ByBrian Salisbury, writer at
Brian Salisbury

When a superhero franchise reaches its third installment, problems can, and frequently do, arise. When this occurs, film pundits put frustration to keyboard and, in the comfort of hindsight, digitally espouse what it is that went wrong. However, there are instances in which even quality franchise entries can bear troubling omens. It's just that, in those cases, we're too distracted by all of the accomplishments to notice the faintest outlines of the writing on the wall. Such is the case with 's Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 3 is a franchise triumph for Marvel Studios, and effectively digs the character's solo series out of the hole dug by Iron Man 2. Black uses his distinct style to enhance the irreverent side of Tony Stark without sacrificing action or comic book panache. He even manages to conceptualize The Mandarin in a manner that both skirts and subversively acknowledges the fact that he is one of comicdom's most culturally offensive villains. All that being said, the film does reach critical mass on one of Iron Man's defining characteristics: his tech-savvy ingenuity.

One of the reasons I never counted myself a Superman fan is that his litany of superpowers made him rather boring. My go-to analogy for this is that he's like that one kid who never played by the rules in your childhood superhero games. You'd try and blast him with imaginary fire, and he'd claim to have a fireproof suit. So you'd try and throw a make-believe boulder at him and suddenly, conveniently, he'd be endowed with super strength. The lack of give-and-take in your fictive battle eventually lead to your losing interest in the game. To me, Superman was always that little brat.

The nice thing about a character like Iron Man is that he has no superpowers. He must use his intellect and technological prowess to adapt himself to each individual threat. He is therefore someone to whom audiences have an easier time relating; apart from his billions of dollars of course. However, Iron Man as a film franchise is flirting with a crisis wherein Tony's techno arsenal becomes such a convenient plot device that it might as well be Superman's innumerable powers. Not only that, but he's able to craft these devices in any location no matter how limited his materials.

This would be fine, of course, if the technology readily at his disposal was available in the real world. Or failing that, if it was technology that was widely available even to the people within the world of the film. However, it is always a highly specialized, dazzlingly futuristic piece of tech that only Tony possesses and that he can construct at any time to solve any problem.

The franchise must tread carefully to avoid venturing into Deus Ex Starkina, the threshold wherein all tension is subdued by our foreknowledge that Stark can tinker his way out of all predicaments using technology that is so futuristic and unencumbered by the laws of science as we know them that they are essentially magic. Obviously they can't remove this core component from the character altogether, but they must be mindful of not overusing this convenience lest viewers become disinterested in story specificity.

One of the reasons Iron Man worked so well in 's The Avengers is that he didn't spend every other scene in his workshop engaged in a series of augmentations and amplifications of his already stunningly advanced mech suit. Instead, his time was on screen was largely focused on his making use of the existing features of the one suit he had handy. That's what we need from his solo films going forward. Forget the endless quest to have Tony one-up himself, and in the process getting more and more garish with the gadgets that strut and fret their hour (and a half) upon the stage. Let us see him take the hits and suffer the scars without a dozen more suits standing by for him to leap into, as he literally does in Iron Man 3.


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