Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3

He's big in Asia!
With the U.S. release of Iron Man 3, the 2013 summer blockbuster season has officially kicked off.  Iron Man 3 is doing gangbusters on the international market, who got it before we here in the States did, and I predict it's going to do very well here, too.  Which isn't exactly a shame, but this movie could be better.  Much, much better.

Look, I can already tell that this is a movie I'm going to return to for a far lengthier examination in another forum (seriously - how IM3 grinds against the edges of the previous two movies in its handling of disability cries out to be discussed), but for now, I'm going to Play Nice and keep this spoiler-free (mostly) as I discuss some of the larger problems of the film.

Iron Man 3 has a lot to handle.  It's the first Marvel-which-is-now-owned-by-the-Happy-Mouse movie to come out after the juggernaut that was Avengers.  It has to acknowledge the events of that film, which fortunately, provide the characters with plenty of room to grow and develop.  Now, Marvel has said over and over that the movie universe is different from the comics universe, and boy howdy, are they right on that score in this movie!  The problem with that stance is that it's an argument I've always found cowardly to the extreme - the comics are what brought people to the movies in the first place, genius.  Accept that.  Embrace that.  And, for the love of Stan Lee, be respectful of that.

So let me say this.  Iron Man 3 is a fine action flick.  It received a huge incentive to be filmed largely in my home state of North Carolina, and I like that.  It's a fun movie for buttered popcorn.  Things blow up.  Bad guys lose.  Good guys win.  The effects are slick, Tony Stark says snarky things, and at the end of the day, the world is saved.  Yay.

I'm just disappointed that Marvel lacked the spine to carry the story down the road that it was set on oh-so-very-carefully in the first two movies.  (Just a hint - click here to look up Justin Hammer [the character played by the criminally-underrated Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2] and consider the possibilities.)  I know people will argue with me on this - which is fine, art involves differences in taste by its very nature - but this movie is the beginning of the end of the current wave of superhero movies, because with Iron Man 3, we're at #2 on this brilliant blueprint of why the superhero bubble must and will burst.  Oh, they will continue to be made - too much money is already in the pipeline - but the quality will begin to suffer, due in large part to the vicious circle at the heart of the conundrum of "it costs money to make money."  If you make your money by people buying tickets to (1) movies and (2) stuff that ties in to those movies, you want to make movies that everyone wants to go see.  So you can't offend your markets.  So you begin to tweak the story.  The problem there is that you inevitably slice out the very parts that make the stories interesting and edgy.

There was major Chinese money involved in making Iron Man 3, which meant certain things needed to be (ahem) toned down for the Chinese audience.  (Entire scenes are in the Chinese release that are not in the American release, by the way.)  That meant gutting a central character but, you know, throw in enough explosions and maybe no one will notice.  Have really cool shots of dozens of suits flying independently and maybe the fangirls won't point out that THAT NEVER HAPPENS in the original text.  Then say over and over, "Well, the movies are different from the comics" and hope people buy it.  And hope people buy the inevitable tie-in merchandise.  And when you get called on your failure to follow through, claim that you're just giving the viewers what they want.

Such a philosophy belongs to the raw, untamed capitalism of the Stark Industries of the original Iron Man.  There, Stark's strategy was simple - make it, market it, sell it, and pocket the profits without a thought about its ultimate use (or message).  Tony grew beyond such a limited worldview and, in so doing, he became a hero.  (Incidentally, he lost none of his wealth by "privatizing peace.")  Hollywood has not done the same, so tired stories get trotted out with a flashy paint job and Michael Bay seizure-inducing jump cuts and we're supposed to be breathlessly thrilled.

I'm not.  Iron Man 3 is a fine action flick.  It's nothing more, which is a shame.

No comments: