Thom: When it came time to review Iron Man 3, I thought I’d start out with a bunch of antithetical statements:
- Iron Man 2 was just as good as the first one.
- The Incredible Hulk was really good.
- The Avengers could’ve been better.
- Thor is the best Marvel Studios movie so far.
Now of course, those are just my opinions (and no, I’m not just a contrarian [or at least I’m trying not to be]), but that’s the way I’ve felt about the Marvel Studios movies so far. I still remember the summer of 2008 when they first started and being the only one who was more impressed with The Incredible Hulk than Iron Man (remember, Iron Man came out in May of that year, followed by The Incredible Hulk just over a month later).
If I was putting all the Marvel Studios movies In order from best to worst, I’d say:
- Captain America
- The Avengers
- The Incredible Hulk
- Iron Man 2
- Iron Man
At this point it’s important to note that, while they may be at the bottom of the list, I enjoyed the Iron Man movies. I enjoyed all of the Marvel movies quite a bit and am still surprised by the consistent overall quality, it’s just that Thor and Captain America are the only ones I found striking and emotionally resonant (even if that’s wrong). I can recognize that the first Iron Man is probably technically the best single-character Marvel movie, that Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark is the most well-realized and best performed of the lead characters, and that Iron Man is the coolest [established] Avenger, but none of that struck me the way Thor’s family relationships or Cap’s heroism did.
Going into Iron Man 3, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. What’s left to do after The Avengers assembled the entire team? Where are these movies headed without Jon Favreau directing? And, in particular, what’s this one going to be like with Shane Black — who most people know for writing the first two Lethal Weapon movies — writing and directing the third?
After seeing it last week with Grace, I’m going to say, straight up and without hesitation, that Iron Man 3 is my favourite Iron Man movie so far.
Just not as an Iron Man movie.
Grace: I am more than a little bit in love with Tony Stark. Iron Man was the first of the Avenger-related movies to come out, I think, and it set a great precedent. It was witty, entertaining, and starred a guy who wasn’t even acting, just awesome-ing all over the place.
That being said, Iron Man is by no means my favourite movie.
Did it have cool fight scenes? Yes. Did it have a sassy black friend? Also yes. Did it have a sweet montage in which Tony built the Mark I Iron Man suit? Oh, hells yes. Did it have an engaging antagonist whose motivations seemed sound and whose villainy was unquestionable? Eh, not so much. He was jeopardizing his own future for the sake of petty revenge and didn’t even have the decency to delete the incriminating videos, which he kept on his work computer. But I digress.
It was a summer flick, it was entertaining, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. And Iron Man 2? Even less so. I don’t even remember the villain’s name; I only remember that he was played by Mickey Rourke. Yeah, he had awesome flails and he could make Iron Man suits without actual men in them, but his motivations were forgettable and his character even more so.
Even so, when I went to Iron Man 3 with Thom last weekend, I was optimistic. After all, the first was entertaining, even if it wasn’t great cinema. Maybe the second just suffered from “sequel syndrome,” and the third would shape up to be a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy.
So we saw the movie. We discussed it.
And you can see exactly what we said.
Note: The following conversation is full of spoilers. FULL OF THEM.
Grace: I was shocked that they used the word “pussy” in a family movie. I felt like it was surprising that Marvel did it. It feels like they were kind of amping up the adult factor. Like, Tony and Pepper showered together, which was super scandalous.
Thom: Well… they didn’t show anything.
G: No, I know, it’s just…
T: I guess there was a little bit of it that was more explicitly mature. Like, they show hookers and… I don’t know if you’d pick up on them being hookers if you were a kid, but the movie at least acknowledged this dark side of the world in that the hookers seemed pretty out of it. And that’s a little bit harder than what you see in most of these movies. That I put up to the writer, and that fits into the style of the creators… Shane Black, that really fits into the style of older ‘80s movies, and that’s actually part of the reason I liked this movie better than I should have. It didn’t necessarily feel like an Iron Man movie for a lot of it, but the whole thing reminded me of older movies like Lethal Weapon in the right way.
G: I don’t know, I never really watched any ‘80s movies. By the time I was old enough to watch those movies, CGI was really huge and movies were much flashier. And another sort of mature thing that I thought was funny was that Happy liked Downton Abbey. Apparently that show is super explicit.
