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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Marvel Universe – Iron Man 3

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Iron Man 3:

Final Thoughts on Iron Man 3:

Colin:

I’m still drained from last week’s marathon wrap-up I wrote for The Avengers. Let’s keep this more concise.

I didn’t like this movie, and it’s a more proactive kind of dislike than I had expected before going back to watch this. I think a lot of it is that built-up expectation that this is supposed to be vastly superior to Iron Man 2, and in many ways, better than the original film. Those of you who think I’m overblown — the majority of mass-media rankings consistently place Iron Man 2 low (or last) on the list of Marvel movies since 2008, and Iron Man 3 comes higher. I tend to look at rankings on sites like MTV, Vox, or Daily Beast, because most of America doesn’t read film blogs. Still, even Rotten Tomatoes has it at 72 percent vs. 79 percent, in favor of the third movie.

A Hollywood statistician gave four reasons why the third movie did so much better at the box office. I would like to answer all four reasons.

“Modest superheroes work best.” False. Tony Stark’s arrogance is the only thing he’s got going for him, and while you can mess with it a bit, you can’t remove it entirely. There’s also a difference between modesty and panic attacks, if you crack open your DSM-V. Saying that Tony was “too arrogant” in the second movie is missing the point that we want Tony to be arrogant, even to a fault. The second movie showed him his own mortality (however clumsily) and had him struggle with it by doubling down on the arrogance. The truth is that for the majority of this movie, I was aware that the character I enjoyed from the first two films had been replaced with a caricature who does the occasional one-liner. There was less ad-libbing, and the devil-may-care attitude that defined him even to the end of The Avengers was gone. The addition of the child was a horrible idea, especially because he was one of those “types” of kids. How about Tony deals with his issues by viewing himself through the eyes of an average kid, and not the 10-year-old wisecrack who happens to build potato guns in his barn workshop?

“Superhero fight scenes have to be believable.” The negative example cited was that Mickey Rourke was hit by Tony’s Rolls Royce multiple times and wasn’t killed or injured sufficiently to stop him. Sorry, were you going to make the case that Iron Man 3 was awash with realistic fights? Fire breathing, jumping into suits in mid-air, Gwyneth Paltrow learning to do flying spin kicks from being injected with a virus? Are you REALLY going to make the case that Iron Man 3 did well at the box office because its fights were plausible?

“So do origin stories.” Origin stories have to be plausible, I’ll agree with that. But to say that Ivan Vanko is a less believable origin story than Aldrich Killian is absurd. I’m not going to defend Vanko in general, but let’s recap: his father was one of Howard Stark’s collaborators, tried to use their tech for personal gain and was deported. The genius son, Tony’s counterpart, is out for the revenge his father always wanted and uses the technology they developed together to become a sort of twisted doppelganger. Not great, but compare it to the guy who gets shut down after trying to cockblock a legend, who was drunk, on New Year’s Eve, 1999. “Gosh, he blew me off and humiliated me when I presumed to cockblock him at a private party during the least appropriate time for an impromptu and unwanted business meeting in at least a century!” GUESS I’LL PLOT WORLD DOMINATION! Are you shitting me? There are so many ways that you can write this better, but you can’t tell me that there’s something else going on behind the scenes with Killian because there’s literally nothing else presented during the interim years to explain why he went from a sniveling nobody to a ruthless, superhuman terrorist. Are we supposed to believe he was wronged by that petty prank to the point that any of his motivations make sense? This had nothing to do with the actual story of The Mandarin, and more closely resembles Jamie Foxx’s character from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, going to show that Marvel has a very small bag of tricks. Seriously, a contender for the lamest villain backstory since Die Another Day.

