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May 10, 2013

Iron Man 3: American Business

So apparently, my brother reads this blog.

It was during an update for Black Ops 2 (joy of joys) that the topic shifted to my distaste for CoD.  See, he’s under the impression that I only like Japanese things, given my talk about Kingdom Hearts and Halo.  Of course in saying so that he revealed that he only SKIMS the blog -- maybe getting no further than the titles -- considering that I’ve slammed both Japanese AND American games.  Apparently he missed the weeks I spent tearing into Final Fantasy 13-2, or how I’ve willingly explained that Japanese media has its faults, or even that I laid into Kingdom Hearts 2 on multiple occasions…which you think he would have found instantly, considering that they’re under the same tab.

And this whole “I hate American games” business?  Yeah, no.  I hate terrible things.  If a game gives me enough reason to pick it apart, then I’ll pick it apart -- but if it does something right, I’ll say so.  I’m pretty damn sure that even though I said Halo 4 was awful in general, it had a bright spot via Cortana -- and by extension, the biggest issue was that she was so underutilized in comparison to a refrigerator on legs.  I’m ALSO pretty sure that I’ve praised Far Cry 3, PlayStation All-Stars, Ratchet & Clank, and most recently BioShock Infinite in more than a little detail.

I like American books.  American TV shows.  American movies.  American comics -- with my favorite hero being, you know, Captain America.  If the work is high-quality, then I don’t give a damn about its country of origin, and neither should anyone else.

I’ll get deeper into this topic another day, but for now we’ve got another issue to discuss: Iron Man 3.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Well, I know one thing for sure: it’s definitely American -- and in a lot of ways, that’s all I could ever ask for.

You know, this is usually the part where I say SPOILER ALERT, but for once I think I’ll hold off.  It’s not that there’s nothing to spoil -- there is, and quite a bit of it -- but I feel like it’s time to do something a little…different.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way now.  I think Iron Man 3 is a good movie.  Really good.

The question that’s been on my mind, though, is a simple one: how does it stack up compared to The Avengers?  Well, that’s a hard comparison to make…but in a way, I’d say Iron Man 3 passes it up.  2012’s runaway hit brought with it a baddie-bashing menagerie of heroes, each one adding their own contributions to the movie (except Hawkeye for a good sixty to seventy percent of the film).  Iron Man 3 may only have one hero -- barring Rhodes/War Machine --but in exchange it gains a bit of focus.  Focus on the character, focus on certain themes specific to Stark’s trilogy, and focus on the essence of said trilogy as defined by Stark’s presence.  Ideally, that means that there’s more intellectual merit to the movie -- though you could make the argument that there was intellectual merit in The Avengers -- and that there’s depth to be observed if you give it a chance.  How successful the movie is at offering genuine and satisfying depth may vary from person to person, but the movie at least tries on multiple fronts.  And I walked away more than satisfied.

A funny thing happened, though.  When I walked out of the theater, I told my buddy that I thought the film was “excellent.”  Later on, I ended up revising my thoughts to “very good.”  If I were to watch it again right now, I wonder how I’d feel about it -- especially in regards to some of the twists the narrative takes.  I recognize that part of the reason I think the movie (and Avengers by extension) is a success is because of its ability to leave audiences hyped, energized, and ready to become heroes in their own right. 

I suspect that there are deeper ideas at play, but it’s VERY easy to shrug them off -- even ignore them -- in the face of some genuinely good action and laughs by the dozen.  Is that inherently a bad thing?  Are these movies blinding us to their faults by virtue of explosions and humor?  That’s entirely possible, even probable…but again, the ability to even create that illusion is something worth valuing.  Well, valuing and fearing, but you get what I mean.  There ARE faults in these movies, but there hasn’t been anything so grievous that it’s soured the entire experience.  Not yet, at least.  Not in my eyes.

But in the eyes of others, it looks like Iron Man 3 has some unforgivable problems.  Just taking a look at its score on the Tomatometer, I’m genuinely surprised; I would have figured that it’d reach the mid-eighties, at least.  And I was genuinely surprised to see a C+ score from the A.V. Club.  It made me more than a little pensive, to say the least.  Could it be that my senses had dulled?  Could I have started losing my touch?