T: Is it?
G: Apparently. I guess I don’t know that for a fact.
T: I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the kind of show you watched.
G: I felt like that was also the kind of thing that might date the movie. Like, I don’t know how that show will be seen a few years from now… Also, I felt like using Christmas as a framing device was really dumb. They just kept referencing that it was Christmas.
T: Yeah, it didn’t feel like it… for pretty obvious reasons [Iron Man 3 opened on May 3rd]. But… Lethal Weapon is also set during Christmas.
G: So is Die Hard. I haven’t seen Die Hard, but I do know that.
T: But I feel like that’s just one of these weird hooks into a movie that he wrote more than 20 years ago. These hooks that don’t seem to serve any purpose other than for people like me who would notice them.
G: Does that strike you as ego or homage?
T: It’s just weird, it doesn’t seem necessary at all. That’s part of the reason I liked the movie as much as I did, but it doesn’t make sense to do it. These things don’t help the movie itself.
G: A lot of the people who are watching the movie now probably haven’t seen Lethal Weapon, other than older people, like you. You’re not old, but… older than me…
T: Or at least more aware of things.
G: Well, teenagers probably aren’t going to notice it.
T: Another thing in terms of dating the movie, in terms of setting specific numbers, during the movie Tony Stark explicitly says he was 14 in 1983, so that gives you a specific reference for how old he’s supposed to be. I think that’s the first time they’ve done that in a Marvel movie.
G: So he was born in 1969?
T: Yeah… so he’s over 40.
G: That’s crazy, because I thought he was closer to 30.
T: Well, he has to be a certain age to accomplish certain things. Yeah, he’s a genius, but… at the very least he’d be past his 20s. When the movie opens, it’s 1999, so he’s 30 then.
G: So he’s in his 40s, which is okay.
T: Yeah, that was actually something that bugged me through a big part of the movie, the way it picks up right after Avengers, but Bruce Banner isn’t anywhere. Obviously that would be a distraction if he had a big part in the movie, but right at the very, very, very end, after all the credits they sort of acknowledge where they left those two. That’s another reason why I liked Iron Man 3 as much as I did.
G: I felt like they harped too much on The Avengers. Like, there’s the kid, actually all the kids, talking about New York and the inter-dimensional rift. How do they even know about that? And how did he survive in space and how did he fall through the rift if there’s no gravity in space?
We Need a Montage
G: When I first saw the trailer, and he’s dragging his suit through the snow, I was super-excited about that. I thought this was going to be like a hard-slogging montage, like in The Dark Knight Rises after Bane broke Batman’s back. But then it turns out he’s just in Tennessee and he’s just walking five miles to the closest town, which is lame… I could do that.
T: So if everything were the same, but there was just a montage… to you, that would’ve made it better.
G: Probably [laughs]. I really like montages.
T: Even if everything else was the same, even if there wasn’t any more of a sense of struggle?
G: Yeah, I mean, if… there doesn’t have to be much more of a struggle. I don’t know… just drag it out a little more.
T: So just a montage would have done it?
G: No, like… okay, when I first saw the trailer and I saw explosions and suits blowing up, I thought, “Oh, something horrible has happened.” And then you see Tony dragging his suit with the rope over his shoulder and you get the impression that something awful happened, and he’s only got more hard going ahead of him. Which I guess sort of happened, but sort of not because he basically walks into a ready-made lab… and there’s a Home Depot nearby.
T: Yeah… he’s never… never really in peril.
G: It’s not like him inventing the Mark I suit in a cave, which is what I expected more of.
So Many Iron Men
T: Why not?
G: It was just like the A-Team.
T: The A-Team movie? I never saw that.
G: Oh, it was so good. There were crates and rigs and industrial stuff everywhere.
T: Oh yeah, that was another thing… that was just like the ending of Lethal Weapon 2.
G: Oh man.
T: They were in a shipping yard just like that with a bunch of giant shipping containers. Again, another really specific thing from Shane Black that was just like Lethal Weapon.
G: So it’s just basically Lethal Weapon?
T: Yeah, in the end where Rhodey and Tony were partners (and neither were in armour for a lot of it) using guns. They just constructed this scenario where it was just like Lethal Weapon 2.
G: I just found it hard to follow the action in a setting like that. Like if it’s in a city, then you’ve got the skyline and buildings, but if it’s random scaffolding and shipping carts, then I have trouble following what’s actually happening.
