Iron Man 3 & Comic Book Films

Iron Man 3

Directed by Shane Black, 2013, U.S.

If there ever was a film that would be critic-proof, it would be Iron Man 3.  The previous three films with Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark combined to gross more money than the GDP of entire countries sure, but with no significant time lag or cast changes, the film is destined to continue the Marvel empire’s chain of successes (and it’s initial box office returns have confirmed this to be fact rather than prediction).

Iron Man 3 is a lot of fun, and I would recommend it to anyone who just wanted to spend a few hours in a movie theater and watch an super hero action movie.  Even if criticism did make any difference, it would be hard to point out any significant flaws in the film in attempting to accomplish what it is trying to achieve – the satisfaction of Iron Man fans and casual moviegoers.  In fact, most of the reviews that I glanced at seemed to be more concerned with the film’s derivative or cliched elements than any actual problems with the acting, writing, effects, directing, or other commonly understood benchmarks of film quality.  For example, almost no one criticizes any of the performances, but it seems that having an action scene set in an abandoned shipyard draws a collective “yawn” from the film intelligentsia.

Still, have these critics every read a comic book?   Sure, the comic book artform has become more sophisticated since the 1980’s but complaining that a movie based on a comic book from the 1960’s is derivative or cliched is a bit like complaining that Chaplin’s films are silent or complaining that a giraffe is  tall.  It’s in the thing’s nature as pulp mythology – there is only so much you can do to a storyline that’s been around for five decades without turning off the fans who are paying many millions of dollars to see that storyline on screen.

That isn’t to say that comic book films can never be creative or are doomed to “B-Movie” status.  The Dark Knight (2008), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Tim Burton’s original Batman (1989) stand as clear examples of creative takes on well known characters.  But I would argue that it isn’t only the creativity of the aforementioned “upper echelon” of comic book films that make them stand apart from the masses of super hero films, good and bad, that have come out in the last twenty-five years or so – it’s their execution.  After all, a well executed, derivative comic book film like Iron Man 3 is still far preferable to a creative but poorly executed  film like 2009’s adaptation of “Watchmen.”

Iron Man 3 belongs in the same category as Batman Returns (1992),  Spider-Man (2002), and the original Iron Man (2008) – fun adaptations of familiar stories that are well executed and satisfactory to movie-goers and fans alike.  It isn’t a classic of cinema or even near the top of it’s particular genre, but if we’re going to criticize it for being derivative or cliched, let’s at least put some context around it first, shall we?

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

By D.G. McCabe

I write fantasy/science fiction, plays, and commentary on popular culture.