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I look forward to the time when the first big blockbuster movie of the summer doesn’t feature a comic book character. I love comic books. I grew up reading them. They lend themselves to the big screen, with fantastic heroes performing miraculous rescues, and CGI technology has progressed to the point where what was once amazing is now almost mundane.
When I was in sixth grade, “Jurassic Park” revolutionized computer graphics and I was terrified and thrilled at the sight of dinosaurs that moved and behaved like real animals. I haven’t had a “Jurassic Park” moment in years. To quote an Internet joke: Now I can almost always tell when movies don’t use real dinosaurs. Special effects just aren’t that special anymore. So the summer of big movies begins with “Iron Man 3, “a whiz-bang action flick with exploding people and flying suits of armor and I enjoy it, hoping to hear shrieks of delight from my 11-year-old self and hearing only the rustle of candy wrappers.
After the Battle of New York in “The Avengers, “Tony Stark is a different man. Beneath his egotistical sarcasm lies a wounded, scared man who hides in his basement creating suits of armor, hiding from the world. Of the three “Iron Man” movies, this one has the least amount of Iron Man. At the core of the film is the damage done to Tony’s psyche after his near death experience in “The Avengers.” It’s the first time a superhero film has shown a hero suffering from panic attacks. It makes sense—everything Tony thought about the world was turned upside down in “The Avengers” and allowing him to relive the horrors of that day shows an amount of continuity never seen before in a series like this.
Most superhero films ignore the actions of the previous in order to focus on a new story. This is the first superhero movie to explore the ramifications of the havoc wreaked in an entirely different franchise. Most of the story is predictable comic book fare, but I admire Marvel for extending their one universe continuity from the comics to the films. If only 20th Century Fox would allow the X-Men characters to join the world they were created for, we’d have a real shot at geek heaven.
The film is well made, as most of the recent Marvel outings have been. The villains in the “Iron Man” movies have been acted by notable people, from Jeff Bridges to Ben Kingsley, and all have been more or less effective, although none have really had the personality to compete with Robert Downey Jr. in the part he was born to play. Still, if “Iron Man 2” was a watered-down version of “Iron Man,” then “3” continues in that direction. Part of it may be that this is the first film post-“Avengers” and Iron Man’s metal suit doesn’t seem as powerful in a universe shared by the Hulk and Thor. But we also get the impression that Tony Stark is capable of much more than a few suits of armor, and the audience is waiting for him to take that next step. After the success of “The Avengers,” a solitary movie about one of the heroes is harder to swallow on the screen than it is in print. We all want to know why Captain America isn’t dispatched along with Iron Patriot or where Black Widow and Hawkeye are hiding. Comic books can get around this because the medium itself is more episodic and the expectations are lower.
The “Iron Man” saga is complete, save for a likely reboot a few years down the road, and is as good a trilogy as it could have been. It shows off some special effects and sets up the future “Avengers” movies, which was its purpose. Therein lies the issue with the cross-character, individual films. They seem like obligations rather than necessary movies, just bumps in the road towards the destination. As they continue to be successful, the goal posts get moved and it feels like we’ll never get to the end. If I had to choose, I’d rather have one great film than seven decent ones. “Iron Man 3” is good enough, but I’d like to have something more memorable.