T: But you liked him switching between armours?
G: I did. I thought that was really sweet.
T: My issue with that is that it cheapens the idea of the armour in general. Now they’re just everywhere, like it isn’t a big deal to build just one. At that point in the movie, it seems like that’s all he’d been doing for the last few months, but… it feels like the whole thing is less special. And a whole bunch of people were wearing armour throughout the movie. And that goes back to my old thing with comic book universes: Why don’t you put Hawkeye in armour? Or why don’t you put Black Widow in armour? Or why don’t you put Captain America in armour? What value would any of those characters have been [without armour] during the last action scenes of the movie? They would’ve been outmatched by every single person there. Except maybe Captain America.
G: I think there’s some significance in that he only gives armour to the people who are important to him. Like when his place was blowing up, he put the armour on Pepper instead of himself. And he’s saying the armour is a part of him. And he only gave one to Rhodey.
T: Right, then there’s the part where the henchman… the main henchman guy, he was using the Iron Patriot armour.
G: Yeah, I did not like that.
T: And that’s how he gets into the President’s plane.
G: Why wouldn’t they want to make sure who it was in the armour? Like, “I’m in the suit, therefore I’m Rhodey.” They could at least make him lift his helmet or something. Tony does it all the time.
T: And using all those different armours almost kind of negates further sequels, like you’ve gone as far as you can with the Iron Man idea.
G: Well, maybe that’s why they blew them up in the end.
T: Yeah, but what are they going to do in the next one… other than making the whole thing more emotionally meaningful?
T: You were surprised?
G: I was surprised. I mean… it’s Ben Kingsley — a famous actor, he’s kind of a big deal, so you think he’s the villain.
T: I kind of… early on, I kind of thought they were just doing a bad Joker impression. Not directly, but there were certain parts where he would over-enunciate words that felt kind of like Heath Ledger’s Joker. And then it almost got to the point where… this almost seems like a bad act… and then it was. But that brings up the question, “Were there any good Iron Man villains?” Like, which one stands out to you most?
G: None of them.
T: Not even Mickey Rourke?
T: Was it because he wasn’t given enough to do?
G: Possibly… and also because he was working for other people… when I think villain, I don’t think Mickey Rourke, I think Heath Ledger. I think that’s one of the big problems with Marvel as opposed to DC, that DC has these iconic characters and they’re arch nemeses. Whereas Marvel… they have… lesser villains.
T: What about the Red Skull in Captain America?
G: That was cool, but…
T: I don’t think they did enough with the Red Skull. Like [Captain America] was about other things than the Red Skull.
G: Yeah, and he’s allegedly controlling Hitler, but all we see is him up in his ice palace.
T: But he’s at least a character idea that’s strongly opposed to Captain America, they just didn’t focus on the Red Skull. But for Iron Man, he doesn’t really have any strong villains. Except for the Mandarin, who is completely different in the comics. He’s… oriental… of some sort… and he’s more or less like the character they play him as in the terrorist videos rather than some joke of an actor and just the figurehead of some terrorist organization as a distraction. And I was wondering how they would handle it. Did you notice the rings on the monitors?
G: Yeah, there’s ten rings.
T: He has rings for every single digit on his hands… and they all do different things. Like, one freezes things and one… I thought Tony’s anxiety attacks might have been the Mandarin, ‘cause one of the rings is like a telepathy ring, and I thought that might have been what was going on… which it wasn’t. Anyway, he has ten different rings that do ten different things and I thought, in a movie as rooted in a quasi-sense of reality like the Marvel movies, that that was sort of unbelievable. And then there were no rings at all, which I’m glad they went that way, because… ten different power rings… it’s a stupid image [laughs], just ten different rings on every single finger, other than someone reveling in their own power or wealth.
G: Well, he was wearing rings on every finger in the movie.
T: Yeah, but they didn’t play it up or feature them.
Post-Traumatic Stress and the Marvel Universe
T: Well, I would say that Tony Stark might’ve been the only one. Like, Captain America was in World War II, Thor comes from that sort of war-like background and has been alive for thousands of years, Black Widow and Hawkeye are both trained assassin spies, they’re maybe just not used to doing things in the open, and the Hulk isn’t really in the right frame of mind to be affected. I guess maybe now that I’ve thought about it like that, I like the post-traumatic stress plot point a little bit more.