“The Avengers effect.” You’re telling us that this movie made more money because it follows The Avengers, and that’s supposed to fit in with the rest of your reasons? No, this is THE reason it made more money, and the other three were your justification for having a list. Take a quick look at the numbers and you’ll find that Iron Man 2 was the last Marvel movie to make more than 50 percent of its international gross in America. Since then, the scales have tipped pretty far in the other direction, with The Avengers making 59 percent abroad. In fact, I’d be willing to bet part (if not all) of the reason why The Mandarin wasn’t actually Chinese like he was in the comics is because Marvel pulled in $86 million on The Avengers in China and wound up bringing home $121 million on Iron Man 3. For comparison, Iron Man 2 did $8 million in China. So yes, in terms of box office, The Avengers was all the advertising necessary to ensure a success for this movie. But swollen foreign box office numbers are no guarantee of quality when it comes to film, and I think you could easily argue instead that they point to formulaic stories and instantly-gratifying visuals.

This is not turning out as concise as I’d planned. Anyway, that was all about the statistician’s reasoning about why Iron Man 3 outperformed Iron Man 2, and the qualitative arguments are all thin. We like asshole Tony, not nervous wreck Tony — you can have a deep and conflicted character without gutting everything we love about him for the duration of the film. The fights and action are getting progressively less plausible, not more plausible, and even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not sure that realism or plausibility are even on the table for consideration at this point. Once you have invisible helicarriers, “believability” is either all relative or out the window. The origin story of the villain is laughable at best, and seriously problematic for much of the movie. I have a theory on that.

Marvel has really shat the reveal bed. How many times during this movie did we witness a reveal that was only for the benefit of a character on screen or anyone who’d been battling Taco Bell in the bathroom for the previous 25 minutes? Beyond that, how clumsy can you get with your setups? When you cut randomly to the vice president seeing something out of nowhere and then immediately go to the president without saying anything, we know what’s coming. You can either work in the VP so he’s not conspicuously identified just once, or you can leave him out. I say put him in more. The whole “when is a bomb not a bomb” stuff isn’t interesting for us because we’ve just seen it. Now you’re making us watch him use CGI holograms to piece together something we just watched ourselves. How about giving him some other evidence and have him figure it out while Happy’s trailing the guy to build some real tension and some proper anguish when he’s not fast enough to save his friend? But no, we get to see everything, and then one of the characters (either Pepper or Rhodey) gets to be the person going, “What? Are you sure?” Seriously, go back and check. There are like four instances of one of them getting a reveal that we’ve already been aware of for like 20 minutes, and saying something like, “Seriously?” “Your boss works for The Mandarin?” “AIM?” “The vice president?” Guys, we’re right here watching. But back to the origin story — we can’t have a great origin story for The Mandarin because we’re not supposed to know that he’s the villain for a lot of the movie. They give us Ben Kingsley as a decoy, even though they make it pretty obvious that Killian’s the guy, and the fact that Killian isn’t supposed to be the main villain prevents us from having a much better backstory. If they were to give us one, that would ruin the…”surprise.”

I really don’t get the henchmen in this at all. I brought it up in the articles, but why are former servicemen and women betraying their country and participating in the assassination of a sitting president? They’re wounded veterans, not seasoned terrorists. Are they brainwashed? Was there a Faustian deal made about restoring their lost limbs, and if so, what are you saying about America’s wounded veterans? I’m sure they’re not trying to make any points with this — I’d just love to know how and why these people went from soldiers willing to sacrifice anything for their country to grade-A terrorists. I’m also still not sure sure what Killian’s goal was. Was he trying to control the soon-to-be president? If so, to what ends? Is he going to perfect Extremis and give it to everyone? Does he want more contracts for his company? Is it just revenge, but also the I-now-run-the-president gotcha? If you tell me that I must not have paid close enough attention, I submit that this is a movie intended for children that we watched frame by frame. It’s this new thing called “do better.”

They really fucked up Ben Kingsley, which should be a punishable offense.

Can you give me something else to go on other than this imagined PTSD from the events of The Avengers? He didn’t seem super phased at the end of that movie, so if that’s no good, you could always come up with something new at the beginning of this movie, like my suggestion of him being at least partially responsible for Happy’s being blown up. And don’t make his issue so soul-crushingly debilitating. “Dark” should not be the word to describe every good superhero movie. The first one wasn’t dark, it was snarky, and it worked out pretty well. I said after the first sequel that it wasn’t all bad because even though they milked it, there was a lower bound of likability that Downey never sunk below — we pretty much always had him as a great character, so that made things at least tolerable.

