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Committed: Iron Man 3 – Neither Super Nor Heroic

050813_ironman3_42It is miserable disappointment for me to have to admit that a person who hates sports but loves superhero movies thoroughly enjoyed the superhuman heroism of 42, and was disinterested in the sound and fury of Iron Man 3… But this is probably all my own fault; if I hadn’t seen 42 in the same week as Iron Man 3, maybe it wouldn’t have seemed like such a featherweight.

20 minutes ago I walked out of Iron Man 3, a film about some really great looking middle-aged people and some roboty suit things (and yes, I do know who and what Iron Man is. I read the comic books and I like the character, but that is what I took away from the film). A couple of my favorite actors where in the movie, as well as one of my favorite stunt-women. The explosions were terrific and there were effects. People were yawning a lot when they left, much like Bruce Banner at the end of the film, no one seemed particularly interested or excited. I guess they thought that was all they could expect from a comic book movie. As Aldrich Killian aptly said in the film; “Ever since the guy with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety kind of went out the window.”

050813_42This weekend I also saw 42, a film about someone else who was almost superhumanly strong, skilled, and brave. He and his team changed the world, with his actions and behavior he paved the way us to treat each other with a little more respect. Despite the fact that this was a true story which everyone knew the outcome of, it managed to be maintain tension, and become engaging and exciting in a way which I hadn’t expected. Jackie Robinson was a super hero in every sense of the word and when the lights came up, the dazed, tearful audience spontaneously burst into applause.

I’m a pretty disastrously nerdy person (i.e. I love those clichéd nerdy things like comic books, science fiction, and old movies, and I take absolutely no joy in saying that, since it has been quite inconvenient for most of my life). Unfortunately I compound this nerdiness by  not liking sports at all to watch or participate in (I wish I did, it would have made my childhood much easier, but it never interested me). Despite this, when I went to see 42 it blew my tiny nerd mind. Along with a packed audience (impressive for a film that’s already been out for a couple of weeks) I became completely engaged in the beautiful, inspiring, difficult journey of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Watching them try to play baseball and behave like human beings in the face of so much antagonism and prejudice was heartbreaking. Witnessing him surmount those obstacles and knowing that the fight is ongoing was truly inspirational.

050813_ironman3You get the idea; I love superhero comic books and I hate sports, so I really ought to have enjoyed the superhero movie and been bored by the sports movie. But what I love about superhero comic books are the parts which are super and the parts about heroism. While it was slightly entertaining, Iron Man 3 was neither super nor heroic. Even knowing that Tony Stark is not your average do-gooder, but an ex-alcholic womanizer, I still expect decent writers, directors, and producers to be able to take a team of talented actors and give the audience a certain emotional draw in a film about a damned superhero. The first two films were enjoyable and even if they had an element of disposability about them, there was a depth and a warmth that was strangely absent here, and saying “it’s just a superhero movie” isn’t a good enough excuse.

At 42, at a matinee showing for a two week old movie, the audience was inspired to overtly express their warmth and appreciation. At the evening of an opening week showing of Iron Man 3 (arguably when the film audience is still at it’s most excited), the sparse audience quietly ambled out of the theater, subdued and underwhelmed. This is not why superheroes stories exist. While action is fun, it is not the most important aspect of a superhero movie. Stories about heroes are a way to share our humanity, to inspire and remind us of our potential and our responsibility towards each other. If this is the one thing that we are not getting out of our superhero movies, then they are missing the point entirely.

35 Comments

I think you are nitpicking too much. Also, it is okay to be a nerd and like sports along with many other things in life. And you should never purposely not watch sports or do something to compound your interest in nerdy things.

Richard Bensam

May 8, 2013 at 10:41 am

Funny thing, I also hate sports and have loved many sports movies. I haven’t seen either of these yet so I can’t comment as to the specifics of your critique, but I’m pretty much expecting my reactions to each film to be the same as what you describe here.

More than not being superheroic, IRON MAN 3 explicitly rejects superheroism, and the idea of posthumanism as some kind of improvement on the norm. Ironic, since the Warren Ellis “Extremis” storyline — from which the movie draws its Macguffin — is all about Tony taking the next step to advance his union of flesh and technology.

Jackie Robinson did it without ‘roids, though.

I thought saving all those people falling out the plane when Jarvis said he could only save 4 was pretty heroic.