It makes me wonder, though, and this is a problem in superhero universes… none of the Avengers ever showed up at any point to help. Or there were just workers at the remains of Tony’s house, and I thought… wouldn’t there be S.H.I.E.L.D. agents there? Not even necessarily people we’d recognize, but, like, token vehicles with S.H.I.E.L.D. logos on them? Wouldn’t they be interested in what just happened? But you can’t have all these elements in a single-superhero-centred movie because they would take away from the star of the movie.
G: But you could still have a cameo from Cobie Smulders [Maria Hill] at the scene, like a five-second cameo. She could be standing there talking to someone, looking concerned.
T: … But that’s always a problem in superhero universes, where there’s, like 100-300 different superheroes, where were any of them? Like they’re just not there because it serves the plot.
G: Where’s Aquaman in all of this?
T: Aquaman’s DC.
G: Okay, where’s Spider-Man? How come he doesn’t show up.
T: Spider-Man can’t be in a Marvel Studios movie.
G: How come?
T: Because those rights are owned by different studios. Like Fantastic Four and X-Men are still owned by Fox. So… Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men… the movies that did well are still owned by other studios, unlike Daredevil or something which reverted back to Marvel.
G: Daredevil was so bad.
T: So, unless they arrive at some sort of agreement, you’ll never see those characters together in one movie.
G: Now I’m curious to see how they’d make Captain America and the Fantastic Four work in the same room. Like, “Captain America and Human Torch look exactly alike! Crazy!”
T: Well, there’ll be a Fantastic Four reboot. They’re talking about casting Michael B. Jordan [a black actor]…
G: The “B” is for Basketball.
T: … a black guy would be the Human Torch. And that’s kind of interesting, but that also implies that the Invisible Woman would also be black, because they’re biologically related.
G: That would be cool, though.
T: The token thing to do would be to make the Thing black, because he’s not going to spend much time looking like a normal human being anyway. I find that’s pretty common for Oriental characters, other than martial arts or science heroes, they morph into something that doesn’t closely resemble a human being anyway.
G: Like that Asian guy with pufferfish spikes in X-Men who I think was on Lost.
T: Yeah, Miles from Lost. That wasn’t a very good movie [X-Men: The Last Stand].
G: Yeah, that was kind of atrocious.
T: That kind of a felt like an ‘80s action movie thing too. Like… that’s pretty unrealistic that somebody who gets up that high in politics… well, I guess they framed it as him wanting to help his daughter.
G: Yeah, it was kind of a cheap throwaway thing, like, “Oh, here’s an emotional appeal”, but no, he was running mate with the President, so there’s years of investment and they’re probably friends.
T: That’s a plot element that’s pretty implausible. Or at least, that’s an entirely different movie.
G: And it’s not like his daughter’s dying.
T: Yeah. Especially now, with so much disabled empowerment with people having blades to run on instead of legs, and all that’s wrong is the Vice-President’s daughter is missing her leg. But that struck me as a ‘80s movie writing, like, “Uh… we’ll just write this. That’s good enough.” Did that bother you?
G: It did, actually. It felt really cheap.
T: But that actually bothered you?
G: It does. Not necessarily because of disabled empowerment, but because of the relationship he should have with the President, if he’s in the office adjacent to the Oval Office, you’d think that he’d care more about the country than just one person. And she’s still got enough of her legs to fit a prosthetic. She could still run around.
T: Well, they had to have some sort of tie in to the central idea of Extremis. So if you’re going to motivate a character based on what the bad guys have to offer. And then there’s the question of how far you’d have to go to make it seem plausible that he would betray the country. Like, now his daughter’s missing both legs and arms, so now I get where he’s coming from.
G: That would be so sad — quadruple amputee.
T: I guess that’s just a weak plot point in general. It’s the kind of thing I don’t think about too much, just like I don’t think about anything too much when I’m watching ‘80s action movies.
G: Well, the interesting thing is that I was enjoying the movie until I realized that there were a bunch of things I didn’t like that all piled on that made me think, “I don’t like this movie anymore, because I’m trying to review it.” I liked it until I had to quantify it.
