SMALLVILLE: The Complete First Season (2001)

(c) Warner Bros./DC Comics

(c) Warner Bros./DC Comics

Smallville never grabbed me during its original run. The WB’s (and later, the CW’s) youth-targeted spin on the origins of Superman was always on my radar during its 10-year run, but I didn’t watch it beyond the first five or six episodes that first year.

As the series progressed, I stumbled across essays online examining its supposed strengths while various friends continued to sing its praises. This wasn’t “Superboy,” they insisted. It was smarter. Yeah, the acting might leave a little to be desired, but there’s plenty to enjoy. You need to see it.

I found the first season at a local Goodwill a few months back and snatched it up on a whim. After sitting down to watch it, I finally see what they meant. So far, Smallville is a lovingly crafted spin on a quintessential American mythology.

Superman has seen so many reboots and reinventions over the years that only the most basic elements of the tale remain sacrosanct: The last survivor of the doomed planet Krypton is sent to Earth where he’s raised by a kind farmer and his wife. Upon discovering his unique powers—able to leap tall buildings, etc – the young boy grows up to become Superman, defender of truth, justice, and (in some tellings) the American Way.

Smallville develops this conceit over the course of Clark Kent’s stint in high school. It adds a number of surprising twists to the mythos, the biggest of which being the introduction of future arch-villain Lex Luthor as Clark’s contemporary and friend. Their relationship begins after Lex—brilliant, rebellious and angry—accidentally hits Clark with his car, sending them both over a bridge.

Clark, of course, walks away unharmed and drags Lex from the wreckage. Lex can sense the impossibility of the whole event. He knows the impact should have killed them both. And so their friendship begins, first as an expression of Lex’s thanks, but also of his genuine curiosity about this special young man. Lex, it turns out, is a very good judge of character. He knows Clark has a heart of gold; the more he sees Clark with his parents, Jonathan and Martha, the more his own family comes into stark contrast.

By contrasting Lex and Clark—their gifts, their fathers, the way they develop their friendships—Smallville extrapolates and renders an almost Shakespearean level of complexity from Superman’s simple origins. It prompts us consider how much influence we really have on the people around us, which values create a moral character, and how even honorable intentions can be twisted to serve dubious ends.

Crafting a solid story around Superman presents a number of challenges. His abilities make certain basic elements of conflict more difficult to convey. This was the problem I had with those first few episodes – for much of the show’s first season, Clark’s sickly reaction to Kryptonite (unimaginatively referred to in the beginning as “meteor rocks”) manufacture much of the show’s peril. Halfway through, however, the show wakes up to Superman’s real vulnerability: the only way to really hurt Superman is to hurt the people he loves.

The strength of Clark’s relationships, then, propels the narrative. His heroism, the inherent value he finds in others, evolves out of his sense of responsibility and love for his family and his friends. Even as he saves people’s lives, Clark tries to keep his abilities secret, and keeping those secrets means at times loosening bonds of fellowship he would like very much to tighten. It’s much harder to be Superman without a secret identity, and his heroism often comes at great personal cost. This young Clark has not yet achieved the status of a mythic hero, but I can easily see him getting there.

The show wisely paces the development of Clark’s abilities at a slow burn. When we first meet him, he can run fast and carry enormous weight, but that’s about it. He’s only just coming to understand how impervious he is to physical harm. The show has found clever ways to develop his gifts and wink at his destiny. At one point, Clark mentions he once tried to learn guitar, but had to quit because he kept breaking the strings. Another moment finds a friend asking him what he wants to do for a career – Clark doesn’t know yet, he just doesn’t want to have to wear a suit and fly everywhere. As for flying, those days are still a long way off where I presently sit, but they’re coming.

The acting does leave a little to be desired, but not as much as I initially suspected. Michael Rosenbaum actually succeeds in not only making Lex Luthor interesting, but someone who earns a fair amount of empathy. Other casting choices push right past any gimmicky predilections. Sure, Annette O’Toole may have appeared as Lana Lang in Superman III, but here, she’s Martha Kent, and while the show doesn’t give her many opportunities to bring her A-game, she shows up to play when the opportunity knocks. John Schneider might be a little one-note, but he makes me believe Jonathan Kent loves his son. And Tom Welling … I’d buy him as Superman. If you know me at all, you know that says a lot.

Is it perfect? No. It retains much of the flavor consistent with other WB/CW offerings. Solid pacing and storytelling make up for whatever it might lack in sophistication and nuance (but I would argue there’s plenty of sophistication and nuance to find). It’s a fitting take on a story that deserves a good telling. I’m looking forward to enjoying the remainder of the journey.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

(c) 2013, Twentieth Century Fox

(c) 2013, Twentieth Century Fox

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on the short story by James Thurber, gives Ben Stiller a chance to bring an audience to its feet and cheer. Thurber’s story doesn’t do that—it was never meant to—but that doesn’t stop Stiller from trying.