I am not following what your complaint with Iron Man 3 is beyond “I didn’t like it as much as ’42.’” I’ll admit to not being entirely satisfied with IM3, but I haven’t yet put my finger on why. However, I don’t really get the sense of a post-game breakdown from your article, just a “I liked this but not that.” It’s especially hard to tell if your comparison is fair since one is a biopic about race relations, while the other is a sci-fi/superhero/action film. (I liked “The Empire Strikes Back” better than “The French Connection,” but it’s not fair to compare those films, you know?)

I thought there was plenty of “super”–you had multiple Iron Man suits and Tony’s surprise ally at the end. You had plenty of “heroic”–my takeaway from the film is that they were going for “What happens if you take the Iron away from the man?” To that extent, they carried it out (whether it was good or not is a matter of taste)–Tony had to operate for an extended length of the film without his armor, and the takeaway is that it’s Tony’s mind that makes him who he is.

I think my two big complaints were: 1) once again, we had a shallow villain whose motive was a simple “revenge!” I think. I’d need to watch it again to really figure out what the bag guy’s beef was. And 2) not enough Iron Man. I realize this goes against the apparent premise of the film, but I thought that the movie had too many excuses to get Tony out of the armor or, at the least, without his faceplate. Unfortunately, movies spend too much time getting costumed actors out of their costume to literally give them more facetime, but it kind of disrupts the idea of losing yourself in the story when you realize that it’s silly for the hero to unmask himself so much.

Am I in the minority (probably the wrong word to use when talking about Jackie Robinson and racial tensions) when i say I like, and play sports and have a vast comic and action figure collection? I’ve always felt super weird not really fitting in with either group. when I’m with my athletic friends and what to talk about batman or show them my recently purchased figure they laugh, and when I’m with my nerdy friends and try to talk playoff hockey I cant strike up any sort of conversation. This isn’t a woe is me situation, its just, I’m always surprised to see that people who play sports rarely like nerdy stuff and vice versa. I wish we could all just get along!

Oh and on top of that, I like art too, I’m a photographer, basically I don’t even know who I am, haha.

I am fairly athletic, in that I practice weight-lifting, bycicling, and running at least 5 times a week. But I do match the nerd stereotype in that I hate team sports. I suppose that I’m good at solitary training, but I don’t do well in competition. I also hate watching sports.

Now, for movies, I suppose a good movie is a good movie. The subject doesn’t matter to me anymore. I outgrew the need to watch every sci-fi and superhero movie out there, though I’m still very fond of the genre and I’m extra-pleased when the movie turns out to be good. But I never watched Green Lantern or the Hulk movies, and I suppose I’ll wait for the DVD for this one.

Couldn’t agree more. Really, really disliked IM3.

I haven’t seen Iron Man 3 (or 2, for that matter) but I will say that if the benchmark for a movie is 42, then you are going to not like an awful lot of movies.

Knivesinwest11

May 8, 2013 at 11:28 am

There’s nothing more nerdy than sabermetrics.

I enjoy sports a great deal. A big secret that sports people won’t admit is that they’re all nerds too. Somebody who can sit down and talk about advanced statistics is a nerd.

Anyway, I thought that Iron Man 3 was better than 2 but not as good as 1. It had some pretty snappy dialogue. I don’t know what audience you were in, but they seemed decidedly unenthusiastic for an opening day. It’s not like the audience I was in was flipping out over a great film, but at least they seemed engaged.

I haven’t seen 42. I wasn’t really that interested because I think biopics of that sort create saints rather than show actual humans. I’ll never know what it’s like to have people think of me as less than human, however. We have men like Robinson and many others to thank for that.

I have to agree with Adam. While the point of IM3 was obviously to show more Tony and less Ironman, the writers and director have apparently missed the point: The movie was IRONMAN 3, not TONY STARK 3. Now, they may have had to appease Robert Downey Jr. by giving him less time in the suit, but that’s not why I bought a ticket. I went to see IRONMAN.

Was the story good despite that? Eh. Really. It was an OK story, though I saw the “surprise” ending coming a mile away. And I really hated that the Mandarin was…well, you’ll have to see the movie. But yeah, it was no worse than Spider-Man 3.

That scene where he saves everyone from the crashing plane was the most Super Heroic scene I’ve ever witnessed in all of these comic movies. Those I sat with admitted they teared up.

Your argument is flawed.

You and I clearly saw different IM3 movies. I thought IM3 was plenty superheroic.

my 64-year-old not-remotely-nerdy mum LOVED it and that was the first time she’d been to the cinema since about 1970!