T: Well, my biggest reason, again, for why I liked it so much was because of how it reminded me of ‘80s action movies… like Tony Stark sneaking into the Mandarin’s place with stuff he bought from Home Depot. But then it’s like, “That’s not really Iron Man at all.” And then at the end when they’re sneaking around the shipping yard, “That’s not really Iron Man at all either. That’s just stuff you do in old action movies.”
I don’t view it highly as an Iron Man movie necessarily, I guess I don’t necessarily view it highly at all, I just liked the ‘80s action movie hooks.
G: Yeah, an ‘80s action movie with robot suits.
The Iron Patriot?
T: That’s from the comics. It didn’t happen like that, but there was a suit of armour that looked more or less like that and a character who called himself the Iron Patriot.
G: The way it was built up, it felt like there was going to be some hack or something built into the suit while they were fixing it up, but that never happened. It was just a convenient way for Rhodey to give the password so that Tony could hack in and see all these explanatory videos, and nobody encrypted them or anything.
T: I think that’s just the style of writing, which is… not quite what I would say is lazy, but it’s just not stopping to think about things.
G: Well, you’re not necessarily supposed to think about summer blockbusters. I have this friend who’s excited about Fast and the Furious 6 and… how do they make six movies out of just car chases.
T: Have you seen any of them?
G: No, I haven’t [laughs]. But, she’s like, “You don’t go for the stars, they’re not attractive or anything, you just go to see cars race really fast.”
T: The stars of Fast and the Furious aren’t attractive?
G: Well, not according to her, but she said they just build the plot around car chases.
T: Well, if you want to know, the first one was about street racing, the second was a really stupid movie that I didn’t like at all, the third one was about street racing in Tokyo, the fourth one was about bringing the original cast back together, and the fifth one was about making it more into a straight-on action rather than racing movie, and that’s pretty much where they’re taking the series now.
G: … awesome…
T: I don’t really look forward to them, but I’m sure I’ll end up seeing the next one at some point.
G: I liked the kid. I didn’t like that they had the whole daddy issues thing, where he’s like, “Oh, so you’re going to leave me, ‘cause that’s what my dad did.” Although I did like Tony just saying, “Yep, that’s what I’m doing,” because he’s not his responsibility, he’s not the kid’s dad, so he doesn’t have to stick around. I just like that he said, “Don’t be a pussy. Deal with it. Stuff happens.” It did bother me at the end that he remodeled the kid’s place and gave him all these toys and stuff, but he didn’t even say hello or anything. So it’s like he still feels guilty that the kid doesn’t have a dad.
T: I don’t know if it’s that necessarily, I’d say it’s more of Tony giving the kid a chance. Obviously he didn’t have all the resources of Tony Stark. They kind of built in the idea of the kid being mechanically gifted, and this was him having a chance to make something of himself with his new stuff.
G: That’s fair. Although, for me, as a child of divorced parents, it’s like, “I’m not here right now, so here, have some toys.”
T: So you didn’t find the kid annoying?
G: No, not at all, I liked him. Well, there was one scene where he was annoying, where he was asking about the Avengers and New York and if Tony’s having a panic attack and if he needs medication and is he going to die. It’s like, Shut up!
T: Do you not like that in kid characters, ‘cause that’s a pretty common kid character thing.
G: I don’t think kids are like that. They might ask questions, but I think kids are pretty good at sensing when grownups are getting annoyed. Or at least I am. And I think that because his mom’s a bar fly and his dad is gone, he’s probably learned that when adults act a certain way, you back the hell off. Not because he’s afraid of being abused or anything, but because he sees it’s not a good time and that he should make himself scarce. But he can see that Tony’s kind of falling apart, but he keeps pushing anyway.
T: I don’t know, you think kids aren’t like that? Maybe not directly annoying, but… you think kids have a good sense of what’s going on around them with adults?
G: I think they do. Or maybe I’m seeing myself too much in the kid, but I was pretty astute when I was young and I could tell with adults.
T: Well… I would come from the other direction, not being like the kid, but… like as a kid, I don’t have the right to talk to adults [laughs]. So I wouldn’t be like that kid either. I guess it depends on what kind of kids you spend time around. I have a really young cousin, he’s like six or seven, and there’s a certain type of kid and a certain type of parent where… the parent doesn’t oppress them and then they end up being really outward, and I can imagine a kid being like that. And generally those are the kids who end up having better lives (outside of other circumstances).
