Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Iron Man 3 - Tony Stark in the Real World

I have a confession: any movie with Robert Downey Jr. playing an iconic kick-butt sarcastic hero I’m bound to like. Taking that into account, I was probably predisposed to like Iron Man 3, his latest outing. Well, I did. In fact, on leaving the theater, I was convinced it was better than last year’s worldwide blockbuster The Avengers. Wait. Don’t panic. Since then, my critical faculties have snapped back into commission. While inevitably doing well in the box office, the general consensus is that Iron Man 3 is a weak when compared to Avengers. And as I realized on reflection, the general consensus is right.

There are a number of problems. Plot holes. A lack of conflict, or real obstacles. Political correctness. Tony Stark is never actually the Rescuer, but the Rescued (thus, he’s not really the Hero). At one point there’s an interesting dilemma put to Iron Man, but, predictably enough, he doesn’t have to choose between the two options, because he can do both! No consequences, no risk—no risk, no drama—no drama, no interest—no interest, no satisfaction. It’s all too easy.

Guy Pearce Iron Man 3
Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts; Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian
All that you’ve doubtless read in other critiques. But at the same time, there are some things to be said for it.

Despite its downsides, the main plot twist caught me completely off guard. Robert Downey Jr. is, as ever, great. His character does have a new vulnerability, a tenderness usually hidden under cocky indifference, however, it never morphs into some deeper emotion such as humility, remorse, or love, and never becomes something more than a vague search for identity complete with miniature panic attacks. He's weak, but not weak enough to get real sympathy.

There is a lot of Iron-Man-esque humor, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The bad guy is scarier and more hateable than Loki. (Note to Marvel: do not name supervillains Loki. It sounds like something I’d name my cat.) The special effects are marvelous. To be fair, I can’t compare the film to the other two, as I haven’t seen them.

Rose Hill, NC
But ultimately, the best thing about the movie, and the thing I enjoyed most, is Iron Man’s sudden excursion to Tennessee.

The bad thing about superheroes is they don’t live in the real world. It’s not that they live in a world where the supernatural is real and the blind see and the lame walk and water is turned to wine and the sun stands still. No, that’s not unrealistic. But almost all superhero movies take place in New York City. That’s a different world.

There’s the occasional Gotham, but New York is the predominant setting. NYC, much like Mordor, or the Death Star, certainly exists, but most of us pray we never have to visit it. Okay, okay, I don’t really mean all that—Tim Keller has convinced me NYC isn’t so bad, but all the same, it’s a far cry from what most consider ordinary life. It only throws fuel on the fire of escapism and encourages us to picture the world of adventure as an already glamorous, far-off country with plenty of taxi-cabs to throw around. While it has it’s practicalities in large-scale battles, it gets a little Same-Ol-Same-Ol.

And then, Iron Man lands in Rose Hill, Tennessee. Now there’s nobody more citified than Tony Stark, the smooth, wise-cracking millionaire playboy, and there’s nothing less citified than Tennessee (even if it’s really NC). Bereft of his expensive suit, Stark explores a world completely different from his own, wearing…yes, a baseball cap. He meets a smart-aleck kid who is one of the highlights of the movie. He speaks with people who aren’t beautiful, but very Appalachian. Once again, he is the Rescued, but at least a small-town sheriff is the good guy for the first time since Andy Griffith.

Admittedly, they could have done more with the sequence—added a little more distinctly southern flair—but when compared with movies like Avengers, which takes place in an intensely mechanized, modern, futuristic setting, a return to the real world is a breath of fresh air. And yes, there’s no real reason for this segment of the movie. It doesn’t do much help Iron Man to solve his search for identity (In This Thrilling Episode, Our Hero Has Mid-Life Crisis!) and gives him less screen-time with Pepper, who is supposed to be his central motivation. Still, it was unexpected and unpredictable, which is a good thing. It makes the story much more relatable for the audience in flyover country, and I hope other films take up the precedent. Judging by the early trailers from Man of Steel, this might just be a trend. (EDIT - apparently not.)


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