No, of course not.  Because even in the middle of the movie, I could point out a few of the issues -- things that keep me from going “Greatest movie ever!” like some kind of barking seal.  Such as…

1) Tony Stark continues to be his own worst enemy by way of his reckless impulsiveness.  Granted I’d say he’s gotten a bit better about things, but in this movie he ends up making an entire, movie-shaping conflict happen by doing something remarkably dumb.  Even later on Tony admits that he’s done something stupid…and then continues carpet-bombing his relationships.  Does the phrase “lesson learned” mean nothing to this man?

2) If you’re a fan of War Machine, you should probably lower your expectations now.  He’s sidelined for a curiously-long amount of time in this movie -- and while he gets his chances to shine, it’s jarring to see him out of focus given the events of the previous movie.  Especially considering that, yes, he’s sidelined thanks to issues with the baddies getting control over the suit.  Again.  Even beyond that, the other characters (Pepper Potts well among them) don’t get as much time as they should.  It’s more than a little problematic in hindsight.

3) If you’re the type that gets turned off (or even offended) by allusions to September 11th, this is not the movie for you.  In a lot of instances, they’re not even allusions; the stuff here is pretty on-the-nose.  It’s not so in-your-face that it ends up getting silly -- though it DOES approach that line -- but the lighthearted fun ends up getting a little soured in the face of terrorism and bombings.  And on that note…

4) This is probably the biggest issue I have with the movie: there’s no denying that it’s funny, but all too often I find myself thinking that it was TOO funny.  A lot of ideas -- and even whole scenes -- end up losing their dramatic weight because there has to be a joke thrown in.  They’re good jokes, yes, and if you’re familiar with my work/opinions you know how much I value levity, but there’s just so many of them that it diminishes the intended effect of the narrative.  This is probably a consequence of Stark’s influence pervading the movie, but the problem there is that everyone’s cracking wise.  They run the risk of having their voices meld together by way of being too focused on delivering some jokes.  To say that there are some tonal inconsistencies would be a pretty big understatement.

5) You know, now that I think about it there are a lot of bad decisions made in this movie.  Stark might have made a conflict that didn’t need to happen, but the main villain creates a resolution that didn’t need to happen.  Several decisions are made purely based on naiveté, in spite of them coming from people in positions of power that should probably know better.  A pillar of the villain’s plan is wholly dependent on one character not having a conversation with anyone, in spite of being surrounded by people.  And I’m still not wholly convinced that Mr. Rich and Important has learned anything substantial about this little adventure.  Making bad decisions seems to be part and parcel of Stark’s MO, so whenever Avengers 2 rolls around we can probably expect him to continue being kinda dumb.  

And…that’s about it.  It’s more than possible to poke at issues and point out plot holes, but that’s the case with any movie -- and with a movie like this, I’m satisfied.  It outweighs its faults with the covert levels of intelligence and overt levels of fun it’s got nestled into its run time.  Again, I’m not going to pretend like it’s the greatest movie ever, but it IS a good, good, good, good movie that I have no problems recommending.

So.  With that all said, why do I think Iron Man 3 is a good movie? 

Well, that helps.

Really, though, that’s largely the reason why I’m writing this post.  In a rare departure, I don’t want to spoil the entire movie for people just because I can, or to prove certain points.  In this instance, the points that I need (or want) to prove are simple enough to grasp without a full understanding of the movie’s particulars.  As always, you owe it to yourself to see the movie as soon as you can to form your own opinions, but I think I can prove the movie’s case without venturing into spoiler territory just this once.

I guess this is going to be a challenge on my end.  Let’s see how it goes.  And once more, let’s take this step by step.

1) Prepare to care about Iron Man.
Approximately fifteen hundred words ago, you may remember me saying that Captain America is my favorite superhero.  That hasn’t changed.  And my guess is that it won’t for a while; like I’ve said before, I’ve never been much in the way of comics, but I’ve gone further in building an understanding of Cap than I have of Iron Man.