Huh, that’s weird. I teared up a bit during IM3, too. Not for the same reasons though….

As the (Jay Sher)man once said:

If the movie stinks, just don’t go.

I do plan to see 42, BTW.

yeah, superheroes in movies = doesnt work.

I’ve heard 42 is wonderful, but to be honest I don’t see where you’re coming from regarding Iron Man 3. For a superhero movie, I thought IM3 was very much about human beings (all the best superhero movies are). Tony Stark still managed to be a hero despite his very human frailties. He is Iron Man, not the suit.

Hmm… I have thoroughly enjoyed ALL the Iron Man movies.. In fact ever since seeing Thor whilst on a flight to pads time expecting not to enjoy it much as I’d never dug the comic.. I lovedit and the Avengers followed.. One by one iI’ve watched em all.. Usually with my son and we have a great time! This latest wave of Marvel films seems to finally have nailed it IMO.. Apart from that last Spiderman film which I found deeply disappointing….

I usually agree with you Sonia but not this time!

One Love.

Zz.

Les Fontenelle

May 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Here’s a variation of this silly article’s basic argument:

A couple of weeks ago I read both Will Eisner’s “New York: The Big City” and DC’s critically-acclaimed “Batwoman” series. Eisner’s work moved and inspired me, while despite the elaborate layouts “Batwoman” is a pretty soulless book, far less artistically accomplished and inspirational than Eisner’s “Big City”. Pretty page layouts are important but they’re not why comics exist – Eisner’s “Big City” is much better at sharing our humanity, and at inspiring and reminding us of our potential and our responsibility towards each other, than the whole Batwoman series put together. That small anecdotal evidence somehow proves that since one comic isn’t as inspirational as the other, the people who made Batwoman “are missing the point entirely”.

In other breaking news, “The Godfather” is also a better movie than Richard Donner’s “Superman”, with much more to say about the human condition than the adventures of Flying Underwear Man. You heard it here first, folks!

I used to think I hated sports (besides MMA). Then I watched a Clippers game last year, and a Tigers game. I found I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. Now I watch sports and read comics. I’d say you should always give things an honest try, it can’t hurt to try and expand your interests.

Bob from Accounting

May 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

“I have to agree with Adam. While the point of IM3 was obviously to show more Tony and less Ironman, the writers and director have apparently missed the point: The movie was IRONMAN 3, not TONY STARK 3. Now, they may have had to appease Robert Downey Jr. by giving him less time in the suit, but that’s not why I bought a ticket. I went to see IRONMAN.”

Tony Stark is Iron Man, suit or no suit.

Alex,
I’m in the same boat you are. I played baseball and basketball most of my life and still play softball and coach my kid’s baseball team. None of my friends really understand what I see in comics or the collectibles that go along with them.

As for IM3, I was underwhelmed. It felt more like a Lethal Weapon sequel than an Iron Man sequel. The little kid was an awful addition. The movie really needed a new script. I hope this isn’t a trend for the phase 2 movies as I loved all of the phase 1 films.

“Tony Stark is Iron Man, suit or no suit.”

Oh, I don’t disagree with that. My fault with the film is based on knowing too much about movies: again, that the character is taken out of costume for the express purpose of giving the actor more face time. Consider the Spider-Man movies: there were a number of scenes where Tobey McGuire nonsensically unmasked, but it gave him more face time on the screen. (Two that come to mind: fighting the bad guys in the alley when he’s saving Mary Jane, and on the train fighting Doc Ock. I know there was an on-screen explanation: it was raining; his mask was dirty.) Regardless of whether there’s an explanation, it’s so contrary to anything we’d ever seen in comics that it affects the seriousness of the moment.

I don’t know–maybe my problem with IM3 is that it tries to have its cake and eat it too: Tony is Iron Man even without the armor, yet he saves the day in two critical scenes (Air Force one and the big battle at the end) in armor. Worse–well, I don’t want to spoil the Air Force one scene, but the revelation after he saves the day kind of ruined the heroism of the moment, as it revealed that Tony was never in harm’s way.

In a way, it’s almost a shame that they can’t do “Demon in a Bottle” in the films. I get why they can’t: because an alcoholic superhero doesn’t quite work in the Disney-owned era. However, there was a triumphant heroism in the later parts of DIAB (around Iron Man #180-200) where Tony loses the company and has to rebuild it from the ground up, armor included. The “house party” at the end of the film was fun, but it could have been deeper if we’d seen Tony recreating something like the clunky scrap pile from the cave in Afghanistan and saving the day in that. That way, he’s still in the armor, but he’s also proving that he can build himself up from nothing, just like before.

