I wasn’t shocked that Iron Man 3 made a crap ton of money this weekend, debuting with one of the biggest openings in modern box office history. You can read Travis’s takedown of all things box office right here, of course, but one thing kept bothering me as I watched Iron Man 3. It was the same feeling I had during Iron Man 2, oddly enough, and made me go deep into my DVD collection to pull out a film franchise that felt reminiscent of the whole Iron Man franchise experience: Pirates of the Caribbean.
The one thing about the original Iron Man was that it was a breath of fresh air into the whole super hero genre but somehow gets overlooked in the scheme of things. Why? Because it came out in 2008, the same year The Dark Knight out grossed it by nearly $200 million, and has only recently become more relevant because of the Marvel wave it inspired. Iron Man begat the entire Avengers universe because of one simple after credits scene that wasn’t meant to do anything but be a nod to the hardened fanboys of the world.
The thing is that we overrated Iron Man to an insane degree because of one thing: Robert Downey Junior’s awesomeness. It was something wholly unexpected that someone could be that good in a lead role in a comic book film; most superhero films tended to have bland heroes and more creative, charismatic heroes. No one ever remembered a hero with swagger; the genre tended to reflect its origins on the screen where the villain could ham it up and no one else. Downey changed all that with this confident, charismatic presence: Tony Stark had a swagger to him and it was awesome.
It didn’t hurt that Downey was also exceptional for the role and elevated the film with him; Iron Man was a good film but felt better than it was because of how good Downey was. It’s why Iron Man 2, despite being an above average to good film, was a letdown for a lot of people. We were accustomed to Downey being awesome, of course, and thusly we expected it. It made you notice the film as a whole wasn’t as good as it could be; there was a fixed constant of Downey being great and everything else came into a much clearer focus.
We saw the sequels for what they really were … but never went back and applied it to the original. It’s why the brush back to the sequels has been a bit harsher and the whines have been “it’s not as good as the original.” We never adjusted our expectations for the sequels by adjusting our viewpoint of the original. I like to call it the Pirates of the Caribbean & Johnny Depp Fallacy
I noticed this after that film; my first thought leaving the theatre was “that’s a great film and Depp was fantastic in it” and devolved from there. It’s something that pops up during prestige season, usually, as most great performance pieces from actors come from pedestrian films that feel more important because of a great performance. Milk is a great example of this: Sean Penn was brilliant but the film wasn’t great. Milk was good, not great, but it felt better because Penn was exceptional in it.
People tend to confuse greatness in a film with greatness from an actor when they’re not necessarily tied to one another explicitly. We overrated Iron Man like we overrated Curse of the Black Pearl and as such it’s been all downhill every since in terms of expectations.
This Week’s DVD – Django Unchained
I saw this in theatres on Christmas Day and it didn’t sit right for some reason. A second viewing a couple weeks later did the same thing, as well, as for all the hype about Django Unchained was the best work of Tarantino’s career I couldn’t quite get behind the notion. And since the whole “condo purchase” thing left me with a bunch of gift cards to a lot of different places I figured I could bulk up the DVD collection of doom a little bit. I just couldn’t quite help myself, thus this week’s DVD is Django Unchained.
Simple premise: Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who’s been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) by some bad people in the pre-Civil War South. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) also doesn’t like those same bad people and wants to get the reward for their corpses. Thus a proposition: Django will learn the ways of the bounty hunter, and killing white folks, and in exchange he’ll help the German dentist track down some bad people for the reward money. Along the way the good Doctor will help Django find his wife, sold separately at auction as a slave.
And of course since it’s a Tarantino film it’s an overly violent ode to the Spaghetti Westerns of yore.
A lot of things never really sat right for this film and I think a lot of it has to start with the lead. Jamie Foxx is a good actor, and a good fit for Django, but he’s the film’s massive weak link. It’s odd to say because he’s really talented, and has an Oscar, but I kept thinking while watching this film that Will Smith would’ve been such a better fit. I see why he ultimately turned it down, mainly because of the sheer volume of profanities and racial slurs in the film, but the part is seemingly written for him but played by Foxx. This could’ve the part where Smith wins an Oscar, or gets very close, instead of being just another solid role in an otherwise really good career for the star of Ray.
I mean Foxx is good in the part but he’s just not right for it; it’s bothered me in all three times I’ve watched what otherwise is a good (but not great) film. I liked it, liked it enough to own it, but it’s lesser Tarantino: right above Kill Bill and right underneath Jackie Brown.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club
The Great Gatsby – The guy behind Moulin Rouge brings F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epic novel to life.
See It – It’s got everything going for it and normally this would be an easy recommendation but one thing keeps bothering me: the film’s constant delays. That’s never a good sign, usually.
Peeples – Craig Robinson surprises his girlfriend at the family estate. Shenanigans ensue.
Skip It – Tyler Perry will throw his name on about anything that offers him a paycheck. Anytime you’re second lead is David Alan Grier you’re not aiming high, just saying.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .