I’m going to keep this short and sweet so that I don’t waste too much of your time before you go buy your tickets for Iron Man 3, which opens today.
I suspect that people who hate fun and routinely miss the point will say things like “I’ve seen this before.” And my response to that is yes, you probably have. Pop culture is mostly repetition. Shakespeare was ripping off contemporaries for material hundreds of years ago and now movie remakes are like catnip for major film studios. When it comes to something like Iron Man and the Avengers, though, there’s something more important than that plot and those villains you’ve already seen: fun.
No one has ever enjoyed being a superhero as much as Robert Downey Jr. Every line he’s spoken in every Marvel film he’s appeared in has been one more victory lap celebrating the fact that people are paying him titanic amounts of money to be Iron Man. Even when this movie starts, with Tony Stark suffering the emotional fallout of the battle against the alien horde of New York in the Avengers, the one-liners and the gut laughs come rapid-fire while Tony has panic attacks and hangs out in a giant wine cellar instead of being with the love of his life, Pepper Potts. The movie has the potential to fall off into melodrama and maybe teeters on the edge sometimes, but it’s just so much fun watching Iron Man that it never really bothered me.
It is true that the villain situation in this film has so many twists it smacks a bit of desperation and rehashes the same topics regarding terrorism that Tony Stark is basically a specialist in at this point. But that’s also the case with more or less every other superhero franchise ever made. It’s the natural progression of (1) Origin Story, (2) Growing Pains, (3) Greatest Hits Plus a Minimum of Three Bad Guys. The difference between this and say, the Toby Maguire Spiderman films, which showcase the exact same progression, is that Spiderman 3 was crowded, confusing, and decidedly not fun. Iron Man 3 makes more sense, is more streamlined, and features Stark finding new ways to use his Iron Man suits. While Spidey had to rely on the same old fling-and-swing he’d been using the whole time, Stark has a scene where he fights a troop of bad guys with just one hand repulsor and one foot repulsor. Spoiler alert: it’s awesome. And I won’t get into the details of the big finale but to say that it’s ridiculous, exciting, and fun.
I overused the word “fun” in my Avengers review as well, but it’s an important distinction for this franchise. What’s making Marvel’s empire so successful is the fact that rather than trying to heap too much meaning or gravitas on any of these pretty straightforward stories, they just plain figured out how to put the joy, fun, and action of comic books on screen. And they’re sticking to their guns. Am I pretty sure the upcoming Thor and Captain America films will be more of the same? Yup. Do I care? Nope. I’ll still see them all because when I get a ticket for any of them I’m agreeing to go along with the outrageous comic book POW!s and ZOINK!s and the fact is that no one has done BLAMMO! the way Marvel is doing it.