And from the sound of things, a lot of people felt the same way.  I’d like to think that not too long ago, people thought of this when it came to The Invincible Iron Man:

Obviously, that’s starting to change.  This little trilogy has put Iron Man in the public eye, offering up relevance and intrigue, and a healthy -- if incomplete -- look into a character that most wouldn’t have given the time of day beforehand.  I’ve gleaned information about Iron Man via the internet, but it’s the movies that really show the potential of this character: a man locked in a constant struggle to take command of situations, and his life, via the technology that threatens to kill him.  He’s a man whose ideas of changing the world and himself are constantly at odds with his rivals -- those who would use science and superior tech to line their pockets, rather than build a better world.  He’s a tinkerer, a smooth-talking but absent-minded professor who has all the answers when it comes to making the latest gear, but draws a blank when it comes to even basic social graces and foresight.  He’s intriguing -- and I can’t help but be more intrigued than I was even a year ago in his Avengers appearance.  

(Side note: a lot of people have been asking "Where's SHIELD?  Where are The Avengers?" during these events, and while I'd say that's a question that's worth asking, it's not as detrimental as one would think if you ask me.  This is an Iron Man movie, and there are enough characters as it is.  No need to get Thor and Black Widow involved.  Beyond that, I'd like to think that Fury and his pals got involved in the background, even if we don't see them in person.  Conjecture doesn't equal confirmation, I know, but again, this is about Tony Stark.)  

But there’s another point worth considering: Iron Man is now profitable.  Hear me out on this: there’s no mistaking that a movie should (emphasis on should) exist to tell a good story the way that only it can, but there are underlying issues behind them.  Making back money is precisely what a movie as big as this should do, but it’s worth noting that the movie ALSO exists because it’s supposed to make people care about Iron Man.  It’s supposed to make them want to learn about and represent the hero through whatever merchandise they can get their hands on.  Toys, games, comics, costumes, the works -- and while that may sound inherently awful, it at least keeps the suited-up superhero in the cultural zeitgeist. 

I’ll come back to this point later, but let’s switch to a different topic for now.

2) There’s simplicity, but also complexity.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I prefer to look on the bright side of things.  As the Eternal Optimist, I prefer to believe that people -- even the “least common denominator” -- are smarter than most give them credit for, and it’s a lack of information and consideration of possibilities that leads to problems.  How true that is might be up for debate (and I admit that’s part of my own centralized naiveté), but I’d like to think that there’s some level of intelligence that’s constant among us all.

Apparently the minds behind Iron Man 3 -- and plenty of other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- feel the same way.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been intellectually tickled, and I suspect it won’t be the last.  Granted this is coming from someone who thought that there was intellectual merit to a game featuring a pants-averse sombrero-wearing cyborg with a chainsaw-tailed robot dog, but screw it.  All that stuff I mentioned earlier?  Things that led me to believe that this movie, and its predecessors by extension, is a lot denser than the action would suggest.

Even so, I recognize that the elements needed to appeal to the more “carnal” tastes are there in full.  There’s no denying that one of the weaknesses of Iron Man 2 was its…er, lax approach on the combat front, and more importantly the threat posed by villains.  It just felt like the movie spun in place, with an overlong conflict/contrivances and an under-long clash with the baddies.  I can’t bring myself to say that I hated it, but the issues are very apparent.  With Iron Man 3, the balance has been restored; there’s action, but it’s handled in a way that exists parallel to and rewards the ideas set up at the start of the movie (and the trilogy, by extension).  Tony Stark’s troubles are both internal and external, and through his skill and willpower he manages to overcome a good dozen obstacles.  There’s an argument to be had that one of his bigger issues goes unresolved in the movie, and while I can see what others mean when they point out the flaw, I can’t quite bring myself to agree.  Stark ends up having to face one of his issues in a big way, and while it’s not exactly a substitute for the therapy he desperately needs, it does feed into the ideas set up and acts as payoff.  (Besides, I’d wager this wouldn’t be the first time a hero desperately in need of therapy doesn’t get it.)

