Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3
seen @ Williamsburg Cinemas, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

Iron Man 3 is what it is. Did it entertain me? Yeah. There were funny bits (though not as many as in the first one), there were unexpected bits (I didn't really think [SPOILER] was gonna die, but for a moment I wasn't sure) and the visuals were astonishing as always (sitting through the credits, waiting for the obligatory after-credits scene - which is not worth waiting for - I was amazed at the gargantuan list of people involved in making the effects). But it's reached the point now where I'm no longer sure if that's enough.

Understand, I was genuinely excited at seeing the pieces of the Avengers movie mega-franchise come together, not just for the fanboy in me, but because something like this - making separate movies with different characters and uniting them in one big movie - was unprecedented. It succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and that's great. Now, however, it looks like they may be facing problems similar to their original comic book incarnations.

IM3 makes several references to the events in Avengers, which makes one wonder why Tony Stark doesn't call upon them when he's taking on the Mandarin. In the comics, there are separate books for Iron Man and Captain America and Thor where they do their own thing, and they all come together in the Avengers comic. Sometimes they'll guest-star in each other's solo books, but other times they won't, and when they don't, some lame excuse has to be made as to why they're not around, although sometimes they don't even bother with that much. (Why did the Fantastic Four first fight the cosmically-powered demigod Galactus without the Avengers' help? Because it was a Fantastic Four story.)

This is something I occasionally pondered when I still read superhero comics: is a shared universe really better than separate ones? A bit of history: the concept of a shared universe began in earnest within the comics world in the late 50s, when DC Comics created a new Flash character, different from the previous one, and had him meet the original, in an alternate Earth

World's most beautiful? Whatever, dude.
Next thing you know, you've got all the top DC heroes teaming up in Justice League of America, and they meet the older DC heroes, the Justice Society, who live in that same alternate Earth, and DC creates more alternate Earths, which lead to more crossovers, which  lead to DC streamlining everything into one Earth, and blah blah blah. Meanwhile, Marvel started with one Earth and heroes crossed over into each other's books all the time.

Now as a fan, this was exciting. I daresay there's not a superhero fan who doesn't enjoy seeing their favorite characters team up; in fact both DC and Marvel made books such as The Brave and the Bold and Marvel Team-Up to satisfy this demand. Today, the shared universe concept is taken as a given. But what are the advantages to keeping the characters in separate worlds?

For one thing, there's uniqueness. Much drama can be had out of a superhuman character who is alone in his or her abilities. How would the world view them? How would they view themselves? Would it be possible to live a normal life? Would they even aspire to living a normal life when they could be a celebrity? Maybe they'd take on god-like tendencies and decide to reshape the world in their image. Superman next to Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and the Flash runs the risk of being redundant. Superman by himself, however... is larger than life. Don't believe me? Look at the movies. (Well, don't look at Superman 3 and 4. They suck.)

Another argument in favor of separate worlds is the greater possibility of storytelling range. Imagine an ongoing Superman comic set in the 1930s, in the style of Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons; or an ongoing Batman comic set in the 1970s, with grittiness and street-level violence comparable to a Martin Scorsese movie; or an ongoing Wonder Woman comic set during World War 2, with lots of Nazi-busting action. 

DC publishes multiple Superman and Batman comics at the same time every month, but thematically, they're more or less interchangeable because they're all understood to be part of the shared universe. (At least that was true before their most recent reboot. Don't know what it's like now.) Marvel has a separate line of superhero comics called Ultimate that began as streamlined, modern versions of their classic characters, but it's still all part of a shared universe. (The current "Ultimate" version of Spider-Man is a completely different character, however, so there's that.)

The Marvel movies are following the lead established by the comics, which means a shared universe, something unique to the movies, this is true. However, it's one thing to have Captain America guest-star in the Iron Man comic; another thing to have Chris Evans guest-star in the two-hour-plus third part of Robert Downey Jr.'s multi-million-dollar franchise, which is already stuffed to the gills with Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle and Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley and Jon Favreau and so on.

Have I mentioned how much I love Rebecca Hall?
Still, if you're gonna have a shared universe in these movies, you've gotta play fair by it. If the Avengers and SHIELD are not gonna be in IM3, you owe it to your audience - most of whom don't read the comics - to offer some explanation why, no matter how flimsy. Any old reason will do. It doesn't matter in a story like this!

Beyond this, however, as I've alluded to before here, the bloom is beginning to come off the rose for me. IM3 was entertaining, but I didn't feel the same sense of satisfaction that I did after seeing the first Iron Man movie. It had a been-there-done-that kind of feeling, which is a strange thing to say about a movie with as much thrills as this, but that's how I felt afterwards. Maybe this feeling will change in the coming months and years. I don't know.

A few quick words about the brand new Williamsburg Theater. There have been smaller theaters popping up in the neighborhood recently, catering to the indie/revival crowd, but this is a modern multiplex, like you'd find in Manhattan. Base ticket price is eleven bucks, still cheaper than Manhattan, and they have eight-dollar Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus weekday matinees at the same price. The food options are standard, and the seating is stadium format. It looks like they'll show indie films as well as Hollywood stuff, which is good. They search your bags at the door, though, which sucks, but what can you do? The bathrooms are nice and clean. There's local, neighborhood-oriented advertising during the pre-show, which is a nice touch. The only drawback I noticed was that it took longer than expected to start the parade of trailers. I think this was due to the pre-show lasting too long more than anything else, however. I know it felt long. Still, this is a good place to go in a neighborhood that desperately needed a first-run theater. I'd go there again.



  1. I'm not a fan of the comic books. Well, to be honest, I don't know if I'm not a fan I just know that I haven't fit them into my reading life. My relationship to these characters is from my daughter either making me watch a movie or not watch a movie. I "actively napped" during "Iron Man", missed "2" on advise of kid and was dragged kicking and screaming to "3". I had a good time. I had a very good time.

    Note: She had me watch "Thor" and "Captain America" to prepare me for "The Avengers" who, much to my surprise, had nothing to do with Steed and Mrs. Peel (old person joke). I had fun with all of those movies to varying degrees and have adopted Hemsworth and Evans as extra sons who don't give me any grief, but never write or call.

    I may be too easy to please, but I either accept whatever story people want to tell or not and leave it at that.

  2. And normally I'd be right there with you on that. But because I grew up with comics in general and superheroes in specific, and because they have been, for better and for worse, a part of my life for a long, looooooooooooong time, I can't look at superhero movies that way. In my mind, they're always gonna lack... something, no matter how great they may be on their own merits. In the end, I suspect that their greatest sin is that they're not the actual comic books. Make of that what you will.

  3. I totally understand. There is something too valuable about the connection to have other visions mess with it.

  4. Plus, for a long time, comic book movies in general had to bear the burden of the fans' belief that they somehow 'legitimize' comics, a medium that had been looked down upon for decades (in America, anyway; don't know about Canada). Right or wrong, it's integral to the way these movies are and have been received by its target audience. I used to believe it too.


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