’m not sure one can entirely, or even adequately, separate how one feels about Marvel’s latest bloated billion-dollar blockbuster, Iron Man 3, from how one feels about their last one, The Avengers — excuse me, Marvel’s The Avengers — since Joss Whedon’s flick has been positioned, story-wise, as a thematic and consequential lead-in to director Shane Black’s first crack at the cinematic exploits of Tony Stark and his super-suit. After all, it’s Stark himself who solemnly informs us that “nothing’s been the same since New York,” and the events he “endured” there are supposedly the catalyst for a new, darker, more somber and “mature” phase of his life that’s now begun.

Right off the bat, then, you’ll have to forgive me if I just don’t “buy in” to that whole scenario. I know, I know — I’m one of only about ten people on the entire planet who was less than blown away by Marvel’s The Avengers (got it right this time), but let’s leave that aside for a moment, because the fact is that even if I did love it to pieces, it’s essentially nothing more than a fairly light-hearted, superheroes-save-the-world romp. It didn’t even try to have some kind of “heavy,” far- reaching resonance. It was a popcorn movie. You might feel it was a particularly good, or even terrific, popcorn movie, but come on — if you think it was a work of lasting emotional depth and impact, I think you’re kidding yourself, friend.

Still, that’s the hook we’re being told to swallow in order to fully “appreciate” the baseline Iron Man 3 is starting from. And things only get more quasi-resonant from there, as we see Stark (Robert Downey Jr. doing a fine job essentially playing himself, as usual) inadvertently create a rival/enemy for himself in Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian before taking on a genuinely big menace in the form of mysterious international terrorist The Mandarin, superbly brought to life by a genuinely menacing Ben Kingsley. Flat-as-cardboard side characters “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, who as always probably deserves more to do), James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle, clearly in it for the paycheck) and Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) essentially aren’t given much to do apart from complicate things here and there for Stark/Iron Man, and help him out when he needs it in various forms, whether that be in the boardroom, bedroom, or battlefield (depending on which of the three we’re talking about), but Black and co-writer Drew Pearce are clearly interested in putting some of their eggs in the baskets marked ” Stark’s struggle against himself”  and “where does the man end and the armor begin?,” as well.

And hey, kudos to them for at least trying to give this superhero property some heft and gravitas of some sort — and if the Shane Black who gave us Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and scripted The Monster Squad were the one running the show here, maybe it would have worked out fine, but his work this time around hews more closely to his efforts as screenwriter on such middling testosterone-laced fare as The Last Boy Scout and the Lethal Weapon movies than anything else.  Which is to say that this is certainly a competent-enough film in terms of its execution, but doesn’t offer a whole lot beyond that, despite its director’s best intentions.

Maybe the die was cast from the  outset. Maybe the Iron Man franchise is such a juggernaut at this point that it’s propelled forward by nothing but its own apparently-unstoppable momentum and all attempts at interjecting some personality into things are bound to fail. I give Black points for at least wanting, apparently, to vary things up from the Jon Favreau/Joss Whedon formula, and for doing something radically different with the character of The Mandarin that probably not all fans of his comic book appearances will appreciate and/or approve of, but in the end it feels like he put up a fight for some kind of individualistic vision for a minute there, knew he was beaten, threw in the towel, and just decided to go with the flow. His bank account will surely thank him — as will, I’m willing to bet, the majority of viewers — but for my part, I was left feeling more than a bit underwhelmed by the whole spectacle.

For those who are only in it for that, though — for spectacle for spectacle’s sake alone — Iron Man 3 will probably have you smiling from start to finish, and that’s fine. It’s kinda what these summer blockbusters are all about, after all. But for those of us who were hoping for something maybe a little bit more radically divergent from the pre-set path, it’s pretty fair to say that this Black and company seem content to lead us on, then leave us hanging.

Review: Iron Man 3 (dir. by Shane Black)


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“You can take away my suits, you can take away my home, but there’s one thing you can never take away from me: I am Iron Man.” — Tony Stark

[WARNING: SPOILERS WITHIN]

Iron Man 3 review by Leonard Wilson

That line above would make such a great send-off for what could be the final Iron Man film. In a perfect world, having Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 as the final one in the franchise wouldn’t be such a bad thing. This doesn’t mean that Iron Man will not appear in any future Marvel Studios endeavors, but as a solo franchise a series couldn’t have found a better way to fly into the Malibu sunset. I say this because in over 5 years Marvel Studios has created a trilogy that took a character in Tony Stark and put him through a character journey encompassing four major film releases and one cameo. They did so in such a way that we saw the character grow from a rich genius dilletante, to a desperate asshole trying to find his identity as Iron Man to finally realizing that he’s the hero with or without the Mark suits he’s has created.

