Here’s what I wrote the day before I saw Iron Man 3:
Iron Man was the first of the current crop of Marvel films, and the first really successful comic film since the X-Men franchise (which at that stage had sputtered out with the third installment and was yet to be revitalised by First Class). And it had good cause to be – it featured a well-executed origin story, awesome robot effects and perfect casting in Robert Downey Jr*.
…AND HE’S ALL ‘PEW PEW PEW’ AND THEN A TANK EXPLODES!
It petered out towards the end, though – you get the cool origin/escape sequence, then a developing-the-Iron-Man-suit-for-reals montage, and then some action, which I was only ever able to describe to others as “AND THEN IRON MAN’S LIKE ‘WHOOSH’ AND THIS GUY RUNS UP AND IRON MAN GOES ‘ZARK’ AND BLASTS HIM AND THEN SOME OTHER GUYS ARE THERE AND HE’S ALL ‘PEW PEW PEW’ AND THEN A TANK EXPLODES!” Given that that bit happened two thirds of the way through, I was expecting something even better for the climax, and I was disappointed – two guys in robot suits beating on each other sounds awesome on paper, but there just weren’t any of the cool moments of the kind that we’d seen earlier.
Then Iron Man 2 came along and was an unfortunate step backwards. No character-defining origin material, just some angst over whether or not his suit is killing him (which gets resolved by a bit of physics-defying hand waving, as he invents a new power source that runs on MacGuffinonium or something). And again, the action scenes let me down. I remember that there was a confrontation with Whiplash at the start – something to do with chopping up race cars – but I’m buggered if it made any impression on me. What I do remember is the final sequence, where we have Iron Man and War Machine facing off against a small army of robot drones, which was very cool for about two minutes, until the effects budget visibly ran out and Iron Man zaps all of the bad robots at once with a single shot. And then there’s another fight with a guy in a big robot suit, just like the end of the first film – again, I can remember almost nothing about it, apart from a misplaced gag where the foreshadowed super awesome mini missile that War Machine launches at the bad guy turns out to be rubbish because ha ha, Sam Rockwell’s character is a dick and his tech is shit!
The stakes were raised by the Avengers film coming out in between 2 and 3. That film showed that you can do it right – at no point in that one did I ever feel let down by the action. So I’m going into Iron Man 3 wondering which way will it go – will it underwhelm again, or will it deliver on all that it promises?
And here’s what I wrote the day after:
OK, first of all: fuck 3D. Fuck it selfishly, ignoring its physical and emotional needs. Fuck it in a non-sex-positive manner. I’ve never seen a film that was made better by the addition of a third dimension – half an hour in and I don’t even notice any 3D effects, just the eye-strain and distracting reflections off the glasses. Until such time as cinema is reinvented to make 3D an integral part of the experience (and I have no idea how that might be done, if it’s even possible) it will remain nothing more than a gimmick designed to make us shell out a few extra bucks for our movie ticket. Anyway.
Does Iron Man 3 deliver? Weeeelllll… no. Look, it’s a good film – possibly the best of the three. The characters are believable, the dialog is excellent**, the plot is not overly silly for a comic book film, but where the fuck are my awesome fucking robot fights?!
This film goes the The Suit Isn’t What Makes You a Hero, Tony Stark route (with a detour through The Man Is More Important Than The Iron, Tony Stark), which means he spends most of the film not even in the Iron Man suit, dealing with guilt and processing issues and so on. And sure, he’s witty and clever and gets into and out of a few scrapes using his wits and his cleverness, but when it comes down to kick-ass, power-suited action, it’s still a bit lacking.
I don’t want to be too spoilery, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that a whole squadron of Iron Man suits eventually comes into play. This is the climactic action sequence of the film, with Iron Men of all descriptions zooming around and battling the bad guys, but it all takes place in the background – it’s just the backdrop to Tony Stark having it out with the final boss. There are some great action moments, but that’s all they are: isolated moments – things that, thinking back on them, were really clever and/or awesome, but at the time they go by so fast they barely register.
So, just, fuck, I dunno. Maybe it’s me? Maybe my expectations are just out of whack with what the series has been trying to do all along? Maybe I need to get over my need for hot bot-on-bot action and just accept what is otherwise a very worthwhile franchise as it is?
I tell you, though: if Pacific Rim isn’t wall-to-wall robot punching none of you will ever hear the end of it.
*Apparently, when Stan Lee created Iron Man, he was setting himself a challenge: this was the 70s, during the Vietnam War and counter cultural protests, so he wanted to see if he could get comic book fans to like a filthy rich weapons dealer who fights in Vietnam. Even though the films were moved forwards to the current era, they still had the problem of how to make this smarmy rich prick likeable – and they succeeded, largely due to Robert Downey Jr’s acting.
**Almost to a fault – coming from the director of The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you’d expect the dialogue to be cracking, but with every single bit part character and henchman throwing out one-liners and rapid-fire quips, the film starts to feel like an episode of Gilmore Girls at times.