Iron Anticipations

Wait a tick…

Right now you’re clicking back to last Saturday’s post, checking if you missed something: “I thought he said he was writing about his conversion next…? What in Sam Hill is this?” It’s okay. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a pit stop on the highway to future present, but cooler than even the coolest oasis you’ve ever come in to for a landing. Yes, even cooler than the one that had a Sbarro, a fleet of massage recliners, and a copy of the original Red Dawn on DVD for $2.99. An epic narrative resumes tonight as Iron Man 3 arrives on American shores, launching Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upping the ante not only for comic book movies in particular but the broader genre of science fiction films as well. So for all my dispensational pals out there, consider this a little parenthesis along the way before the fulfillment of what was promised before.

A year ago The Avengers capped off Phase 1, eliciting unprecedented quantities of salivation from comic nerds (the Pavlovian’s favorite test subject) and concupiscent feelings akin to scoring a date with the Prom Queen (a projection of what that must feel like, anyway- these are comic nerds, after all). A heady afterglow left even non-rabid (read: average) moviegoers satisfied for weeks and vociferously demanding more. Fans with a deeper background in the comics thrilled at the confirmation of each installment of Phase 2, hotly anticipating the developments each would bring for our heroes as well as how they would each contribute pivotal progressions to the broader Marvel metanarrative. Whether you classify yourself a rank comic book geek or not, it is commonly recognized that Marvel is up to something good with their cinematic universe, so Iron Man 3‘s release is a blast of good news for everyone and their moviegoing mother.

Did I mention I’m going tonight? Yeah. Awesome.

Here’s why I’m as pumped as I am. First of all, as an epic enthusiast, I’m flabbergasted by the scope of Marvel’s vision. You try coordinating 18 movies to depict one consistent storyline with memorable characters and stunning action! That sounds daunting to me, a dude who wants to do that for a living, and they’ve been killing it thus far. Every announcement for Phase 2’s films solidify fans’ expectations for even more epic storytelling and deeper emotional incitement. I’m stoked to see what Iron Man 3 has to offer the next stage of our heroes’ journey.

Second of all, let’s be real: Iron Man is everyone’s favorite. I know you have a second that you tell everyone else is your favorite, but come on. We can be honest with each other. Iron Man is the coolest Avenger, hands down. I’m excited to continue the story arc where we left off a year ago. What we know so far is this: perpetually unflappable Tony Stark has been flapped something fierce following the events of The Avengers, and you can hardly fault him: barely, and I do mean barely, staving off an attack by legions of aliens (aliens! Heckuva way to discover we’re not alone, huh?), witnessing an enormous swathe of New York City being snuffed out of existence by forces hellbent on the extinction of your race, discovering that you, probably the smartest man in the world, simply do not rank anymore within this larger universe… Any one of these would give a seasoned man of maturity nightmares for an unbearable stretch. Blend them together for someone who’s newly just this side of stable and you’ve got yourself one rarefied trauma cocktail ripe for soul ravaging.

Furthermore, to trace the spiritual contours of this series: the Tony Stark storyline thus far has been a compelling exploration of what redemption looks like both at the ground zero of  of a person’s ruin and as it develops, broadening and burgeoning to progressively recalibrate that ruin into a life. Tony experienced something entirely life shattering and life reorienting in Iron Man but he didn’t come out the other side an altogether with it dude. He had a new heart but still needs progressive tune-ups. And it never happens in one definitive lived moment- he, like the rest of us, has to keep living in real time, making real decisions and frequently face planting into the pavement as he kicks against the pricks. Nevertheless, we have seen Tony’s horizon exponentially growing to encompass an entire world he was at best only half aware of before as a grotesquely rich scumbag manchild.  For the last five years we’ve witnessed him in a sarcastically agile and not at all heavy-handed way growing into the new identity he rescued with after a season of dread in a dark pit. Sound familiar?

What’s so fantastic about this is how Robert Downey Jr. self-consciously views the narrative’s trajectory and his contribution to it in these very terms. RDJ infuses the role with an intensity that stems from his close identification with the character. His professional star has been on the ascent ever since the release of the first Iron Man and he has never shied away from affirming the close parallels between life and art as it touches Iron Man. RDJ is able to meaningfully invoke sin and grace, able to meaningfully invoke Jesus Christ and Yom Kippur in relation to transgression and forgiveness [1]. In the May issue of Esquire he delivered this brief meditation on destiny and grace vis-a-vis Iron Man:

Yeah, I think Iron Man wound up being the first time I screen-tested since Chaplin. As far as I was concerned, it was destiny. Now, I can’t tell you how many people are sitting around with the cold, hard evidence that it wasn’t. I just wasn’t going to let lack of perseverance, lack of preparation, or lack of prayer get in the way. I just went crazy — in a good way. And suddenly it occurred to me, Oh my God, Stan Lee might not know this, but everything he created has all been leading to this moment. It’s me. Then I thought, Hold on a second, dude, is this just some sort of neurotic personality meltdown happening here? And then I thought, Nah, that feels different. [2]

Though the Iron Man series has had plenty of dark turns and subtexts thus far it hasn’t been as bleak nor as stark (pardon the pun) as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Both films have balanced these darker elements with a joviality and boisterousness that reflect our hero perfectly. It appears Iron Man 3 will be less boisterous and less sardonic than previous installments as Tony struggles with his place in a post-Avengers world, one in which the Iron Man comics’ quintessential villain, the Mandarin, deploys every ounce of his ruthless genius towards Tony’s complete obliteration. Buzz from director Shane Black, RDJ, and others intimately involved with Iron Man 3‘s production has been highlighting for some time its grittier, grimmer tone, and both trailers have emphasized these qualities in their depiction of Tony’s life being absolutely pulverized by the Mandarin. Some good news that has emerged of late is that the stronger emphasis on drama and emotion will in no way diminish the action quotient we expect from the franchise. As a matter of fact, Iron Man 3 is set to unleash a barrage of action beyond those expectations. Kevin Feige, archbishop of Marvel Studios, has gone on record saying that “…we have what I think is the biggest most action packed finale we’ve had.” He elaborates:

I showed the film to Joss Whedon, who is our writer-director of Avengers and who is currently working on Avengers 2, and he saw the finale of this and he goes, now what am I supposed to do now? What am I going to do in Avengers 2? [3]

Whoa. For anyone who doesn’t remember, the final half hour of The Avengers was a ferocious death match between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and several hundred armed-to-the-teeth extraterrestrials with superior technology and positively behemoth flying dinosaur/whale/zeppelins (if that sounds silly, you try going toe-to-toe with ’em). So you’d better be danged sure you know what you’re talking about if you’re gonna make a claim like that on the Internets. And Kevin Feige knows what he’s talking about. If the final seconds of the second trailer is any indication, Iron Man 3 is going to deliver insane amounts of action. Iron Legion. That’s all I have to say.

…did I already mention I’m going in a couple of hours? Iron Man 3 promises gripping performances, emotional brutality and blistering, mind-warping action none of us will soon forget. See you there!

[1] Robert Downey Jr, Mel Gibson, and the Idiot Forgiveness of God:




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