This discussion reminds me of an interview I recently heard again on NPR that the late Roger Ebert did with Martin Scorsese. They were talking about “Raging Bull,” and Scorsese said he had never seen a boxing match in his life before he started filming “Raging Bull.” All he knew about boxing was that his dad like to watch it. The point being that boxing was merely the backdrop to the story he wanted to tell.

The following is an excerpt of the interview. Ebert’s thoughts on the matter are unedited, but I took out many of Scorsese’s interjections of agreement:

EBERT: What I feel so strongly in talking to people about movies, frequently people will – they know I’m a movie critic – they will discuss the subject matter as if that is what the film is about. Oh, it’s a film about boxing. Or, oh, it’s a film about gangsters. Or whatever. You know, like when they hear what “Breaking the Waves” is about. Oh, I don’t know if I want to see it. A film is not about its subject. It’s about how its about its subject. A subject is neutral. People don’t understand that. When people say, whenever anybody makes a statement, I don’t like to go to movies about and then fill in the blank … my response is, anyone who makes that statement is an idiot.

SCORSESE: No, its true. It’s true. It’s true.

EBERT: I don’t want to go to bad films about cowboys. I don’t want to go to bad films about boxers. I would like to see a good film about a boxer might be a more intelligent statement.

(SOURCE: http://m.npr.org/news/Arts+%26+Life/176339792)

There’s a certain irony to it all given how many times we as fans of superhero comics have had to convince a non-reader that there really are good superhero stories that have been written. Or when that same non-reader assumes, because you like superhero comics, you must be a fan of the “Daredevil” movie or you must’ve watched “Smallville.” And god forbid, you’re a comic book fan who doesn’t even read superhero titles (what are those?). That’s a distinction even fellow comic readers have trouble with.

I think we all have those personal blanket assumptions that can pop up from time to time. It’s a good reminder how useless descriptors like “nerd” and “geek” are—even if they’re ones we self-identify with—given how individualized those tastes can be.

There was plenty of super and heroics in the film. Tony in this film is actually more heroic than in the previous two films, to the extent he is almost seeking self sacrifice. I don’t really get the complaint about Iron Man 3 from this article. This is also the most human we have ever seen Tony Stark on film. His strength in the film is based on his humanity, as he has to overcome his PTSD as well as rely on his simple talents and ingenuity in the film. I think people were quiet when they left the theater due to the surprise of Banner and Stark scene. They were probably expecting something related to the another film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

@Adam
SPOILERS -
On the big bad’s intentions: The big bad was trying to take over the world. He had the would be President and the world’s greatest terrorist in his hands. That’s why he was going to kill the President. In his hubris, he wanted it to be a big display. When Tony and Rhodes arrive, he lets his pride get the best of him and focuses on Tony. He states these intentions fairly clear in the movie.

On too much Tony Stark as opposed to Iron Man: I don’t think there is any exact ratio of how much superhero we should get as opposed to alter ego, but the point in the film is to show that Tony Stark is a hero without the suit. It shows his ability to risk his life for the sake of heroism. To take the hero to the lowest point, let him rebuild himself from nothing throughout the movie, rather than at the end. I don’t think it has to do with more screen time for Robert Downey Jr.

They are certain instances of heroism that require the armor; that doesn’t invalidate his ability to fight without it. The heroism of the Airforce One scene was because he idealistically wanted to save all of them. He also used his mind and ingenuity in a way only Iron Man can. But he needs the armor to do things normal humans can’t. It’s the way he uses it that makes him uniquely Iron Man.

On the taking off the mask: I imagine the taking off the mask is more of a director’s choice. They usually want to convey emotion that the only the actor can convey. In comics, you could probably use a thought bubble or caption. For a director, they can’t use these techniques and they also don’t convey the same emotion on screen. Tony Stark also doesn’t have a secret identity, so that also take away from his need to hide his face for that reason.