G: The kid did seem pretty mature for his age. He knows about the suit, he knows about the wormhole and all the other stuff… I just feel like he wouldn’t be so overbearing. I feel like that’s not… it didn’t really ring true for me.
T: That’s maybe more a type of character rather than somebody you meet in real life.
What’s It All About?
T: I really like the basic storytelling structure that it’s Tony Stark is basically narrating what happened. And then it’s closed up at the end, but you have to wait all the way till the end, until after all the credits. Yeah, I liked that Bruce Banner was there, that’s the main reason I liked the scene, but I liked that they tied up that storytelling device in the end.
G: I completely forgot that was there, so…
T: And I liked the opening with… whatever that song is…
T: … yeah, I liked that… it felt like, “That’s weird,” and then it actually fits into what they were doing. And it’s just an unusual way to open this kind of movie, and it almost lets you know right away that this isn’t necessarily going to be like a lot of the other superhero movies.
G: That’s weird, because today I was talking with a friend at lunch who was saying that ‘90s music was the best and there was, like… Eiffel 65. And I was like, “Man, I haven’t heard the song ‘Blue’ in ages,” and then today I hear it. I thought that was good, and it fit what Tony’s state of mind was supposed to be.
T: You mean that song is about something?
G: Yeah, it’s about being blue. Talking about Smurfs… I always just assumed it was about the Smurfs.
Pepper Potts and Feminism
T: Did we already talk about that?
G: Yeah, like, before we were recording.
T: … So that would be a good example of something not to transcribe then… I don’t think anybody needs to hear screw ups like that.
G: Well, it doesn’t have to be exactly transcribed.
T: Right. I would also suggest taking out things that make us sound stupid. Not that I think we’ve gone too far in that direction.
G: Umm… Pepper… that’s what I was talking about.
T: Do you think she was a strong character in any of the movies she’s been in?
G: No. That is one of the problems with Marvel movies, that the women are there to enable the men and whenever you have a strong female lead, she’s actually not strong at all (and I’m referring to Elektra).
T: Did you see that movie? I never saw it.
G: I did. I was like 12 or something when I saw it. It was baaaad. Oh my God.
T: I don’t like Jennifer Garner.
G: She’s even more of a horse face than Sarah Jessica Parker. In my opinion.
T: I disagree with that. But just in as far as the actual shape of a horse’s face.
G: Maybe she has more of a pony’s face.
T: So you had a problem with Pepper in this third one as well?
G: Yes. One of my problems with her is that she basically just stands around, being useless or being the object of Tony’s affection, and… she was fought over like an item between… Killian (is that his name?) and Tony, and he’s like, “I’m making her perfect.” and Tony’s like “But she was perfect before,” which is completely unnecessary because we already know how he feels about her. And that wasn’t ever an issue before, like Pepper having self-esteem issues or Tony wishing he could change her in some way. And then she’s only given powers so that she could save Tony so that there’s a moment where girls can cheer for her, and then they take them away from her.
T: So you felt like that scene felt fake. Like they just gave her powers because it sort of rebalances things?
G: Yeah. It was cool to watch, but it was such a short scene, where it looks like the bad guy is rising up again, this is going to be such an epic boss fight, and then she smacks him down and that’s the end of it, and then they take her powers away because that’s too much power for a woman to have.
T: Well, there’s that, but… Extremis was pretty unstable. It seemed like nobody should have that in their system.
G: And then also right after that she’s like, “Wow, that was pretty violent,” and it’s like, “Thanks, we didn’t already get that you’re a woman.”
T: So you didn’t like that line?
G: I thought it was cute and character appropriate, but it just grinds me the wrong way. It’s like the concerned woman trope. I was reading this thing on Cracked the other day and it was useless superheroes, and they talked a lot about Sue Storm and that is what Pepper reminds me of. It’s like she’s standing around saying “I am a woman. I am useless. How do I help with things?”
T: … And you don’t like that?
T: And you don’t like that as a woman?
G: Indeed. So maybe that makes me seem to focused on the female parts of things, but I would like it if there was a strong female character who was not purposely made into a strong female character so woman could have somebody to identify with. I think that is why I like Joss Whedon, because at one point a reporter asked him why he keeps making strong female characters and he said, “Because you keep asking that question.” Because it’s unusual for that to be a thing, and women just enable strong male characters who are so standard that nobody questions it.
