Yeah, yeah. I can already hear my usual spate of friends: “you hate EVERY film, Iron Man 3 was AWESOME, what’s wrong with you??”
I didn’t hate Iron Man 3; I thought it was fun. But what bugs me is on the back of Marvel flexing its muscle with The Avengers, Iron Man delivered one of the laziest scripts I’ve seen hit the screen in a while.
Even if you don’t agree with me today, soon I wager, you will. If Iron Man 3 is an indication of things to come, you’ll do well to heed my warning and start looking for the new up-and-coming independent filmmakers now.
My Three Gripes
While I’ve heard some complain about the mishandling of Mandarin’s character, my beef is with the shortcuts the writers took in telling the story:
God in the Machine
Story guru Robert McKee oft decries the storyteller’s greatest sin: Deus ex Machina. In short, upon writing your characters into an impossible-to-escape situation, rather than devising a clever way out, salvation is delivered by complete chance. It’s storytelling at its absolute laziest.
The classic example is Jurassic Park. At the end of the film Dr. Grant and company find themselves weaponless and surrounded by deadly Raptors. A certain death scenario…if not for the sudden and inexplicable appearance of a hungry T-Rex.
During the climatic showdown in Iron Man 3, Stark sets an array of Iron Man suits on autopilot. Every time an obstacle is encountered, a new suit whooshes in, solves the problem, then disappears. Falling gantry? How about a suit equipped with a hydraulic jack? Fiery deathblow from Mandarin? Why not a suit with dismembering pop-out blades?
When every problem in the story is whisked away by a conveniently equipped suit, suspense and surprise are whisked away as well.
Letting the Cat Out of the Bag
Based on what the film had already shown us about the characters and the Extremis virus, the INSTANT we see Pepper Potts injected with the virus we know the following:
- Potts will gain superpowers.
- Potts will apparently die, motivating Stark’s final confrontation with Mandarin.
- Stark’s fight with Mandarin will take a sudden downturn, and at the most dire moment, Potts will reappear and save the day with her newfound powers.
Well…guess what happens:
- Potts gains superpowers.
- Potts apparently dies, motivating Stark’s final confrontation with Mandarin.
- Stark’s fight with Mandarin takes a sudden downturn, and at the most dire moment, Potts reappears and saves the day with her newfound powers.
When you know exactly what is coming up next, how can there be suspense and surprise? Yawn.
Unmotivated Rapid-Fire Emotions
Nobody really says what they’re feeling. Even when we’re trying to say what we’re feeling it never comes out right. So, when characteristically closed-off Tony Stark randomly opens up without much resistance or build up, it comes off a little forced.
Like Deus ex Machina, having your character perform emotional 180’s on the spot is all to convenient. Rather than having your character react to events (as in, you know, real life), they confess, emote and break down on command. You can almost see the marionette’s strings.
Why Should You Care?
Ok, so I pointed out a few things that the average person wouldn’t notice, or even really care about. So what?
Why Eat Microwaved Hamburger When You Could Have A Juicy Steak?
I remember my first foodgasm: Tacos de Carnitas from Los Tortugas Deli Mexicana. It was the first time I realized what good food really was. Why would I ever go back to Taco Bell when I could have Tacos de Carnitas?
Like I said above, Marvel showed us it knows how to tell a great story with The Avengers. Why then did they start cutting corners with Iron Man 3? Why should we have to settle for something that is ‘just ok’ when we could have something mind-blowingly amazing?
Junk Food Isn’t Good For You
We all say we go to the movies to be entertained, but that’s not true. We really go for catharsis, for emotional release, to have our beliefs and values affirmed (or challenged), to escape into something beautiful, to have new life breathed into old truths, and to be reconnected with what we’ve lost.
Lazy storytelling and films purpose-built by accountants to titaliate and entertain rob you of that catharsis. It’s junk food. Sure, it tastes good, but it’ll leave you empty, feeling like crap, and unhealthy.
Are We Losing Our Ability to Tell Stories?
Fellow timid monster Rachel M Taylor and I were talking the other day about the ill effects of rapid-fire social media and scripts watered down for international audiences. Solid storytelling is becoming a lost art in mainstream media.
If story is our primary way of conveying values, meaning, and belief, what happens when we lose our ability to appreciate and tell great stories?
Hollywood is stuck. Only the big summer blockbuster films can shoulder the studios’s massive overhead. You may be fine with Marvel’s offerings today, but bear this in mind: they have YEARS of this stuff in the works. The trade papers are already starting to report on super-hero fatigue. At some point, quickly written scripts that have been watered down for international audiences are going to become a real bore.
What I would commend to you, dear reader, is the growing independent film scene. As self-distribution tools like Vimeo and VHX evolve it’s going to get easier and easier to find amazing stories in smaller films that will blow the big-budget duds right out of the water. Just you wait and see.
We’re working on our own at the moment, and we’re sure as heck not going to rush the writing.