I’m going to say that while Iron Man 2 had some massive plot issues, it had the semblance of a story that worked. As Mike put it in our final thoughts, it was “a decent enough misfire.” We had a weak but understandable villain, a secondary villain getting manipulated, the friend and the girlfriend both on the rocks, and he’s still the asshole through it all. Here, I don’t know who we’re supposed to care about or why. He’s friends with Rhodey and good with Pepper, though they’re both worried about Tony, who we’re TOLD isn’t sleeping. The one night stand turns out to be an informant who then turns out to be a bad guy who then finds her conscience and dies, so…I’m just abstaining from opinion on that mess. We have a president. Okay. The VP seems to be motivated by his daughter’s missing leg, but he’s not shown to be remorseful, apprehensive, confident, or any other things. It’s literally just, “Ah, his daughter has no leg. Extremis can potentially fix that if it doesn’t make her explode.” Let’s not waste any time examining the dynamic between Killian and the VP or the complex emotions you might have about forgoing a simple prosthetic limb — or even a super-advanced one made by Tony — for your daughter and instead colluding with the head of a think tank to murder the president in exchange for an unapproved viral remedy. Like, I question all of this, and Marvel devotes five seconds to a shot of the VP kissing his one-legged daughter. That’s not minimalist, that’s lazy as fuck.

I’ve gotten to the point of rambling again. Notice how I’ve stopped talking about the acting as of like….five movies ago? I like Downey. I’m okay with Cheadle. Pearce had some good faces. Everyone else, including and especially that kid, can go to hell. I leave Ben Kingsley out of this because I’m trying to forget he was involved.

So in conclusion, this movie was worse than Iron Man 2. That movie had faceless drones blowing up Flushing and attempting to kill children. This had a Home Alone moment of a child thwarting a gun-toting superhuman soldier with a snow ball. That movie featured Mickey Rourke knocking out a prison inmate and then incinerating his corpse with plastic explosives. This movie has Tony Stark hyperventilating with a Dora the Explorer watch. That movie had Sam Rockwell dancing. This movie has Gwyneth Paltrow doing a flying kick through a man.

Man, I wrote a lot again. Ugh.

Not a good movie. Don’t talk to me about this movie.

My Final Thoughts:

I’m in a weird place with this one, because, like I said — I like this movie. I understand and acknowledge that it’s a piece of shit. But I do enjoy it. I’m someone who doesn’t really like Marvel. In context, I can appreciate parts of it, but overall, I don’t care about almost all of it. Marvel, to me, has about the same ratio (maybe slightly better) than Woody Allen movies. I appreciate what they are and understand why people like them, but when you get down to it, there’s really only a certain percentage that I even like and an even smaller percentage that I’d even want to go back and watch.

When people attack this movie, I get it. But to me — certainly not gonna go back and watch the Hulk movies, Thor I appreciate but would never go back and want to watch. Iron Man 2 I think is just a boring movie. This one at least has the Shane Black-isms, and has a lot of humor thrown in, and has some action sequences that I like enough in theory to pretend are better. To me, this movie is a more fun viewing experience than a lot of other Marvel movies.

But at the same time, it’s a terrible movie. It’s horribly written, there is no character development, and there’s really no rhyme or reason why anything happens. I think they had a good idea to start with, and then it either got overdeveloped, or they tried to hard to fit the formula and that killed it.

I like that they decided to focus on Tony and not on the universe. That was a good start. But you didn’t really tell a Tony story worth telling. He has no real arc, and you make it, again, that the villains are people he created in his past. Though they never amount to much and their motivations are even less than Mickey Rourke’s were. Which is saying something. Pepper has no real reason to be in this movie, and her turning into a fire person is one of the worst things about it. Rebecca Hall really serves no purpose other than to get our hero to meet our villain again. She gets some nice back-and-forth with the two of them (mostly him), but otherwise, is a wasted character.

