The first trailer for Iron Man 3 gives a glimpse of the darker years ahead for Marvel's superheroes.
If Iron Man 3 were the conclusion of a traditional, stand-alone trilogy, we'd expect a more triumphant tone. (An easy example: the original Star Wars trilogy.) Instead, Iron Man 2 was constructed as a sequel, rather than as the middle piece of a trio, and stumbled badly even within the parameters it established. Although the film placed Tony Stark in position to join a superhero team, it left his own character's overall arc in an awkward position. As a result, Iron Man 3 hints that it will be closer to what Iron Man 2 should have been: a deeper examination of Tony Stark's character, as people he loves are in greater peril than ever.
Ater watching the trailer, though, our own James Marsh asked several good questions:
Does the Marvel superhero juggernaut have the energy to keep one-upping itself? Alternatively, will a concerted effort to down-scale individual entries in the build-up to The Avengers 2 just leave fans dissatisfied now the bar has been raised so high? Shane Black's Iron Man 3, due out next May, seems like more of the same from this first trailer, but is that going to be enough?
If, indeed, Iron Man 3 is "more of the same," then Marvel's so-called 'Phase Two' is in serious trouble. Now -- or, rather, next May, when the movie comes out -- is the time for greater introspection, not wall-to-wall action structured around hero-building inspiration. Tony Stark is already established as a heroic character; we need to see how he deals with his flaws more than his fabulous range of armored flying suits.
I'm pinning my hopes for the movie on writer/director Shane Black, who definitely has the capacity to deliver a dark-edged thriller that explores personal issues without getting too heavy, and may be able to reign in some of Robert Downey Jr.'s excesses. (Yes, I'm a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Beyond Iron Man 3, Marvel has three more superhero movies on the boards that all seem to be aiming toward darkness, and in more than title alone: Thor: The Dark World late in 2013, followed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier (based on a bleak, powerful story) and Guardians of the Galaxy (from writer/director James Gunn) in 2014.
The latter two will also reflect creative contributions from Joss Whedon, leading up to his sequel to The Avengers in May 2015. If "Phase Two" is now considered the middle piece of a planned trio, then they may all be leading up to the biggest gamble of all: The Avengers 2 as a moody, savage, and brutal blockbuster. Stranger things have happened. Marvel already has announced Ant-Man, to be released just six months after The Avengers 2, so maybe Ant-Man will be the start of a more positive, triumphant "Phase Three."
While Marvel banks its future on darker-tinged action, Steven Spielberg has looked into his future and says he's had enough action in his life, thank you very much.
In an interview broadcast on CBS TV's 60 Minutes, the director, who is 65, commented: "I knew I could do the action in my sleep at this point in my career. In my life, the action doesn't hold any ... it doesn't attract me any more." The words sound, well, shocking coming from the man who reinvigorated, if not redefined, action movies in the 70s, 80s, and 90s with Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park, respectively, but it's a natural progression to become more reflective as one ages.
Also, Spielberg was promoting Lincoln.
In his review for ScreenAnarchy, Jason Gorber noted: "For much of the running time this is a work of almost astonishing restraint ... For the most part, this is an intensely small scale film." So, while Spielberg's words could be taken at face value alone -- 'Spielberg: Why He's Done With Action Movies' headlined more than one report on the interview -- in context, I think it's clear that he was doing his best to set realistic expectations for Lincoln.
If interviewer Lesley Stahl had asked a follow-up question specifically on that point, Spielberg might have added "... unless the story's really good." Or else he's dropping out of directing sci-fi action thriller Robopocalypse, already set for release on April 25, 2014.
Or, he'll be directing that movie in his sleep.
"Hollywood Beat" is a weekly column on the U.S. film and TV industry.