I don't want to get into the habit of acting like a poor man's Roger Ebert and reviewing every movie I see. I'm not a moviemaker, I'm not a particularly representative moviegoer, and my eyes start to glaze over when I see the word "cinema."
But I do want to talk a little about Iron Man 3, which I saw along with the Crack Team this past weekend. Short review: it delivered what we paid for. Fun was had. Now I'm going to talk about why. (Because it opened just a few days ago, I'm going to be vague about particular plot elements.)
Any kind of serial medium, like comic books, television series, and (increasingly) novel or film series, has a problem. The audience falls in love with the first episode, and wants more of the same. However, the audience also wants variety, and will get cross if you don't give them something new. At times that second desire gets forgotten.
I can remember very vividly my emotions as a teenager when I saw the opening title crawl for the third Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi. Back in those days we didn't have illegal YouTube downloads and leaked scripts -- to find out what a movie was about you pretty much had to go to the theater and watch it. As a Star Wars fan I was tremendously excited about how the epic story would wind up. I loved the original Star Wars, and Empire Strikes Back had managed the amazing feat of being even better. What wonders would this new movie hold?
And then, there in the text crawl, I saw that the bad guys were . . . building a new Death Star. Even bigger and more powerful. And I felt the first pang of that disappointment which gradually became my predominant emotion in movie theaters as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s.
That's it? We already saw Luke defeat the Death Star, back when he was a snot-nosed kid fresh off the farm. I'm supposed to be afraid that he won't be able to do it again, now that he's a big-deal hero? Is that all?
Iron Man 3, I'm pleased to say, avoids that. The villain isn't a retread. The bad guys are genuinely intimidating. The villain's master plan, while typical comic-book lunacy, isn't stupid comic-book lunacy. The stakes are raised, but not absurdly. (Spoiler: I was kind of relieved to see that for once neither New York nor the planet Earth are in danger of being destroyed.)
And most importantly, the movie doesn't diminish its hero. It deprives him of all his mighty toys, but lets him remain heroic and resourceful, so that when he finally does triumph, it feels earned. By making us care about and sympathize with him, the story keeps us involved without artificially hyping up suspense.
I enjoyed it, the Crack Team enjoyed it, and at no point did I feel as though the people making the film thought I'm a moron. That's worth at least matinee prices.