“Iron Man 3” has already turned out to be enough of an event movie that I feel justified in writing a bit more about it. The film's blockbuster arrival around the world and in the U.S. has scored almost $1 billion since its release.
That's pretty staggering. For one, this is the third installment of a superhero movie franchise. Also, its star has already triumphantly led the multi-hero cast of last summer's “The Avengers," the third-highest box-office grossing film of all time. (Some speculated the colorful Marvel comic book mash-up last summer may have left audiences less inclined to return to to the theaters for just one of those superheroes.)
And, of course, hanging-over “Iron Man 3” was the “curse of the three-quel"; the third installment of a superhero franchise is usually destined to disappoint, in terms of revenue and/or audience reaction. Take “Spider-Man 3,” “Batman Forever,” “Superman 3” and “X-Men: The Last Stand," which all failed to live up to the films that preceded them.
But that's not always the case. Take last year's “The Dark Knight Rises," a third installment that lived up to or surpassed its predecessors. (I am aware many moviegoers didn't feel it was as good as 2008's “The Dark Knight,” and I would agree.)
Last year, when the popularity of “The Avengers” became startlingly obvious, my first thought regarding future Marvel films was “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It seemed public reaction to “The Avengers” had far outstripped the solid comic-book geek fanbase; many folks who were not generally superhero fans were enjoying the movie.
In that case, wouldn't that likely broaden the audience for future Marvel movies? Friends who loved “The Avengers” but had not seen any of Marvel's other 'phase one' films suddenly wanted to borrow my geeky DVDs. (I'm still missing my copies of “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger," now that I think of it!)
This past weekend, I caught "Iron Man 3" and re-watched the first two installments, so I can offer a few thoughts regarding the new film and it's predecessors.
» “Iron Man 3” succeeds for more than a few reasons, but chief among them is Robert Downey Jr. The same star that ignited the Marvel Studios fire with his wickedly outside-the-box portrayal of Tony Stark in “Iron Man” has done it for a fourth consecutive time. Downey is perhaps the only actor on the planet that could make audiences cheer for an arrogant, self-absorbed, womanizing, genius-inventor billionaire.
In "Iron Man 3," Downey spends more time out of the iron suit than in it, and that's a good thing. Few actors are as fun to watch doing nearly anything as Downey.
WARNING: MILD SPOILER ALERT COMING!
Given the opportunity to interact with a 10-year old boy, played by Ty Simpkins, who assists an out-of-his-element Stark in his investigation of events that may ultimately lead him to uber-terrorist The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. Downey treats audiences to a portrayal of a surrogate father-son relationship that could only spring from the mind, and heart, of Tony Stark. Simpkins' unblinking performance as Harley Keener, almost as adept a foil for Downey's Stark as Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, is terrific, too.
The idea of yanking Stark from his high-flying, adults-only world of the previous films and pairing him with a down-to-earth young boy was a good one on the part of writer-director Shane Black. The pairing underscores the possibility that audiences like Downey's Stark so much because in spite of his many markedly adult character flaws, he is a child in an adult superhero's body, err armor. There are even moments Harley seems like a father figure to Stark.
This is precisely that quality that has made superheroes successful in comics and in movies -- the childlike notion that it could be you, or me, doing those amazing things, and wouldn't THAT be awesome! We might not be as courageous, stalwart and upright as Captain America, and we probably don't have a shot at becoming the Norse god of thunder, and we don't really want to be an uncontrollable green-rage monster. (Well, at least not most of the time!) But a billionaire playboy in a nearly indestructible, super-powered suit? NOW WE'RE TALKING!
Re-examine much of Stark's witty banter throughout any of the four movies, and tell me Downey's particular brand of cheerful snark doesn't sound like the wise guy with everything “made” in high school. Every aspect of Tony Stark, from his affinity for hot rods and for 'hot rod red' paint to his appreciation of Pepper Potts as someone who has "taken very good care of me all this time," is that of a teenaged boy .. of course one with enormous intellectual and financial resources.
As Downey has now fulfilled his contract with Marvel Studios, speculation is rampant as to if Downey wants to continue in the role that's made him a megastar. The formerly troubled young actor with a self-destructive penchant for alcohol and drugs was forced to screen test for the role of Tony Stark.
After the surprising success of the first "Iron Man," Downey was given a raise to reprise the role for “Iron Man 2.” But the real payoff came with “The Avengers,” for which it has been widely reported that Downey has made in excess of $50 million. Recent reports indicate that, due to similar profit-sharing arrangements for “Iron Man 3," Downey could see as much as $75 million from this outing.
He has, at least recently, publicly expressed nothing but enthusiasm for continuing in the role, Downey indicated in a recent GQ interview he might not want to play Iron Man forever. "How many genre movies can I do? How many follow-ups to a successful follow-up are actually fun?"
Marvel Studios has a notorious reputation for frugality, especially with compensation. Their recurring strategy has been to hire talent, on both sides of the camera, yet to reach full-on stardom or who have previously peaked, then pay them as little as they can get away with. Marvel's made a point of hiring budding stars, or declining ones, and locking them into multi-picture deals, and they haven't been shy about replacing performers who demand more money, either.
Terrance Howard, Rhodey in the first “Iron Man,” was replaced by Don Cheadle in “Iron Man 2." Mark Ruffalo is the third actor to play Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, following Edward Norton. Replacing an actor who plays the human side of a CGI monster, particularly when his solo film was only moderately successful, or replacing Iron Man's sidekick, are much different propositions than replacing an international star at the peak of his career, i.e. Downey.
The latest wrinkle is it appears Downey's “renegotiation” may not be solely motivated by a desire for more money on the actor's part. From Deadline: “'The Avengers' cast is becoming united behind Robert Downey Jr., who is seen as the 'leader' -— like a 'big brother.'” The report went on to say that according to one agent, Downey “is the only guy with real power in the situation,” and, “he's already sent a message that he's not going to work for a place where they treat his colleagues like...” (Expletive deleted, of course.)
If the report is accurate, reassembling the Avengers for a second outing may prove more costly than Marvel had anticipated. That said, with the success of “Phase One” and “Phase Two” opener “Iron Man 3,” likely to surpass the billion-dollar mark, total receipts for the first seven Marvel Studios films are close to $5 billion, excluding any of merchandising profits or DVD and Blu-ray sales. Disney's $4 billion purchase really looks good these days.
Will Marvel Studios ante-up to insure that “Avengers 2” comes-together as fans hope? Will Robert Downey Jr. ever don the armor or precision-trim his goatee into Tony Stark configuration again? Will Disney step into negotiations between Marvel and its stars and save the day? Stay tuned.
Contact the writer: