The world of the superhero movie is kind of a strange one. In a world where comic book fans were once openly mocked, their precious intellectual properties have become the stuff of summer blockbusters. It can’t just be the long time fans of comic books showing up to the theatre. Iron Man 3, the latest entry in the franchise, is looking to break records in its first weekend of release. That means the mockers, the people who scoffed at that kid in the Iron Man hoodie, are showing up in droves to watch these films. Without trying to figure out why this is so, which the stuff of thesis papers, it does raise the interesting question of how a studio crafts a movie that will appease both the existing comic book fan and the more general audience that probably assumes that the Mandarin most likely peddles in oranges.
The money behind Iron Man 3 approached this conundrum by hiring Shane Black, the mind behind such films as “Lethal Weapon”, “The Monster Squad”, and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. Black has a reputation for fun movies with snappy dialogue so the jump to Iron Man and Tony Stark, the king of witty comebacks, seemed a natural fit, and for the most part it is. The portions of the film that linger with its characters, wether it be Tony Stark and Jarvis, or Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, work impressively well. Much like Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” the interactions between characters is fast paced, informational, and, most of all, entertaining.
The problem, though, is that the film isn’t really given much time to spend with these characters. The film has the making of a great Shane Black film, but then an Iron Man picture breaks out. The action scenes all seem one step above stock footage and generally forced and out of place. When you are introduced to a post-alien invasion Tony Stark that suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you kind of have to stick with that. Black and the studio seem to want it both ways here: a darker Shane Black movie and a vibrant, popcorn Iron Man movie. One or the other would have probably succeeded, but together it feels jarring and mismatched. When panic attacks are as cuddly and friendly as they are in Iron Man, the stakes are minimal. The suffering of Tony Stark and his mental state never even feels like a true plot point, just some phantom remnant of an earlier draft of the script.
Iron Man 3 has the makings of a successful superhero film, and for the most part it is, but the successes are constantly undercut by the battling between comic book film and populist action film. In the world of comics fandom, one gets the feeling the film could really stew with the darkness in Tony Stark that is only whisked by in the most superficial way in this iteration of the film. It’s almost as if you can see the comic shimmering under the surface, trapped there as the Hollywood spectacle picture whooshes all over the screen, screaming “LOOK AT THE SPECTACLE!” This doesn’t make Iron Man 3 a failure by any means, but it does make it a bit of a disappointment.
And there is the twist with The Mandarin, the infamous villain from the Iron Man comics. Comic purists have complained about the lack of adherence to the canon of the comic villain, but the true problem is the manner in which the twist is handled. In a sequence not to be spoiled here, The Mandarin is involved with a narrative twist that changes the entire context of the events of the film. In true Shane Black style, this twist is handled with humor. This humor is so overt and, well, a bit silly that the intent of the twist suffers a bit of self defeating execution. It’s not a shocking moment, it’s a silly one. And while there is nothing overtly wrong with silliness, when it doesn’t fit with the pacing and general flow of the narrative up to that point it has a tendency to rip the audience out of the movie.
Iron Man 3 could never be classified as a bad film. The cast has a chemistry that comes with making four films together, the writing ranges from serviceable to fantastic, and the direction is what one would expect from a major studio action film. With all of the success, though, the unevenness of tone of Iron Man 3 never allows it to be the great film that is continually hinted at. While trying to please the comic fan audience and the general movie fan audience, Iron Man 3 never really completely pleases either. On the other hand, it never really does anything to completely enrage. I think all of that is summed up in the ultimate, one-word reaction to this film: “Meh”.