Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two
critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire Network discuss new releases with
Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. In this edition, Grantland's Wesley Morris and Slate's Dana Stevens grapple with "Iron Man 3" and its relevance in film culture.
When you look at an actor like that do you wish, now that he's sober and cleaned up in other ways, that he was looking at some roles aside from this and "Sherlock Holmes"?
Part of me wants to ignore this movie and focus on the smaller releases that deserve the attention. On the other hand, the "Iron Man" series is too big to ignore -- and by many accounts a lot better than the standard blockbuster.
Wesley, I want to start with you because you strike me as a bigger fan of the series as whole. You singled out both "Iron Man" and its sequel because you felt the dialogue scenes were actually stronger than the action. Do you feel that's still the case here?
WESLEY MORRIS: The action sequences are sort of bigger and there aren't the action set pieces in this movie. But I think the idea of Shane Black, who directed this movie, was to maybe interweave those things. I think the surprise story of the series for me has been the relationship among the characters -- not in any deep way, but just in a classic Hollywood screwball kind of way. They have what passes for witty repartee, eye-rolling, teeth-sucking, putdowns. There's a very catty aspect to these movies that I love.
Dana, in your "Iron Man 2" review, you wrote that the franchise should trust Downey more. Do you feel like they took your advice this time around?
DANA STEVENS: Not necessarily, but I still think this is my second favorite of the "Iron Man" movies, the first one being my favorite. At this point we know that character, Tony Stark, so well, and what Robert Downey Jr. can do in the interstices of a huge action movie in which so much is foreordained by a global demand for loudness. For the last quarter of the movie there have to be 14 or so spectacular action scenes in a row. That's just this immutable law. But within that, Robert Downey Jr. does have this amazing ability to create some space of intimacy. I'm not quite sure where that comes from. I think it's our history with him not just as Iron Man but as Robert Downey Jr. I think people are still sort of proud of Downey Jr. for having gone from junkie to superhero. But he does have to fight against a lot studio-mandated loudness.
DS: I assume that he still is, that this is just another phase in his career. He's reinvented himself so many times, but he'll always be Iron Man. It does seem at the end of the movie that it's implied he'll be in the next "Avengers" movie without question.
WM: I think the intimacy thing is interesting. One of the coolest things about this series to me is the visual decision to put us inside the mask, so you actually do have this physical intimacy with him that creates this other kind of intimacy for the duration of the film. You get to watch this guy close-up do close-ups really well. That's sustained throughout the movie. It was also fun in this one to see Don Cheadle does the same thing. I really like that, seeing actors like that. I don't think this movie needs to be in 3D. There's only one sequence that justifies that, and it's pretty good, but I don't think it needs to be in 3D.
DS: Which sequence justifies it?
WM: The skydiving one. That's the only one where you really get a sense of it. I imagine if that's being shown in IMAX, that's how you want to watch that sequence. I didn't see it in IMAX so I can't say. But I like that you're so close to this guy.The idea of a blockbuster franchise creating any kind of physical intimacy with actors does have a unique ring to it. Did "The Avengers" raise the bar in terms of quality superhero movies?
'I definitely have a kind of Stockholm Syndrome for superhero movies.' --Dana Stevens
WM: I think there are several bars. You know, the benchmarks for this type of movie are pretty significant. There's the original "Superman," Tim Burton's first "Batman" movie and maybe the second one, the "X-Men" movie, and the first and second "Spider-Man" movie. And then, last year, "The Avengers." These movies really explain how this comic book movie adaptation thing can and should work in a way that gratifies people who are slavishly devoted to the comic books, people who just like expensive summer movies, and people who just want competently-made movies with a story and a screenplay and performances. I think those benchmarks really explain how it works. I don't think "The Avengers" is a great movie, but it's one of the best examples of making something that I think from a comic book fan standpoint is really nothing. I was never really into "The Avengers." I read it but I didn't love it, and I didn't know why, out of all the things you could do with a movie franchise, you would even bother with it. But it has proven to be fruitful and the story of "The Avengers" movie for me was this combination of special effects being state of the art and having these actors also willing to have have fun with it. Each one of those actors did something interesting, including Scarlett Johannson. She could've phoned it in, but I don't think she necessarily did. I thought she was really interesting to watch.
DS: I think what all those movies have in common is a light-heartedness. Except maybe the Christopher Nolan movies.
WM: No, but obviously "The Dark Knight" is another benchmark.
DS: Setting "The Dark Knight" aside because that's getting into the whole Wagnerian brooding territory, I still think a light-hearted comic book movie is what it's all about. I've had it with the "Hamlet"-type brooding of the superhero. Like that terrible Brandon Routh "Superman," that kind of mood -- as if we have to bring darkness, gloom and introspection into every superhero. And Robert Downey Jr. really tows that line beautifully because he creates Tony Stark, along with Shane Black's dialogue in this version, as someone who has superiority but is also thoroughly funny.
Dana, when "The Avengers" came out, you said that you were "starting to feel something akin to being defeated" by superhero movies. Have you given up yet?
DS: Yeah, I definitely have a kind of Stockholm Syndrome for superhero movies because it's very clear that's the era we're in. It's like Christianity in the Middle Ages. So the question is, like the studio system, what creativity can be defined within those strictures? And "Iron Man" almost has an indie status within the superhero movies because its playfulness.I'm glad we found an indie hook.
Next: How to honor "the seriousness of comic books."