Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Friday, May 17, 2013

And More Of Why I Hated Iron Man 3

(Reposted from my comic blog, which you should be reading. My feelings a week later have only gotten harsher.)

Some days I am very grateful for the fact that I do an independent webcomic, with no content beyond what I create, no editing beyond what I choose, and no readers beyond a small few devoted and cherished fans. Yesterday was one of those days, because it was the day I finally saw Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 3, directed by Shane Black (replacing Jon Faverau), is not a bad movie. It has the same cast of the previous Iron Man movies (which I really enjoyed, albeit with reservations), and it had a few new characters who were played effectively. It even had some good ideas, such as Tony Stark's anxiety attacks following the events of the Avengers. However, none of those ideas got any space to breathe, and the Hollywood formula smothered the movie so that everything potentially interesting about it was diluted in a stream of explosions and one-liners.

If Iron Man 3 were played as a completely straightforward superhero movie, such as Captain America, it could've excelled at that. But the more thoughtful bits raise important questions and take them absolutely nowhere. Tony's anxiety attacks begin as a serious issue, showing a tortured mind whose view of a rational universe has been shattered in the wake of discovering gods and aliens, and who builds armor after armor in a compulsive attempt to regain his security. This is in the first act; in the second act, Tony's anxiety attacks are just reduced to comic relief as he flips out in front of a little kid, and by the third act, he's completely "overcome" them (as if you can just punch emotional problems into oblivion). 


The intriguing start and piss-poor payoff continues through the rest of the movie. For example, the Mandarin is brought in as a Bin Laden-style terrorist, releasing viral videos of his deeds with messages about America's sins (SUCH AS A REFERENCE TO THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE, as an allegory for the casualties of America's nation-building in Iraq). In the second act, we see that this new interpretation of the Mandarin is just a smokescreen, as he's really just an actor hired by the main villain to distract from his real activities. This is a clever twist that plays on Orientalist fears, but it's ruined by some painfully extended comic relief sequences with actor Mandarin, and then it's completely dropped when the real villain turns out to be just another monologuing jackass, whose speech about the power of anonymity is completely ruined by the fact that he's GIVING A FUCKING SPEECH. What's more, the present-day implications of the genocide against the indigenous Americans are completely dropped, even when there's plenty of appropriate subtext (such as Jim Rhodes/War Machine going on a wild goose chase for the Mandarin while in his new Iron Patriot suit, giving third-world citizens the sight of a red-white-and-blue death machine breaking into their homes and threatening them without warning).

Everything in the movie follows this pattern. The Extremis formula, used in the comics for an interesting exploration of transhumanism (as well as its inventor Maya Hansen, a great example of a once-idealistic scientist corrupted by the military-industrial complex), just serves to make flaming villains here. Tony's compulsive armor-building, a sign of emotional turmoil, turns out to be just the thing needed to save the day in the Obligatory Climax Explosion Orgy. Even the humor scenes fail, because of how scripted they feel. Where Jon Favreau made even the weaker parts of his Iron Man movies entertaining thanks to all the ad-libs, you can tell here that there's a heavier directorial hand, and the situations (such as all the time where Tony fixes his armor with the help of the little kid) show us just how tightly they're sticking to the script and telling us THIS IS FUNNY.

It's all smothered by cliches, robbing it the opportunity to be even an interesting failure. It's not a bad movie, and I don't hold anything against its cast and crew. It's just a mediocre movie clearly ruined by the process of executive meddling, and again, it makes me very grateful I don't have to deal with that shit.

Comic Book Iron Man Vs. Movie Iron Man in the Most One-Sided Fight Ever

(Having a blog devoted to my artist brand didn't work out, so I'm going back to what works; this blog, and writing about things bigger than me)

Overall, the comic version of Iron Man is one of the few superheroes who represents an adult morality, as opposed to an adolescent or even childish one. Tony is a complex man with enough power and influence that everything he does or doesn't do has massive ramifications, and he's fully aware of that fact. His goals are much greater than simply saving the world from villains, so his enemies tend to come across as petty characters despite their destructive capabilities, who are threatened by the fact that Tony can be fiscally successful without Ayn Rand-style opportunism. Even then he's often forced to make hard decisions and do morally ambiguous things, because he's responsible for so many people-- not just in the present, but in the future. Tony Stark's personal problems tend to similarly represent more complex emotional territory than most superheroes, since his fight to lead mankind away from their bad habits towards better choices is represented in his own struggles with addiction (be it alcohol, women, or even just the desire to control everything).

The movie version of Iron Man is less abstract because he's a much simpler and shallower character. He is an overgrown teenager whose activities all stem from what he wants, with the only cases of him actually doing anything altruistic are ultimately self-serving, such as the Stark Expo (which shows no actual inventions, just a vanity project with a lot of sound and fury), or the compulsive armor building (which is just a means of managing his own insecurities with just as much potential for ill as good). Note how all the times Tony actually goes into combat in the movie, it's either a matter of self-defense or vengeance (even in the first movie, he only goes after the terrorists in Yinsen's village). This might be interesting if he were not portrayed as the hero, but instead he's immediately forgiven for his sins because the films demand happy endings. 

If the comic is being rejected, it's being rejected in favor of a sugary Hollywood iteration who can easily overcome his problems to suit the three-act screenplay structure, so that they don't get in the way of the power fantasy that can't hold up to a world of abstractions.