By Bob Clark
Though it came out in the same summer as the critically lauded box-office smash of The Dark Knight, the first Iron Man film has come to be one of the most important and influential of the past decade or so’s worth of blockbuster entertainment, the opening volley in Marvel’s steady domination of the summer season with one series of hit-fest superhero flicks after another. Even if it weren’t literally the lynchpin of an evolving brand of tentpole franchise filmmaking– setting up the dominoes for subsequent Hulk, Thor and Captain America films to topple over in the lead-up to the almost chemical inevitability of The Avengers‘ chain-reaction climax– the upbeat and colorful movie would’ve easily been one of the stand-out comic-book based movies in recent memory, if for no other reason than the fact that it was able to deliver a super-powered hero who could be taken at least nominally seriously without any aggressive layers of angst or camp. The fact that it was bouyed by Robert Downey, Jr.’s cocky, pleasure-seeking performance as Tony Stark and so effectively relaunched his career into the stratosphere after more than a decade of being a tabloid punchline and occasional art-house redemption story at best helped lend a patina of reality to all of the histrionic explosiveness on-screen. We’ll probably never see Marvel or Disney let Demon in a Bottle out and unfurl the hero’s struggle with alcoholism onto the screen, but thanks to casting any viewer old enough to appreciate that aspect of the character can pretty much fill in the blanks themselves.
And though Downey does as good a job of carrying this blockbuster franchise, and to a certain extent all of the films connected to it, the way that director Jon Favreau built the visual world and terms that Iron Man and the surrounding Marvel films on cannot be underestimated– between all of the shared designs, action set-piece mechanics and even camera angles (nobody’s come up with a better solution to show Tony in the suit than cutting to those holographic-HUD filled close-ups, and probably nobody will), he practically seems owed a co-director credit on Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Perhaps the very best thing that can be said of Iron Man 3 is that, despite all that it owes to the past films in its and sibling franchises, it feels as close as you’re going to get to somebody deviating from the Marvel house-style, at least until the studio gets X-Men and Spider-Man back into its corporate cinematic fold. As co-scripted and directed by Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang bad-boy Shane Black, there’s a genuine sense of novelty to be seen in somebody outside the fold of the typical choices for superhero-film directors– even Captain America‘s Joe Johnston and Thor‘s Kenneth Branagh seemed to fit all-too easily into the genre forms they were handed in those films, with all the gee-whiz razzle-dazzle of the former’s The Rocketeer and even the high-speech and visual spectacle seen the latter’s Shakespeare movies comfortable precursors to the mantle of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.