Apr 3, 2015

Alternative to What: "Iron Man 3" (2013)

Robert Downey Jr.
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

THIS WEEK:
Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Alternative To -
Furious 7 (2015)

This weekend marks the release of the seventh film in The Fast and the Furious franchise. For fans, the 14-year-old series that has popularized crazy stunts with cars has become somewhat of an event series. It is rather astounding that as the series gets long in the tooth, it still not only manages to rake in the money, but also maintain positive reviews from critics. The series may be the quintessential action series considering that Transformers has remained a pariah for quite some time and there hasn't really been anything to take the mantle as Furious 7 reaches screens. This is what makes this week's selection particularly hard because if one was to recommend a sequel that is deep into a series, what would you choose? There aren't that many ones that could even pass for the "good" moniker. 
Then came an interesting selection that few would expect. It is one that actually financially will likely out-gross Furious 7 upon its completion. I am talking about Iron Man 3. For some, it is considered the third film in the Iron Man series. However, it is also the seventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise which started with the first film and culminated in The Avengers, which is arguably the best (or at very least most financially successful) sixth movie in any franchise. The events of Iron Man 3 are sort of a fallout of The Avengers and only shows how intricate it is and that yes, these are all sequels that are necessary to understand the whole picture. This is simply the third time in there that Iron Man is the lead.
There is an odd and divisive reputation that Iron Man 3 has with fans. For some, Tony Stark's growing disaffection for being a hero leads to a lackluster story. However, it also has been called the best Iron Man film simply for the spectacle that director Shane Black brings to the design. Scenes that involve Iron Man rescuing people as they fall to their death is one of the more entertaining scenes of 2013. However, the one catch is that instead of being entirely about the action, and a notorious third act twist, it is about existentialism as well.


For most of the film, Stark is in a compelling position. He isn't with his suit. It is dysfunctional due to an attack caused by his enemy. He is forced to live in a nomadic town and repair it while dealing with an inconsequential life. While he evolves from the familiar reluctant hero story, it is interesting that this film plays more as an anti-technology PTSD film at points that are audacious for a blockbuster of its size. Yes, it still leaves room for spectacle and easily the series' bigger set pieces. It's also rather comical, too. However, what gives it depth is that behind the sheen, it is a complicated look at a man who is grasping his place in life. It may be too melancholy and uncomfortable at times, but it's something that makes sense after the first film five years ago.
As exhaustive as the Marvel universe would become in its later films, this was an interesting note to start what became known as Phase 2 on. It is a vulnerable one that somehow makes Stark into an elderly veteran. Yes, it paved the way for more Captain America and Thor as well as the introduction of Guardians of the Galaxy, but those continue to feel like more of the same comparatively. With Iron Man 3, there was some growth and a moment where it felt like the franchise was reaching a maturity within the superhero model. It may be comical and feature a great trick on the audience, but it is darker than an average Marvel film. Then again, Iron Man 2 had a subplot about alcoholism, so anything is possible.
So the question remains on if Furious 7 will hold any justice in the grand scheme of things. Yes, the premises have gotten so ridiculous, but it's part of the fun. However, it's interesting to see the evolution from 2001's The Fast and the Furious to now. What started as a humble drag racing film shot around Long Beach, CA has now evolved to an international chase film with cars being dropped from planes. There's doubt that it will be as existential as Iron Man 3, but that's not the point. It's about having fun, which after seven movies it's impressive to see that people still care about that.

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