Iron Man 3 is the culmination of what Jon Favreau began with Iron Man in 2008 and Joss Whedon expanded on in 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers. It took a writer of renown such as Shane Black (who also replaced Favreau as director) to get to the heart of what makes Iron Man ticks. It helped that the returning cast led by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark and Iron Man once again did a great job in their roles with some characters even getting to do some surprising heroic stuff on the screen.

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Iron Man 3 starts off with a flashback scene just hours before the arrival of the new millennium. This is just Tony Stark before he becomes Iron Man so we see the character in full charming asshole mode. This sequence is important in that it sets up the whole plot of the film and, in my opinion, the overall story for the entire trilogy. We’re introduced to the geeky Aldritch Killian (played with equal amounts of geeky desperation and overconfident megalomania by Guy Pearce) who sees in Stark the mentor he needs to get his think tank going. With only sex with brilliant scientist Maya Hansen (played by Rebecca Hall) on his mind Killian is soon forgotten and humiliated by Stark.

The rest of the film sees Tony Stark having to pay a steep price for his behavior towards Killian in that flashback and, in conjunction, with his days and nights haunted by the events in New York with the invading Chitauri invasion having given him a case of the PTSD the film looks to bring Tony Stark at his most vulnerable and lowest. It’s a return to the proverbial “Cave” for Tony Stark as he must contend not just with the elusive terrorist mastermind The Mandarin, but also solve the mystery of who or what’s causing the inexplicable explosions and bombings occurring around the nation. All this he must do through most of the film without the use of his Iron Man suits and relying mostly on his own genius intellect and skill with making weapons and gadgets out of anything readily available.

Speaking of The Mandarin (in an excellent performance by Sir Ben Kingsley), Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce made a controversial decision (for comic book fanboys at least) to make the iconic Iron Man villain more than he appears to be. It’s a decision that won’t sit well with the more vocal and rabid comic book fans who sees any deviation from Iron Man lore as an affront worth of loud, vociferous rabble, rabble, rabbling that would make Randy Marsh and the people of South Park proud.

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To say that the twist in the story that explains who The Mandarin was such a surprise would be quite the understatement. The most important and iconic nemesis of Tony Stark comes out with both barrels of deliberate menace and sociopathic showmanship. We’re meant to see this character as the face of all the evils and troubles that has plagued Tony Stark since the first film. Kingsley plays this part of the character in the film to the hilt. Yet, it’s not until the second half of the film when we find out just who exactly The Mandarin really was and is that Black and Pearce finally put to rest whether the producers and writers would be able to handle a character that’s been seen as a racial caricature from a less than enlightened time.

Whatever howls and apoplectic ravings fanboys might be having about changing the traiditional character of The Mandarin into the pill-popping, drunk British wanna-be actor Trevor Slattery as a bait-and-switch was a brave move on the parts of Black and Pearce. To find out that The Mandarin was just a conjuration by Aldritch Killian to keep the eyes of the world’s governments and superheroes on someone else was very Bond-like. The fact that Killian himself is the true Mandarin and the Ten Rings terrorist organization his creation to have his revenge on Stark for humiliating him on the even of the new millennium closes the circle on what was begun all the way back in the first Iron Man.

This so-called “twist” was so unexpected (the internet scouring for any tidbits about the film’s plot having found nary a hint of this change) that it seemed like some sort of gimmick but as the film barreled on through the second half into it’s explosive conclusion one had to admire the massive stones by Black and Pearce to change such an iconic character knowing how it could easily alienate and anger fans of comic book. It’s this thinking outside the box by this franchise’s new director and screenwriter which makes me feel like Marvel Studios (especially studio head Kevin Feige) have their Phase 2 plan set to spring surprises on comic book and non-comic book fans alike as it marches on towards Avengers 2.

originalIron Man 3 was a definite improvement over the bloated second film in the series. It also manages to reach the high bar set by the first film, though as an origin story it still comes away as being the best of the trilogy, but not by much. There was much trepidation from fans of the film franchise when Favreau was replaced by Marvel Studios as director by one Shane Black. While Black was well-known for being a top-notch screenwriter who literally redefined the buddy cop genre his work as a filmmaker was just still only the suprise film Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. While this third film still had some holes in it’s plot that was explained rather conveniently by some brief bits of dialogue it still managed to tell a compelling story of actions and consequences and the discovery that our hero finally makes about just who is the hero of the saga: the man or the machine.

If there’s to be another film bearing the title of Iron Man I would surely hope that Feige and the powers-that-be over at Marvel Studios and Walt Disney just speed-dial Shane Black’s name and to also bring back his co-conspirator Drew Pearce. The franchise is well and good in their keeping. As the final moments of the end credits tick by we’re promised that Tony Stark will return. I sure hope so.