I sometimes lurk in a forum called Arts and Faith where my favorite movie reviewer hangs out. Steven Greydanus wrote that, “Thurber might find Stiller’s film so at odds with his story as to be essentially irrelevant to it.” I think that’s true. Stiller’s film bears almost no resemblance to Thurber’s story. So, since they are mutually irrelevant, I’ll let other, much more capable writers hash out the significance of the differences.

Before I do, though, there is something to be said for basing a film on a piece of literature, and expecting the film to at least retain the essence of what made the source material tick. Sometimes, that’s not the case, and the resulting film still turns out okay. Case in point: Children of Men—very different from the book, yet satisfying.

Stiller’s Walter Mitty doesn’t quite get there.

Walter Mitty works in the lower levels of Life Magazine, a lonely, forgotten man, caretaker of the publication’s photography. As he meanders through his day, he escapes into daydreams of fantastic, absurd adventures. His shy aloofness hasn’t earned him any respect, self- or otherwise. He longs to woo a lovely woman at work, and despite his desire, it’s still so much easier to daydream than actually make the effort.

In the final days of the magazine’s time in print, their top photographer (who still shoots on film) has delivered what he believes to be the quintessential photograph of the magazine’s distinguished history. But there’s a problem: Mitty can’t find the photo.

Here at last, opportunity for adventure intersects with his daydreams. Mitty summons his courage and takes a risk to hunt down the photo by tracking the whereabouts of the nomadic photographer all across the globe. As he starts down the first real stages of the quest, real life attains the splendor of his imagination. He summons his courage, fails, and gets back up, despite mounting obstacles.

And for a while, it works. A moment of miscommunication prompts Mitty to leap from a helicopter to the deck of a nearby ship and lands in the freezing ocean, instead of the rubber dinghy intended for his rescue. It’s a moment fraught with danger, daring and laughs. It further stacks an already formidable deck.

Moments like this are how a character earns the initial goodwill that carries the audience through the journey. We admire characters more for making the effort than for their success. We know Mitty will fail—the principles of story demand it. The success of any story rests in how it applies that failure.

About halfway through the film, I started to doubt everything was really happening. What grew from his newfound courage became so epic that I figured he had to have retreated into his head at some point. I imagined the film’s final reveal would take us back to the moment he had to jump off that helicopter, only this time he’d make it into the dinghy. Cut to black.

That didn’t happen. And on some levels, that would probably be a lousy way to end the movie.

Instead, Walter Mitty emerges bit by little bit from his cocoon. He’s a beautiful butterfly after all. He wins the girl. He wins the movie. So why didn’t I cheer?

Two reasons: because I already believed he was beautiful, and because stories don’t usually resolve that well even in fairy tales. At least not the ones I remember best.

I love underdogs. Mitty earns my goodwill simply by watching him summon his courage; through how his imagination changes from a portal used for escape to a tool used to overcome adversity. Mitty doesn’t need to deliver a narrative knockout blow to win my heart. To see him win so thoroughly overstepped what he needed, and all he needed to do was try.

Indiana Jones fails repeatedly in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Take him out of the picture and everything that happens still happens. Yet of all Indy’s adventures, it’s the one we admire most. Somewhere along the way, I stopped admiring Walter Mitty.

Loveable losers don’t win the movie by winning the girl. They win the movie by winning the power of self-respect (thank you, Scott Pilgrim). That’s the one achievement I’m not sure Mitty earned.

At the very least, I can admire Stiller. He tried.

The Force Awakens Teaser

New X-Wings

So they put out a teaser to the next Star Wars film over Thanksgiving.

In the week or so before the holiday, rumors foretold of a glimpse of older Luke, Leia and Han with the Millennium Falcon flying in for the big finish. While that sounded exciting on one level, it still made me nervous. This film represents the last real chance to continue the saga. If the first real piece of marketing for his film was shameless grab for nostalgia, then there would be no reason to believe a new cast could carry on the universe.

Rumors can, and often do, get it wrong. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a vague idea of what I wanted to see. The original Star Wars is, at its heart, a western. It draws from mythical conventions and archetypes, and like the western itself, borrows from the lore of knights and heroes. And Kurosawa films. I wanted something that evoked that same blend of awe and dusty adventure.

I wanted to feel like I was 11 years old again.

That morning, I pulled up the trailer, called the kids over to watch, and held my breath. The first image filled the screen, John Boyega popped up, and I will confess: for that moment, I wasn’t thinking about Star Wars at all.