T: Who’s a Joss Whedon strong female character? Not that I’m saying there aren’t any, but what’s a strong example?
G: River Tam, Buffy and Faith, even Inara from Firefly is somewhat of a strong female character.
T: I think that… less the Firefly characters and more strong female characters like Buffy is that they’re being put into genres that don’t necessarily traditionally appeal to women. Like action/adventure stories are supposed to be for guys, at least stereotypically, so women aren’t going to go to those characters because they don’t like those types of stories or movies and the men aren’t either because they like male leads. So that’s the potential problem in constructing those types of stories. Now it’s pretty different or it has the potential to be at least.
G: Well, the thing about Buffy is that you never noticed that she was intended to be a strong female character, even if she was intended to be a young woman who kicks the crap out of the things that go bump in the night. Women watched it because Buffy was fun to watch, there were good characters… the first season was pretty atrocious, but then it got okay, and also, yes, Angel was hot, so he was sort of eye candy, but… we didn’t watch it because it was a strong female character, we watched it because it was fun to watch a woman in high heels kick the crap out of vampires. I don’t know if anybody saw her as a role model because she made a lot of terrible choices…
T: Didn’t she sleep with Spike at one point?
G: She slept with everybody. Yes, she did sleep with Spike multiple times. It was bad news.
T: Well, anyway, that was the traditional argument against having strong female characters, especially when you’re deriving concepts from comic books. They don’t traditionally have female-driven or led stories. They can have strong female background characters or female characters who became strong over time like Sue Storm, but, especially if you’re going to superhero movies that are derived from existing comic books, you’re not going to find that many strong female-led movies. Imagine if they made a Black Widow movie. Doesn’t that seem like it wouldn’t do that well?
T: And do you think that’s the fault of… do you think female audiences would go to that movie?
G: Well, the problem is that Black Widow doesn’t exist for women; she exists for men to look at. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; that’s what Hawkeye’s for, because that is the sort of man that woman like to look at. They don’t like looking at the big, buff guys.
T: They don’t?
G: Not really. Like some are, but for the most part, we’re into Hawkeye-type people.
T: So a little more realistic?
T: But you don’t like Hawkeye?
G: I do like Hawkeye. I think he’s a lame superhero, but I think he’s… it’s Jeremy Renner. I like Jeremy Renner. I think he’s pretty.
T: In a realistic way.
G: Also, he’s just fun to watch. As opposed to Thor, which you do not see every day, and those muscles, which aren’t even real.
T: Right, you have to train and eat in a certain way to look like that in a movie.
G: I don’t know. It’s weird to go to superhero movies and only appreciate that which looks realistic.
War Machine, The Saucy Black Friend
T: Mm… there were a couple of shots where he looked heroic, but he always struck me as too small and thin to be a military hero or a superhero (or superhero companion or sidekick).
Do you remember the original Rhodey? Terrence Howard? I don’t think he would’ve been a good War Machine either. I guess I just don’t like his voice. Do you remember what he sounded like? Or what he continues to sound like, ‘cause that’s his normal voice. He’s got a weirdly, slightly feminine voice. Too much of that voice would be weird. I guess I’d have to think for a while about who to recast for War Machine.
I don’t have a problem with Don Cheadle. I think he’s a decent actor and he plays parts of the character well, I just don’t see him as a superhero. Or a near-superhero. He just doesn’t have the physical presence to be a superhero.
G: No, he doesn’t really have any physical presence. He kind of gets on my nerves with his cheesy one-liners, and there are a lot of those in the film, not just from him but from everybody. He seems there, and it sounds racially insensitive, to be the saucy black friend.
T: See, in terms of scripting and cheesy lines, I always wonder how much the writers know what they’re doing, because… just because we didn’t laugh doesn’t mean large parts of the audience didn’t. But… when you’re writing something, say you’re put in the position of writing a script, do you write certain lines to have a certain level of audience appeal as opposed to writing a smart overall script. And you always have to wonder if the writers know exactly what they’re doing, even though we might not like it.
G: I feel like they’re the people who know more about the process of filmmaking rather than the creativity behind it.