But there is a guttural, childish glee to be had from the movie.  If you want explosions, you’ll get them.  If you want repulsor blasts, you’ll get them.  If you want Stark to put on his suit in the most improbable ways possible, then you’ll get that too.  Fist fights, science fu, high-rise hijinks, dozens of Iron Man suits, goons getting decked, and frickin’ fire breath -- if you’re in this for the action, you won’t be left wanting.  You can get exactly as much out of this movie as you want to -- it’s simple enough to take the surface level antics and leave it at that, and still end up walking away with a smile on your face.  Even so, I feel like there’s a complexity that rewards those that look past the shiny suits and million-dollar CGI to try and understand what’s going on.  There’s no guarantee you’ll find something worth essays and ten-thousand word treatises, but there IS merit.  There IS something going on under the surface.

3) The twist.
I’m not going to reveal what the twist is here.  I just want to say that compared to other twists in other things, I’d say it’s a good one -- and I’ll see if I can explain why without revealing anything too ruinous.

You have to understand that I’m just coming off from BioShock Infinite -- and while I enjoyed the game, I admitted at the start of my trio of posts that the ending nearly soured the entire experience.  Most of that had to do with the last-minute twists, and how they either negatively changed the context of the game, or just came off as unnecessary.  Now that I think about it, the same applies to The Dark Knight Rises -- the late-game twist there ended up creating problems that didn’t need to exist, and change the narrative in unnecessary ways.  It just goes to show that twists can be a useful tool, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. 

That’s not the case with Iron Man 3.  It comes pretty much right out of nowhere (in a first viewing, at least), but I think it works in a lot of ways.  It exists within the context of the story.  It elevates the story instead of changing it.  It has genuine ramifications instead of just being a “Gotcha!” moment that forces you to completely rethink the story you just finished going through.  It’s a genuine plot twist, not a plot brick wall.

Is it the kind of thing that’ll tick people off?  Of course.  But even I that’s the case, it’s worth remembering that this is just one of many possible interpretations; the movies do things one way, and other mediums (and their respective creators) can do it another way.  There’s a creative vision behind each turn and interpretation, and while it’s not exactly heartwarming to see one medium diverge from another, some respect has to be paid.  And that’s all I’m going to say on that; frankly, I’ve probably said too much already.

4) DAT LEITMOTIF.        
YouTube never sleeps.  Never.

A good theme song begets good memories.  Given that, I’d say -- or at least hope -- this song stays in people’s heads for a while.

5) This movie has no right to be as funny as it is.
I don’t think I actually saw a trailer for this movie until about a week before it came out.  And thinking back on that, I’d say that I was expecting a darker movie.  A tale of revenge, and justice, and adult situations -- you know, the usual.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the actual movie turns out to be a laugh riot.  I don’t think there was any more than a ten-minute gap (maybe five) where the audience at my screening went without laughing…and loudly, at that.  I still stand by the opinion that there’s too much humor in the movie, but damned if virtually every joke’s on the mark.  It’s just one hit after another, where things COULD get a bit too cheesy, but there’s just enough control to keep a joke from going too far.  You could probably attribute most of this to Tony Stark (and Robert Downey Jr. by extension); in fact, I think it’s this movie that helped me realize just how charismatic the actor could be.  It took all of my willpower to avoid getting lost in his eyes.  And his goatee.

6) The New Age of Heroes is in full swing.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, but Iron Man 3 has made mad bank so far.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I didn’t get to see the movie on opening night.  A friend of mine made plans, though, and he had me and my brother come with him to be a part of the event.  What he failed to take into account, of course, was that there would already be a massive line by the time we got there (and indeed, leaving early should have been taken into consideration).  So we ended up having to try again, after dozens of other parties had their fill.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the movie’s hype.  Part of it could be the post-Avengers goodwill.  Part of it could be the chance to see RDJ go at it one more time.  Part of it could be that the movie has been thoroughly indoctrinated into mainstream cinema.  But you know what?  I think it’s just because this movie, and the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, scratch that itch.  They’re giving us what we’ve wanted all along, even if we didn’t quite know it.