I was thinking about the opening shot from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Each successive glimpse only broadened my smile. This wasn’t a cheap shot at fond memories—this was a confident look at something new. By the time the Falcon blasted past those TIE fighters, I was ready to skip this Christmas and jump right into next year’s yule tide.

It bodes well, I think, that my first look at a J.J. Abrams Star Wars film recalled Sergio Leone more than it did the underwhelming excess that cluttered his Star Trek reboot.

(One caveat, though – I really enjoyed Star Trek, despite its flaws. Into Darkness, unfortunately, amped up the flaws and buried its predecessor’s strengths.)

I’ve tried to maintain a very quiet hope that the best days of Star Wars still lay ahead. It isn’t easy. Up to now, there’s been just as much to make me nervous as excited. My more rational side isn’t sold yet that the final film will deliver what we all hope it will. But I will say this: prospects are certainly much more promising now than they were.

The Spectacular Now (2013)

(c) 2013 ALP, 21 Laps, Global Produce

(c) 2013 ALP, 21 Laps, Global Produce

The Spectacular Now spends much of its 90-minute running time drawing you back to its title. It strings together a potent series of moments, each rich with texture and a beautiful lack of luster. In fact, some parts of it get pretty ugly. This is a movie more interested in painting pictures of truth than spinning a tale. By the time its over, how you feel about it may depend on how much you embrace its idea of what makes something spectacular.

Here’s the set up: Sutter is the high school slacker who’s always been the life of the party. He’s got a hot girl, he parties hard and lives by no one’s rules but his own. But when a misunderstanding causes his girlfriend to bail, Sutter takes his pain by the horns and drowns himself in one last 80-proof bash of drunken hijinks. You can almost hear Hot Chelle Rae—he don’t know if he’ll make it, but watch how good he fakes it.

When he finally wakes up, he meets Aimee, the movie’s girl next door. In that moment, something awakens inside Sutter that only a movie meet-cute can really capture. What follows trudges through the ugly mires of family foibles, pain and vices—in other words, growing up.

Both Sutter and Aimee have problems at home, but while the film confronts Sutter’s issues head-on, the most we ever get about Aimee’s struggle is lip service. Still, the film makes some very refreshing turns away from the cookie-cutter teen movie. Sutter and Aimee look and act like normal kids. Their trajectory doesn’t follow the well-worn, candy-coated rom-com roadways. This film charts an awkward, funny, sometimes vulgar and disappointing course. It’s honest instead of pretty.

Everyone gives a stellar performance. Kyle Chandler (Sutter’s absent father) makes you forget all about Coach Taylor. Miles Teller (Sutter) owns the slacker suit and wears it as though it were made for him. Shailene Woodley (Aimee) shines much brighter than an airbrushed CW clone because she’s so real. Their emotion is real. They make you believe in them.

The story confronts very real challenges. Sutter swaggers and stumbles through every minute with a flask in his jacket. He is a walking sack of melancholy. His joie de vivre merely cloaks his pain. Sutter makes a genuine Everyman. His circumstances echo all across middle-class adolescence, and I want to see him break through. The film, however, either doesn’t seem to want him to, or it has a different idea of what that looks like in the end.

Here’s a small piece of my problem: Sutter begins and ends the film as a raging alcoholic. He loses his job because he’s a raging alcoholic. He spends most of the movie turning Aimee into a raging alcoholic. She almost dies because they’re raging alcoholics. Sutter loses everything, only to finally reach out for the one thing that brought him any real sense of joy. Yet at no point does anyone or anything suggest that maybe the first step he might take toward healing is throwing away the alcohol.

Maybe that sounds too … puritanical. The challenges that occupy Sutter’s moral universe are not simple, nor are they easily overcome. The truth is, kids grow up making stupid decisions. Adolescence is messy, complicated, emotional, raw, painful and sometimes tragic. The film ends with Sutter at the very beginning of his long crawl out of hell and toward light. But just when he’s tasted the light, it’s almost like some unseen scoundrel comes along and plugs the hole.

At a time that likely signals the end of the romantic comedy era, here’s a film that does something different. It retains every beat of the paradigm, but replaces the usual gloss with something more weather-beaten and ordinary. That by itself makes it spectacular. That, I can admire.

For all the comparisons others have drawn between this and the films of John Hughes, The Spectacular Now didn’t leave me with that small spark of something Hughes knew how to conjure. This is Sutter’s story. What happens to him matters, and while the film drops several hints that it does have a purpose, it lands somewhere on the idea that it’s the journey that’s supposed to matter. It brings some semblance of catharsis, but it felt very hollow to me. I want to like this picture, but Sutter’s journey just makes me hurt. And not in a good way.