G: I thought it was interesting. The whole point of Iron Man is that he’s kind of defined by his armour, when he’s out of it he’s Tony Stark, when he’s in it, he’s Iron Man. I found it interesting that this thing that defines the franchise and him isn’t really used.
T: Did you think it was interesting to see him struggle without his armour? Or at least what was on the screen that was supposed to be a struggle?
G: I can see where they were going with that, trying to not make him seem all powerful. Like Superman, how do you make him vulnerable — you take away his powers. So… I think it was good, but at a certain point, the Mark 42 just needs to be scrapped because this is bad news and it’s just blowing up all over the place.
Thom: So in the end, on balance, I loved Iron Man 3 and would put it at number three, ahead of The Avengers, in my revised Marvel Studios movie list. However, there are weak story elements, I don’t think the dialogue was as sharp as the previous two, and we don’t actually see that much Iron Man, as in genius, billionnaire, playboy philanthropist, big man in a suit of armour. I just really liked that it was a lot like the first two Lethal Weapons. There are little hooks and major scenes that are just like those movies, from the helicopter attacking the cliffside home to taking place at Christmas to the bad guys thinking Tony Stark was dead to the white guy and black guy with guns partnered together to infiltrate the bad guy’s operations in a shipping yard, it was A LOT like the Lethal Weapons. Weirdly and unnecessarily so, to the point where it doesn’t help the movie at all other than to appeal to people like me who saw those movies when we were kids. That combined with acknowledging Bruce Banner and Tony Stark’s relationship from The Avengers is why I liked Iron Man 3 so much.
But I don’t think it was actually that good.
Thom’s Iron Man 3 final score: 9
Grace: At the start of the film I was enjoying myself, but once I started thinking about all the things wrong with it, I couldn’t stop. I just kept picking at things that annoyed me, and there were a lot of them, which I think is pretty clear from the conversation above. While I was entertained and didn’t ask for my ticket price back or anything, this isn’t a movie I’ll be buying on DVD, and it probably isn’t one that’ll stick out to me as one of the highlights of my summer.
I have to admit, there are a lot of things in the world I don’t know much about. Superheroes and ‘80s movies are among those things. I have a rudimentary understanding of superheroes, their weaknesses, the concept of a rogue gallery, etc., but I don’t know anything about Infinite Crisis or metaverses or why in the hell Jean Grey keeps coming back from the dead. And I can’t spot an ‘80s reference even if it’s screaming right in my face, but that may be because I was an avid reader until I was about fourteen and the only TV I watched was Kim Possible and Fillmore. Apparently I was reading the wrong stuff anyway.
At any rate, I didn’t mind the film, but I didn’t catch all the references that the movie buffs are nerdgasming about. And it’s frustrating that I was expected to. I’m glad that all these people are enjoying all the wonderful details thrown in, but I didn’t see them, and I may be old-fashioned, but I believe that a movie’s merit is based on story, not how many obscure references you can throw into it.
Grace’s Iron Man 3 final grade: B-
- Thom: Holy crap! Paul Bettany does JARVIS’ voice and has, therefore, been in four Marvel movies so far?
- Grace: What was up with that big-ass rabbit all throughout the film? I know Tony’s the typical clueless guy, but he’s a friggin’ billionaire. Don’t buy her a rabbit that won’t fit in the house. Buy her a yacht or an island or a small European county. Idiot.
- Thom: I loved the super-explicit FiOS (an American Internet service provider) product placement in that scene in the kid’s garage. I wonder if Tony’s paying the kid’s monthly fees too.
- Grace: Why didn’t they just remove the shrapnel in Tony’s chest from the start? I never understood that. For years now I’ve been wondering about that. And don’t say it’s because he needed the ARC reactor to power his suit, because why couldn’t he just have a little pack on his back with the ARC reactor in it instead? Keeping all that shrapnel in his chest was totally unnecessary and hazardous to his health, as evidenced by the palladium degradation in the second film.
- Thom: It’s funny that we never once talked about Aldrich Killian or Maya Hansen, even though they’re pretty much the main villains.
- Grace: That’s because the Iron Man franchise suffers from a lame selection of villains, and the fire-superpowers thing didn’t even make sense.
- Thom: Y’know what’s a ridiculous name? Aldrich Killian.
- Grace: Tony may have given up the Iron Man suit, but you know there’s no way that’s gonna last. Not if they want to do a second Avengers or have a successful film ever again.