Between compliments to Robert Downey Jr. and unrest about fidelity to source material, there’s been a lot of buzz regarding Iron Man 3. Is the movie good or bad? Personally, I love it, even though every bone in my body suggests that I shouldn’t. If for anything else, Iron Man 3 is… clever. In particular, it is clever in its craft, not simply in its one-liners and “plot devices” *snicker*. As an audience, we walk into the theater expecting a fusion of man and machine in an action-adventure spectacular; by the end credits, the film has morphed our definition of what Iron Man really is.
Flash back to 2008, where Jon Favreau’s wildly popular Iron Man had hit the screens, with much of its commercial success attributed to the casting of Downey in a continuation of his red-hot career comeback. Just as Spider-Man and Superman have done before it, Iron Man shoves its protagonist, Tony Stark, into a harsh reality that challenges the value of his powers (in this instance, as an engineering prodigy). After a great sacrifice, Stark decides to put his genius to defend the world against evil, in spite of the social, political, and financial consequences. Stark’s bravado may differ from the usual shy hero archetype, but the film still presents situations of trial and error followed by the eventual triumph of the protagonist’s new-found philosophical outlook — Iron Man is unabashedly a superhero film.
Returning back to our summer blockbuster of the year, Iron Man 3 has the exact same set pieces for another superhero movie, right? I mean, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) ends up in a coma because of the Mandarin… but his “sacrifice” doesn’t necessarily teach Stark anything important (such as the conventional theme “with great power comes great responsibility”). How about the hero’s resolve, or Stark’s decision to stop the Mandarin and his explosive terrorism? Well no, Stark’s threats to the Mandarin ends in a near-death experience. Moreover, the film even mocks the idea of “the hero’s resolve” by turning the fearsome Mandarin into a patsy for Aldrich Killian’s ultimate plans.
At its core, Iron Man 3 is not a superhero film. Tony Stark does not represent the ideal hero, but is shown as a nervous recluse who suffers from panic attacks, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, causing him to manufacture a ridiculous number of armored suits. The film does not provide a standard antagonist to triumph over, focusing more on the psychological aspects of the conflict rather than any physical combat.
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