The Reel Deal
IRON MAN 3
A Reel Deal Film Review
By Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 1.5 out of 5
“GO WEST, YOUNG SUPERHERO, GO WEST”
I never thought it’d come to this. I have heard other people say this at various times over the last decade, but I never thought I’d add my voice to the chorus. As a superhero-loving, childhood comic book fanboy–one who places The Dark Knight up there with films like There Will Be Blood in the top five best movies of the ’00s–I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth but, then, here they are: “Hollywood needs to stop making Superhero movies.”
Iron Man 3 was the last straw. This camel’s back is broken. And it’s gonna take more than a few months of recuperation in some pit in the ancient part of the world for this broken back to heal.
I didn’t have unreasonably high hopes for Iron Man 3 because Iron Man 2 had been such a disappointment, but the trailer for this newest installment did have me a bit excited for its potential. It felt like it was going to add a little darkness and a little headiness (a la The Dark Knight) to the otherwise somewhat lite fare that Iron Man had become. Unfortunately, the only thing this Iron Man added was absurdity and banality. Yet the rest of the Superhero movies still to come this year worry me even more. The Man of Steel looks decent in trailers, but all anyone needs to do to add a heavy dose of skepticism into the mix is to see director Zach Snyder’s last film: the unwatchable catastrophe that is Sucker Punch. Beyond Man of Steel, the other Superheroes on the horizon this year–Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine, and Kick-Ass 2–all look not only horrible, but unnecessary, redundant.
But let’s talk about Iron Man 3 first, before we move on to the rest. Here’s the film’s main problem laid out in simple terms: absolutely nothing interesting takes place in its entire 130-minute running time. The only truly memorable moment is a throw away line from one of the villain’s henchman (a line which admittedly made me laugh out loud). The rest of the over two hours spent in the theater was galling. Everything is forgettable at best, or too awful to be forgotten at worst.
Robert Downey Jr. is back as the titular hero, of course, hamming it up as he had in the previous films, but by now his schtick has worn thin. It’s starting to feel a bit like when Johnny Depp continually dons the wig and gives us his best Keith Richards impersonation with each new Pirates extravaganza. It no longer gets me excited, it fills me with dread.
The first Iron Man was a good, solid film. Admittedly, I always thought the critics who considered it an equal to The Dark Knight the year they were both released needed to get their heads examined, but it was at least an alternate take on superhero mythos that worked, and was enjoyable. The film was a bit campy, and certainly more jingoistic, but it felt fresh, a contrast to the more serious, dark take of The Dark Knight. The sequel, on the other hand, was a poorly done stepping stone preparing us for The Avengers. I remember leaving the theater angry, feeling I had just paid for a prequel to a movie that didn’t even exist yet. Little did I know that worse Iron Man experiences were still to be had. The second one may have felt like a cheap bridge to The Avengers, shoddily crafted to get us from point A to point B, but at least it was a bridge to something better. Iron Man 3 is a bridge to nowhere. It’s a pandering piece of rubbish that doesn’t have an original idea from opening voice over to post-credits “secret” scene. Though it’s not that there haven’t been worse superhero films made, there have been: The Green Lantern was worse, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was worse, Spider-Man 3 was worse.
But maybe that’s my point: Iron Man 3‘s unoriginality and mediocrity are now just par for the course. This is what Superhero films are these days. We’ve resigned ourselves to just going to see these films for elaborate fight scenes filled with CGI explosions and “witty” (read: not witty) one-liners. If the bad and mediocre Superhero films are going to outnumber the good or great Superhero films by this much, then I’m willing to throw in the towel and join those friends of mine who have long been calling for a moratorium on Superhero movies. Or, maybe I won’t quite call for a moratorium, but what I think needs to happen is that the Superhero film needs to go the way of the Western: Go West, young Superhero, go West!
They’ve already followed the trajectory to some degree, and need to enter the next phase. Right now they’re in that period that the Western was in by the late 1950s where, sure, there were still a few good Westerns coming out (usually those that started to toy with revisionist tendencies), but mostly it was just Hollywood churning out Westerns-by-number for the masses. They were cliched and redundant–unnecessary, like Iron Man 3 is, and like Thor: The Dark World and The Wolverine presumably will be. The studios figured they had a winning formula, so why mess with it? After all, these companies were making a killing off the genre. Just as today: Nothing makes money like a well-advertised Superhero sequel! Case in point: an uninteresting movie like Iron Man 3 somehow grabbing the record for the second-highest largest opening weekend box office take ever.
The problem isn’t with the genre itself, though. Fellow comic book fans, don’t despair, I haven’t lost all hope in the potential for great Superhero movies. As The Dark Knight trilogy proved to any naysayers, the superhero as trope can have a lot to say, can allow for all sorts of complications, can spark intense and interesting debates (about politics, about justice, about crime, about morality, about anything and everything, in fact). These characters are cyphers for our own foibles, and we find in them, writ large, the problems we face as individuals and as a society. Just as the “Cowboy” a few decades before, who acted as a proxy for the American male psyche, the “Superhero” similarly allows us entrance into complicated morality play, and interesting twistings of classic good vs. evil conflicts. These stories constitute our American mythology.
Put a stock character like the “Cowboy” in the right filmmaker’s hands, and he or she can make magic. Think John Ford, think Anthony Mann, think Sergio Leone. Of course, in the hands of amateurs, the Western mythos utilizes clichés and stereotypes without tinkering with them, without tweaking them to find new things to say and do. Same goes for the Superhero film. The problem Marvel has is that its films hardly interact with the genre in any engaging way, they tend to adhere to the formula much more than their DC counterparts, knowing that so long as the seats get filled, who cares about the art of cinema or the want to create something lasting or memorable.
This is why I say the traditional Superhero film needs to fall the way of the traditional Western. These Superhero films need to become fewer and further between. They should only be made if they have something interesting to say, or engage with the genre in an interesting way, rather than being made just because studio executives think they’ve found another bankable character with a built-in following that they’ve yet to exploit.
I’m waiting for the Superhero film’s heyday to pass, because only then do I think the genre will have its best days. That’s how it worked out for the Western, and I think it could be the same for the Superhero film. Sadly, it’ll be at least a decade before the Superhero film “Golden Age” officially ends. We’ll get at least to Avengers 3, I’m sure. That means enduring a lot of the individual Avengers having a number of their own films as well (and sequel after sequel, of course). And who knows how many Justice League films they plan to make inevitably? I’m sure Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Aquaman will each get at least one solo film too (Only one? Who am I kidding?). Until these movies stop making them the beaucoup bucks, the studios will keep churning them out like the products they are (with more marketing tie-ins than interesting cinematic moments). But I’m looking forward to a future period of less-ubiquitous, but hopefully better-quality revisionist Superhero films: ones that follow The Dark Knight model not by strictly following The Dark Knight model, not by copying its style or mimicking its moves, but by creating an experience that feels unique, that makes me think, makes me feel, makes me proud to like the Superhero genre and the comic books these characters come from.
Iron Man 3 is a film directed by Shane Black, written by Shane Black & Drew Pearce, and based upon characters created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, & Jack Kirby. It stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, & Jon Favreau. When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Design by Lulu Vottero
Film Still from Iron Man 3, Photography Courtesy of Marvel Studios