Quick Review: Iron Man 3 (dir. by Shane Black)



iron_man_3_poster_final
It’s kind of hard to write about Iron Man 3 without giving much away, so this will be kind of condensed. If there’s one thing to learn about Iron Man in Iron Man 3, it’s that the events of the Avengers are really weighing down on Tony Stark. While the movie is more of a stand alone feature than being one part of a larger tale (like the first two leading up to Marvel’s The Avengers), it still manages to be a piece of a puzzle in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It just happens to be one of those corner pieces. It’s not meant to be viewed the way the others are seen, but still manages to pack a punch.

Taking over the reigns of directing from Jon Favreau’s work on the first two films is Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s Shane Black. Black brings the witty dialogue and buddy partnership from those film into Iron Man 3 with ease, though the story does take some liberties with the comic.

The movie finds Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) unable to sleep or relax much since the New York Incident, having spent a bit of time in a wormhole and a separate dimension for a few minutes. This has left him with panic attacks as well as doing a lot of research in his workshop. This includes a new improvement to the Iron Man suit that allows him to call it piece by piece when needed, which was a nice touch. As a result of the world finding out that we’re not the center of the universe, they upgraded the War Machine and Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to the Iron Patriot. The Iron Patriot acts as the first line of defense, which is just in time, considering that a new threat looms on the horizon in the form of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Through televised declarations and using the same circular pattern from the terrorist group that captured Tony Stark in the first film, The Mandarin pledges to destroy all the President (William Sadler) holds dear.

So, the basis of Iron Man 3 is whether Tony Stark can get past what scared and changed him in The Avengers, stop the terrorism of the Mandarin while still finding a way to protect Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Let’s first start with any problems before we get to the good stuff – because there’s a lot of great things about Iron Man 3. First off, the movie hasn’t any kind of interaction either from any of the other Avengers or from S.H.I.E.L.D. In any form. This isn’t a bad thing, as the story isn’t about them, but at the same time, it could come off as being expected given everything we saw in The Avengers. For me, personally, I was hoping for more of a connection, but it’s not terrible that it doesn’t exist.

Secondly, the women in the movie aren’t flushed out very well. You won’t find anyone on the level of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in Captain America here. While Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen has an important role in the movie, her screen time is really minimal. Given she’s a scientist, I’m not sure there was a whole lot for her to do, but Elizabeth Shue was a scientist in The Saint and she was all over that movie. Paltrow also takes something of a back seat to Downey and even to Favreau, who returns as Happy Hogan. Instead of concentrating on the girls, they introduced a new individual in the form of a kid. It works to some degree, but kind of felt like filler in some ways until they could get to a point where some action was taken.

For me, outside of these two elements, those are the only real problems with Iron Man 3 for someone unfamiliar with the comic book canon (like myself). If you read Iron Man on a regular basis and know  all the characters, you may be really upset at where it goes, because the adaptation in some way really veers off from the comics. Veers off on the levels of Organic Web Shooters in Spider-Man, that kind of deep.

Now for the fun stuff.

What Iron Man 3 does really well is the way it handles the connections and interactions between the characters. Between Black’s and Pacific Rim writer Drew Pearce. The film basically has the same snap as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the final confrontation takes place in a location similar to Lethal Weapon II. Between Downey’s narration, James Badge Dale’s (who should get a run at being a comic hero or villain sometime) attitude and the action sequences, the film moves pretty well. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian was cool. While I liked his character a lot, there were a few elements that were over the top. Kingsley’s Mandarin definitely works for the film, but the direction the story goes is a little weird.

Overall, Iron Man 3 is a fun ride for anyone following the Iron Man movies, and is an overall stronger film than the first. The lack of a direct teaser taste for the next Avengers film and a story shift that could upset die-hard comic fans threaten to hurt the story, but it makes up for it (I feel) by at least giving the story a sense of escalation. If Iron Man 2 was about Tony’s efforts in keeping his technology out of the government’s hands, Iron Man 3 would show why it was important. I wouldn’t mind seeing where this all goes.

Trailer: Iron Man 3 (Super Bowl Exclusive)


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Iron Man 3 will be the film from Walt Disney and Marvel Studios that will kick-off those studios’ Phase Two of their Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was the Galactus-sized success of 2012’s The Avengers which this newest phase will have to live up to and with new director on-board (Shane Black taking over the director’s chair from Jon Favreau) and the original cast back with new faces on-board (Sir Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce and James Badge Dale to name a few of the new names).

It’s now 2013 and just a few more months before Iron Man 3 makes it’s worldwide premiere and what better place to start the hype and marketing ad machine that will lead up to that premiere by releasing the latest trailer for the film than during one of the biggest one-day event in the world: the Super Bowl.

Iron Man 3 is set for an international release date of April 25, 2013 with a UK premiere in April 26, 2013 after then a North American release in May 3, 2013.

Without further ado the Super Bowl exclusive Iron Man 3.

Source: Joblo Movie Network