I enjoyed IM3 a lot. The simple fact is that Tony Stark is a dick. We know it. He knows it. He’s a dick who’s trying to be a better man. That’s been the theme running through all three IM films and the Avengers film. Captain America, a selfless and heroic man, even called Tony out about being a selfish dick. So he’s a selfish dick, not a hero. His main nemesis in IM3 is a result of him being an utter prick. Who knows how Killian would have ended up if Stark had treated him nicely and with respect? Killian might have become a force for good if Tony’s dickness hadn’t come into play.
However this selfish dick, who probably has more in common with 99% of the population than Captain America, finds himself in a position throughout these films where he acts in a heroic fashion. Sometimes it’s for purely selfish reasons, but there were plenty of selfless reasons as well throughout IM3 like catching the falling people, helping the kid, trying to get innocent bystanders out of the way during the fights etc.
Comparing a flawed character like Stark to a generic ” underdog sports hero” is pointless. These Rocky-like characters are designed to inspire, but ultimately are not believable. I’ll take the flawed Stark over one of those characters anytime.

@Jay–

Yeah, I get that–I distinctly remember who the villain was working with at the White House and talking about controlling both the President and the Mandarin. I’m talking more broadly about the whole “I’m mad because Tony Stark didn’t meet me on a rooftop on New Year’s Eve.” I’m sure there’s a larger plot there that might come together if I watch the flm a second time. (Admittedly, I had to excuse myself twice during the film, so maybe I missed something.) The fact that it didn’t stick with me suggests that it either wasn’t clear or wasn’t memorable.

Entirely disagreed about Iron Man 3. (Haven’t seen 42; assume it is excellent and inspiring and such)

As has been mentioned, this was largely about what Tony can accomplish even when separated from everything. His house blown up, his armor out of commission, his girlfriend kidnapped… but he is still a hero.

Calls back to many of the best superhero stories, notably Born Again. The villain robs the hero of everything, but the hero overcomes.

I think Iron Man 3 was far superior to the somewhat muddled Iron Man 2, and made for a better action movie than the first Iron Man, which fizzled a bit at the climax, though the first movie had the stronger character arc.

I don’t think that Stark snubbing Killian on that rooftop sent Killian on a path of revenge. I think it helped Killian decide on his course of action. That’s what I think he was saying towards the end of the movie anyway. Besides, he needed Stark to fix the inherent instability of Extremis.

“The first two films were enjoyable and even if they had an element of disposability about them, there was a depth and a warmth that was strangely absent here[...]”

Agreed.

Comic-Reader Lad

May 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Iron Man 3 was flat for me. B- at best. More like a C+.

It was just more Robert Downey Jr. riffing his way through a movie. Not the comic book Tony Stark at all. How did Tony get to be an action hero all of a sudden? Some scenes felt like outtakes from a Lethal Weapon sequel.

Felt really deflated after seeing this.

I agree with you. Not much super heroics in IM3. Ok, he saves the people falling from the plane but what was the purpose of showing the bad guy killing the whole security team first ?
Too much dead for me in a non-rated movie and not enough work on the psychologie of the characters.
It is a “search and destroy” movie.
Quite disappointed, idem for my wife (who loved IM1 and Avengers).

Joe V – You’ve articulated a point I’ve been trying to make for years about medium vs. genre in such an elegant way (I heard the same Ebert piece and that particular part caught my attention as well), I’d love to base a blog post on it at some point. Nicely said.

The Iron man films have been the weakest of the Marvel films precisely because they are being made by “talents” who hate the material. It is BLINDINGLY obvious that Robert Downey Jr hates being Iron Man and would have be starring in a film called TONY STARK: ADVENTURER. The reason Stark revealed his secret identity in the first film is because by doing so, it simply removed another reason for Downey to be in the suit.

This was the constant bane of live action Superhero TV adaptions in the 70s that Comic fans loathed during that decade be it THE INCREDIBLE HULK or SPIDERMAN or WONDER WOMAN on CBS. Basically it was how little could the titular character of the program could have their screen time reduced. There were no super villains. Just boring guys in business suits.

So we have in 3, the Adventures of Tony Stark. The Mandarin turned into an actor in camos named Trever and a bunch of guys in business suits.

70s TV superheoes with a budget.

And remarkably modern fans….apparently willing to be kicked in the groin by the comic book haters in the “artistic” community, as long as they get invited to the cool parties simply do not care.

IRON MAN 3 STINKS because they finally decided to purge the movie of any connection to the source material.

And why not?

The fans of comic books are ashamed of Comic books.
Those who make the books loathe the characters.
So why shouldn’t Hollywood just agree with them?

In an ideal world, Downey would be canned, Stark recast and the Mandarin brought back as a real character.

I would settle for no more Iron Man films though. That well has been poisoned and he is not needed anymore.

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