Most of the characters are wasted. Think of the Mandarin. I imagine comics people, who grew up with these characters, who were patiently awaiting the introduction of Tony Stark’s greatest nemesis, the Red Skull to his Captain America, were pissed when they saw Ben Kingsley and went, “Oh my god, this could be amazing,” and then had the rug pulled out from under them; “Nope! Just a fake. It was the white guy all along!” I don’t feel one way or the other about it, since I do enjoy Ben Kingsley getting to play so over the top and ridiculous. But on the other hand, it’s kind of a huge cop out, that ruins any momentum your villain had.

I said it during Part V, which is when I realized it for the first time — the Mark 42 suit actually has better character development than every character in this movie, including Tony Stark. Think about that. And Tony’s development is your basic form of character arc for a three-act story: he is broken, and he needs to be fixed. The problem is, we don’t want Tony to be broken. And if we do, we don’t want him having panic attacks and not being an asshole who is smarter than everyone else. He really should have been struggling with being Iron Man and relying on the suits, rather than just making them because it’s the only thing that can keep him from freaking out. I really loved Colin’s idea that the finale should have come down to him and the one suit, and he had to metaphorically let it go and use it to destroy the villain, ultimately proving to himself that he can live without it and move on from it, thereby not having it be a crutch for him. And you could even go one step further and take the stuff out of his chest. This way, I don’t really get what it was about. He’s still fucked up from almost dying in space and then almost dies on earth and just sort of decides, “Okay, I’m good.” Doesn’t work for me.

It’s weird — it’s almost as if Marvel doesn’t know how to tell a story that’s not part of a shared universe. Think about it — the first Iron Man, they were writing as they shot it, essentially. And even there, they tacked on an ending that hinted at a larger world. And since then, they’ve been focused on linking everything together. And now, when they decided not to do that and focus solely on Tony, they can’t tell a coherent story. I don’t know if it’s because the only formula they know involves other superheroes, or as I said before, this movie just got developed to death. Because in theory, a lot of the progressions here do work. I think the weak villain, the reveal, and the ending are what ruin it from actually being good.

This is the kind of movie — and I think this is what Colin is getting at — there are dumb fun moments here designed to appeal to people not thinking super hard and who want basic mindless entertainment. And a lot of the time, that’s what we hate, when movies settle for mindless entertainment without really getting under the surface and elaborating on all the good stuff they can get into. But in this case, because it’s Marvel, and because there are enough dumb jokes and moments of him having Shane Black dialogue with a child, I’m okay with that. Weirdly. I hate the idea of a child in this movie, but as I watch him and the child, on a base level, for whatever reason, I can watch that and not hate it. My brain is telling me this is bad storytelling, but as I watch, I can actually derive enough out of it to where I can honestly say I don’t dislike this as much as some of the other Marvel movies out there.

I think the key to this movie is at the end, how the movie wraps up its Extremis storyline. Pepper goes, “Now what?” Because she’s now a fire person. And Tony goes, “Ehh, I almost fixed this 20 years ago when I was drunk, I’m sure I can figure it out.” Now, on a sheer enjoyment level, that’s funny. Because that’s his character. “I’m a genius who can solve huge problems when I’m drunk like they’re nothing.” That’s great, and we don’t see enough of it. But on any level of actual rational thought, you have to be thinking, “Are you seriously gonna take all of that and turn it into a single line fix?” She had to go through sheer agony, the idea of whether or not this was gonna take and she’d die right there, falling to a fiery almost-death, and then coming back as a weird fire person and suit puncher with random karate skills (most of which we never saw, admittedly, but was part of the process), and then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I got this. Don’t worry about it.” And then later, they say, “I tinkered with her, I got her sorted out,” and it’s never explained again, and then from then on out, she’s just a regular person again and the Extremis thing is either gone or stabilized (it’s never specified which). And then we never see Pepper again in the franchise, possibly ever (since she’s not in Avengers 2, and given that Tony probably won’t have another movie to himself in the Downey iteration, it seems unlikely they’d randomly bring her back). So we’ll never know.

So the key to this movie, I think, is how you react to that line. Because it’s terrible storytelling, and should infuriate most people. But, if, on a sheer entertainment level, you can understand and enjoy the part of it that says, “Well, I almost had it when I was drunk, so we’re fine,” then you see exactly how I can still enjoy this movie despite (and while acknowledging) all that.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start Thor: The Dark World.

(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)

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