Iron Man 3: The IC, OoC Divide

Last night, my wife took me out to see the midnight showing of Iron Man 3 which opened here yesterday. She’s cool like that. We enjoyed it, even though we didn’t get back home ’til 3am and we both have to work today, but that enjoyment was at times hard-won. This blog post should contain no spoilers, but any direct discussion of story framing will be marked as a spoiler, so read without fear.

I very much enjoy the onscreen version of Iron Man but it was with no small amount of trepidation that I entered the theatre. With a new director, and rising expectations, not to mention the actors’ likely desire to achieve some growth of character in their roles, I felt that there was a  lot riding against the film from the outset.

What I found myself thinking as the film ran was that this was very much reminiscent of how a tabletop RPG feels with old friends in a light-hearted game – even when the actual story of that game touches on dark and serious matters. I can’t say that I walked out of the theatre excited or disappointed. I think thoughtful is the best way to describe my mood. By comparison, I watched Iron Man twice in a row, back to back. I saw it the first time, and ran out to get a second ticket for the next show during the closing credits. I went to see it everyday for the first week of its run. Iron Man is not my favorite superhero, but he is certainly in my top 3. This film was the film that gave me the character from the comics, respectfully distilled down into a coherent vision without conflicting with its comic predecessors in ways that bothered me. For Iron Man 2 I went to see it, was reasonably entertained coupled with slightly annoyed, and saw it twice in the same week. This film, I may buy when it comes out on disc – but if so, that will be mostly to listen to the commentary. It’s not that it isn’t good, it’s just that it doesn’t commit to being any one particular thing and as a result, I have doubts I will watch it again due to wishing it would.

The first film introduced the movie continuity for Iron Man, established Downey as Stark, and gave us Test Pilot/Inventor as superhero. Great fun, and good homage to the decades of comics which came first. The second film had to serve as a lot of things, not the least of which was giving the character room to grow. Sadly, it curtailed some of the interesting aspects of story lines such as the Armor Wars and Demon in a Bottle in its rush to set up the Avengers, introduce War Machine, and follow that peculiar Hollywood dictum that more villains is better. Throughout, however, the story does have somewhere to go and the characters and tone match. It’s understandably seen as less than its predecessor, but it does give us more Iron Man, and some War Machine to boot. That it wandered off into a romance with Pepper is just another one of those things that is wrong with Hollywood.

In this third film, the first under a new director, the intended tone is significantly darker, but the approach is all ‘summer blockbuster.’ Who cares that it is a cold spring? It wants to be a fun action and adventure movie, but it is a tale quite far removed from the sun and sizzle of summer. The dramatic build and the painful arc of development that Stark rides is offset, often jarringly for me, by the inclusion of slapstick and quite juvenile humor sparked not by the characters being funny in character, but by the writers providing laughs for an audience. Now the title of this entry finally makes sense, right?

It was this curious and consistent divide between ‘mature subject matter’ and slapstick at the expense of the characters that put me in mind of table banter among old friends. Even in the midst of grim butchery of evil, in groups of comfortable old friends of any age over the sound of rattling dice there is always room for a put down or unflattering reference which downplays the heroism, the pain, the sacrifice, or the development of a fellow player’s character. This is a great part of the experience, and a true strength of RPGs that this divide can operate simultaneously with the jokes occurring on one plane of play, and the dark themed story being appreciated on another. This, sadly for me, does not translate into film or fiction. A character ridiculed by the screen writer or made to seem less heroic by virtue of silly comedic beats thrust upon them despite their established traits becomes ridiculous. It does not exist on two separate levels of player and character. It has but one: the viewer.

The In-Character and Out of Character divide strikes me as a blessing in roleplaying games, and I enjoy serious groups and light-hearted groups pretty much equally. One thing this late-night movie experience has reminded me of, however, is that the tone of the players must come from the players and the tone of the game must come from the events within it. Without conscious separation of one from the other, each will willingly bleed into and inform the other. When trying to evoke the feel of a movie or story we love, I think it perhaps might be good advice to consider films like Iron Man 3 as a lesson in what not to do in regard to using the layer of the story to inspire a mood shift in the layer of the players.

8 Responses to “Iron Man 3: The IC, OoC Divide”
  1. Jessica says:

    odd seeming… I hope it has its merits worthy of cinema as i’m off to watch it tomorrow.

    • Runeslinger says:

      I enjoyed most of it, with occasional sighs at what struck me as discordant elements. As with all things of this type, your mileage is certain to vary. Go and have a great time~

  2. Personally, I felt that the humour didn’t offset the darker tone, but rather enhanced it and made the film seem more believable as a Tony Stark movie. I really enjoyed it, and felt that the end scene was very satisfying, reveling in the lack of damsel in distress trope and the very cool action scene. I also feel that the plot twists made the film genuinely interesting – if you watch the trailer again, you’ll notice that the ideas suggested are utterly different to what actually happens, which was very exciting for me.
    Overall, I’d have to say that is was much better than Iron Man 2, which I felt was a bit of a let down, and about par with Iron Man 1.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Thanks for commenting. I am glad you enjoyed the film. It certainly has its moments.

      I avoid trailers and whatnot for precisely the reasons you suggest, but looking at them now it is nice to see the misdirection there. That said – for me – the humor did not play, and the time spent on it cut into time I would have preferred be spent on focusing on other things. There are great things in the film (and the spoilery trope you mention is just one) but to draw on your telling use of language: this was a Tony Stark movie not so much an Iron Man movie. The thing which drew me out of full enjoyment was that in this film, we as the audience are set up to laugh at the hero not because he himself is being funny or is in darkly humorous straits, but because the screen writers/director wanted us to laugh. It was this element which inspired my post which – in the end – is not about the film but about running roleplaying games~

      • Yes, I agree that the film was about Tony Stark rather than Iron Man so much, but as Stark himself said, he doesn’t need the armour to be Iron Man. I was refering more to the fact that the film focussed on the Tony Stark arc rather than the Avengers team and Marvel superheroes arc, which I enjoyed.
        I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this 🙂
        I you want to read a more extensive compilation of my views, I have written two reviews, so feel free to browse those.

  3. Ah, to see a movie in the theater… Almost impossible, right now, with a 2 year old. I’m not rude enough to bring her to the movies with us.

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