...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Iron as a metal is strong, useful, powerful. A person called Iron Man, then, would naturally be expected to have those stalwart qualities. Yet viewers who have followed the recent trilogy of Iron Man films have come to see that the guy behind the superhero mask, billionaire Tony Stark, is often more human (though of an exceptionally rich and ego-centric variety) than iron. Typically, Tony’s greatest enemy is his apparently iron ego. Once he gets past that, heroism emerges to save the day and warrant his “superhero” label.
In Iron Man 2 (and in The Avengers), audiences were subjected to a variation on this ego theme, watching their hero again address the issues he had dealt with in the first installment. Viewers who fear the third film will be a rehash of more of the same are in for a delightful surprise, since the filmmakers instead have the courage to go deeper, or at least to new territory.
Tony is still Tony, but instead of ego, he battles fear and the darkness of his own past. Sadly, Iron Man 3 also includes the offensive language, innuendo, and sexual immorality that marked the first two movies, as well as more violence than both. The filmmaking is spectacular and mesmerizing, while the story of a vulnerable, human superhero is gripping. But, the immorality and unethical lifestyle that Iron Man 3 sells means viewers may be mesmerized and gripped by the wrong things.
Tony Stark has it all. The fortune he’s made off of Stark Industries has given him everything most people only dream about—expensive “toys,” magnificent mansion, an early retirement to spend all his time doing whatever he wants. He has even found true love with his former assistant Pepper Potts, the woman who put an end to his playboy ways.
But even love isn’t enough to help Tony sleep at night. Tormented by memories of his battles, the terror he faced when sacrificing himself to save others grows inside like a disease until it comes out in symptoms he can no longer hide. Suddenly, the great iron superhero has anxiety attacks. Yes, anxiety attacks. And at the core of the fear that’s driving them is the realization of his new vulnerability. Loving someone means he has something to lose.
Despite his singular focus on protecting himself and Pepper, it’s only a matter of time before Tony’s enemies become equally aware of his vulnerability. When Tony challenges an American-hating terrorist who hurts a friend, he forgets that he’s not just putting himself on the line—he’s risking everything.
When his everything is destroyed, Tony faces the hardest battle of his life, one which will lead him to discover what is truly important and what it ultimately means to be Iron Man. Saving the free world in the meantime is just the cherry on top.
The bar has been raised so high in modern filmmaking technology that it is often difficult, even for some big-budget features, to equal what has already been done. In terms of special effects and imaginative visual prowess, however, Iron Man 3 clears the bar and raises it to new heights. Certainly greater artistry and more beautiful cinematography has often been seen, but the seamless use of CGI and other special effects here achieve a sense of reality that, particularly in the film’s many disaster scenes, is nothing short of awesome.
Tony Stark’s technologically advanced workshop is more fully realized and appealingly realistic than in the first two Iron Man installments, as is the Iron Man suit with its new creative changes. The most jaw-dropping moments come with the explosions, fight sequences, and chaotic destruction of structures that are flawlessly depicted. Evil characters with fire-like limbs and features are no problem for a CGI team that can achieve such realism with the more difficult sequences.
Iron Man 3 packs the additional punch of two of the most authentic actors in the business—Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. With Paltrow more involved in this film than in the previous two of the series, Downey is given the rare chance to play opposite an actor who can match the truth of his performance, rather than be exposed as acting. In addition to being unfalteringly real, Paltrow is also an admirable match for Downey’s quick wit. Viewers who appreciate Downey’s clever humor will be glad it is present in this film, but this story also allows Downey to show his underused, impressive dramatic chops.
Such great achievement in making a superhero, science-fiction film nearly as realistic as one would think possible should be a completely positive accomplishment. Yet, when that authenticity includes as much immorality, violence, sexual content, and offensive language as Iron Man 3, the realism (and appeal) turns into Hollywood’s most dangerous weapon. There is no better way to desensitize viewers and contaminate their minds than making such evils palpable and palatable. Iron Man 3 does just that.
To begin with, Tony has supposedly turned over a new leaf and is no longer living immorally by sleeping with a different woman every night. But the secular worldview of the filmmakers is blind to the fact that Tony and Pepper are beacons of sexual sin, since they are living intimately together outside of wedlock. In one scene, Tony tells another character that he has abandoned his promiscuous lifestyle and is now in “a committed relationship.” The reality, however, is that he is still having sex outside of marriage and is apparently unwilling to commit long-term to Pepper by marrying her.
Sexual content pervades the film in other ways, as well. The filmmakers waste no opportunity to show nearly-naked women, whether they are in lingerie or equally skimpy bikinis. Most of these women are not central characters in the film, although one woman who plays a key role is shown from the back when clad only in lingerie. Others in the supporting or “background” cast include women playing ping pong in bikinis, models in the bikini or swimsuit section of a beauty pageant, and two women wearing lingerie while waiting in bed for a man with whom they were apparently having relations before getting interrupted.
Though Pepper usually dresses quite modestly, she also falls prey to the objectification of women that plagues Iron Man 3 when she wears a sports bra (with nothing over it) for the extended action sequence in the end portion of the film. While the bra is not actually Pepper’s choice for an outfit and is modest compared to the tiny covering many other women wear in this film, the filmmakers and the actor clearly chose to up Pepper’s sexual appeal by putting her in such garb. The point is even emphasized by Tony, who teasingly, but approvingly, asks Pepper why she doesn’t dress like that at home, citing the “sports bra” specifically.
As one might expect from such content and Tony’s playboy past, sexual innuendos accompany the parading immodesty of the movie’s women. Similar to the first two Iron Man installments, Tony often inserts quick little suggestive comments in his conversations. Most of these are confined to his relationship with Pepper, but a flashback opening sequence allows for more of this Tony Stark behavior, since he was then a full-time womanizer.
In the present-day parts of the story, Tony’s history of one-night stands is referenced, and he even jokingly asks a woman (with whom he had once been intimate) if he has a twelve-year-old son he doesn’t know about. Of course, there is also the ongoing issue of his live-in relationship with Pepper, as well.
Equally disturbing is the excess of violence, which stretches the body count numbers of even the more recent superhero movies. Most of the violence is not overly graphic or gruesome, but rather aimed to be accepted and, perhaps, enjoyed as part of the excitement of the action sequences. Only the death and injuries of two “significant” characters are given any attention, grief, or acknowledgement of wrong. These characters are the people who are important to Tony or who have done something good to earn his sympathy.
Tony is only responsible for about half of the violence in the film (which is still an amazing amount), while the villains supply the rest with the undiscriminating evil one would expect from a modern film. The innocent and guilty alike die at the hands of these villains, but the film does not have time to spend in grief for the innocents or recognition of the horrors of the violence. While most of the killings happen quickly, some characters are shown with considerable blood on their bodies, and some die from fire shooting out of their contorted faces in a manner that is disturbing and frightening, but not quite gruesome because of the flames and well-timed cut-aways.
The filmmakers do avoid one scene that would have been intensely violent by only briefly showing and referencing, but not graphically depicting a character undergoing a form of torture. At other times, however, Christians will be particularly bothered by the inexplicable inclusion of Christmas as the backdrop to the violence. In the moment before an onslaught of retribution against the villains, Tony says of these enemies he’s about to attack, “It’s Christmas—take ‘em to church.”
The amount of offensive language in the movie is less than in many action blockbusters, but that is more a condemnation of other movies than a praise of Iron Man 3. Less, in this case, still includes over a dozen misuses of God’s name and obscenities like “h---,” “a--,” “d--n,” and “b--ch.”
Yet, if one fends off the profanities and obscenities, the sexual content, and the remorseless violence (by hero and villain alike), there is the positive story of a still-learning superhero at the heart of Iron Man 3. Tony feels the consequences of revenge, pride, and selfishness, while he also learns the value of love and self-sacrifice.
Tony’s increase in maturity since the first two films is obvious in his lifestyle, the issues he grapples with, and the statements he makes. With previously uncharacteristic wisdom, Tony says that “we create our own demons,” and admits having done so himself through his careless actions that hurt others. At a pivotal moment in the film, Tony confronts another character with more unusual insight as he observes that the woman has lost “her soul” and her “moral” direction. In contrast, Tony observes that he gets to “wake up every morning” with Pepper, who still has her soul.
While these moments are among the most positive in the film, they are spoiled with the hypocrisy of Tony making the observations. His idea of morality simplistically extends only to avoiding global warfare, terrorism, and killing those he deems to be innocent. And in the same sentence he uses to attack another’s loss of moral soul, he highlights his own immoral and sinful sexual relationship with Pepper.
Thus, Iron Man 3 becomes an unintended masterpiece of irony and tragedy. When one counts up the sins of this film, one realizes that only blinding visual effects, scintillating dialogue, and heart-pounding action can prevent viewers from seeing that Tony’s bits of wisdom could not be more tailored to suit this piece than if the filmmakers had intended it.
In the effort to draw crowds and conquer the box office, Iron Man 3 has created its own demons. Along the way, the story, characters, and movie lost its soul. Put on your better-than-iron armor of God or avoid this battle altogether to make sure you don’t lose yours.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” – Hebrews 12:1