We may all have different preferences, but I’d bet that no matter the case we all have a favorite superhero in mind.  In the eyes of some, Iron Man is the best.  Some are Batman fans.  I’d bet there are a chosen and dedicated few who are just itching for a Doom Patrol movie.  But whatever the case, it’s those heroes that appeal to something deep within us all.  They may have different forms and powers.  They may have different origins and personas.  They may have different worlds and villains.  But to be a hero is to be something special to each and every one of us -- characters who define their world in ways beyond all others.  Ideals, themes, and even virtues given form, and championed through feats of superhuman will and prowess.  Men and women who build their legends over the ages, and become the idols of audiences from one generation to the next.  That’s what it means to be a hero -- and in many ways, they’re the ultimate state of a memorable character.

My brother and I joke around that Tony Stark is “rich and important” and just leave it at that.  But if nothing else, Iron Man 3 has shown me two things.  First off, it’s shown just how much potential lies within this hero.  He’s a man at once in command of, and dominated by technology.  He has overwhelming charisma, but the façade wears thin the moment he has to face a personal issue.  When he’s down, he’s his own worst enemy -- but when he’s up, he’s a man you can count on to save the day.  His intrigue is overwhelming…but even with all that in mind, his way isn’t the only way to be a hero.

Each hero -- each entry in the MCU -- brings with it a chance to understand and enhance our understanding of the ideas at play, thanks in part to the heroes we can’t help but enjoy and admire.  We’ve been reminded of the glee that can be had from seeing heroes spring into action for the last decade or so; we’ve seen some real gems, and we’ve seen some real stinkers.  But the intent is there.  The audience is there.  The potential is there. 

The world is watching in wait to see who comes next, what happens next, and where we’ll go next.  If we can’t fly through the sky alongside Superman, we’ll gladly settle for watching him from the comfort of a movie chair.  And who knows?  Maybe we’ll learn something along the way.

That’s my takeaway from Iron Man 3 -- and because if it, I’m satisfied.  Others may not see it in high esteem, but in my case it’s more than good enough.  I see the faults -- even more than I mentioned here, for obvious spoiler-related reasons -- but the good in this case outweighs the bad.  So, I’ll go ahead and put the movie somewhere around HERE on my SmartChart™:

And I’ll call it a day.  Tony Stark, you may be rich and important, but you sure know how to put a smile on my face.  And for that, I thank you.  You, and your friends, and your creators have all done a good job.  Thanks for the ride.

…But seriously, I’m SO pumped for Captain America: Winter Soldier.


  1. ~Iron Man!!!! I really enjoyed the movie but I didn`t get the part where he exploded all of his many suits ._. And yeah, the show concentrated mainly on him. The other characters were barely there =( He`s pretty dumb too, but I think it`s part of his personality. To be dumb.(I mean, he exploded his suits.) I liked the funny scenes! Got to watch it on the first day it aired, hehehehehehe

    ~Cool video of the old Iron Man cartoon, how old is Iron Man anyway? o.o I liked the beginning song with the `blue` thing, although Iron Man is mainly reddddd, but yeahhh
    ~My favourite Avengers character would have to be Lokiiiii!! If heroes, I think it would be Iron Man, but i`m not sureeee....

  2. From what I gathered, Stark decided to blow up his suits because he wanted to put that part of him -- the neurotic, obsessive, over-compensating part -- to rest so he could focus on being with Pepper and getting back into the world. Alternatively, the adventures he went through in the movie made him realize that whether he's got the suits or not, he's still a hero that can take care of himself. Alternatively (again), Stark is just putting on a grand display. He DOES come off as someone who likes to put on a show.

    Then again, he'll probably be putting on the Mark 128 or something in Avengers 2, so...yeah, not exactly committed there.

    Anyway, like a lot of Marvel superheroes Iron Man first started appearing in comics in the sixties (March 1963, if Wikipedia is right). Continuity has probably been updating constantly so that he's roughly the same age and in the same position as when he first started out, but the trade-off is that there have to be certain "compromises" when it comes to bringing in characters of the past to be relevant today.

    I'd recommend watching this video if you have the time (or just watching stuff by MovieBob in general). Informative stuff, indeed.