Miles Teller
Shailene Woodley
Brie Larson
Kyle Chandler
Jennifer Jason Leigh

Screenplay by
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

Directed by
James Ponsoldt

A Message for My Young Padawans

Hi, guys.

I thought it would be a good idea to get acquainted. There’s only so much information I can post in the forum and I wanted you to have an opportunity to know a little bit about the person who’s going to be tearing your work apart.

I’ve called myself a writer since I was 12 years old. Throughout my teens, I dreamed of becoming a bestselling author—I would have a bestseller by the time I was 30 and eventually score an Academy Award for adapting my own novel for the screen.

None of these things happened, of course.

I’m 33 now. I’ve published one short story. I have written one novel, but it’s so full of holes Clint Eastwood could take a shot at it and miss. It’ll probably never see the light of day.

On the other hand, I have landed multiple assignments writing feature magazine articles for a Colorado non-profit. I am regularly hired as a grant writer as well. I even spent about six-months back in 2009 contributing movie reviews to an online Christian magazine before it folded.

Every morning, I get up before the kids and write for an hour. I’ve completed a handful of short stories, all of which sit at various stages of readiness, all of which I plan to submit to publishers. I even have one such short sitting on the desk of a magazine right now, waiting for a response.

This is the typical daily life of a writer. It’s not what I imagined when I was 12, but I still wouldn’t trade it. I do it because I love it, just like you.

As we begin to work together, I want to give you some pointers I wish someone had given me when I was still in my teens.

First: read a lot. If you already do, great, but I want to challenge you to read outside your favorites. If you like Stephen King, try reading Anne of Green Gables. Read the classics. If you like CS Lewis, try a book called Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet. Overstreet shows how you can emulate Lewis without copying him. Challenge yourself. Find a list of Pulitzer-prize winners and read those. You’ll be amazed what you’ll discover. The more you read, the more you get a grip on that elusive idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Second: write a lot. I know you’ve heard that before, but I don’t think you’ve ever heard it like this:

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

Third: find a hobby. This can be anything, and it doesn’t even have to be creative. Find something you enjoy and do it every day.

A good hobby develops your discipline muscles, and writing well requires discipline. It takes days of sitting at the keyboard time after time writing one terrible paragraph after another. You do it because you will get better. You do it because small moves yield big results.

Personally, I like to run. During the week, I go out and run four miles during my lunch break (unless I have a meeting). When I started running, I started with a mile. Three months later, I was up to four. Six months later, I had lost 40 pounds.

When I started that novel, I committed to 1,000 words a day. Some days I wrote more, some days I wrote less. Sometimes, I even skipped a day. When I finished, it clocked in at 109,000 words. Want to know how long it took me to write it? Four months. That’s all. I started in September and I was finished before the Super Bowl.

This is an adventure we’re going to take together. You can do this. I already believe in you.

Now let’s get to work.


transitionsSplinters of Light began as a personal experiment. When I started this in 2012, I was in between projects. Freelance assignments had dried up and I needed something to prompt me to write on a regular basis.

It’s time to admit it: my powers of articulation and criticism haven’t grown as I once hoped they would.

Part of this is because I haven’t invested the necessary time. The critics I enjoy—whose opinions run counter to that old axiom “if the critics hate it, then I’m gonna love it!”—see hundreds of films a year. I’m lucky if I get to see more than 20. They’ve studied art across multiple mediums, studied film history and developed numerous powers of insight. Me, I’ve read a few books here and there. They are Olympians. I’ve tried swimming in their pool and I can’t keep up.

In the last year, however, freelance assignments have picked back up. I’m watching fewer films, but I’m reading more books.

And I’ve reacquainted myself with my first love: telling stories.

I started calling myself a writer when I was 12. I used to hand-write my stories on lined paper. I even tried creating my own comic books once I discovered spiral-bound sketch pads.

I loved the act of sub-creation. It’s a love affair that’s had its fits and starts over the last 10 years. The idea of being a novelist looks romantic and beautiful until you actually try to be one. Still, I published a short story in an obscure publication (so obscure I can’t even link to it) back in 2006. I wrote an actual 109,000-word novel in 2010. It’ll never see the light of day (at least, not in its current form), but the experience taught me many valuable lessons.

When you’re married with two kids and bills to pay, that lovely notion of retreating to a room to craft the next American masterpiece wilts like a dead rose. In its place grow thousands of weeds. They will choke you unless you mow them down. That, I’ve learned, is where the real work begins.

Earlier this year, I was approached to help out with a small writer’s forum as a mentor to young teenage writers. After looking at what was involved, I decided to dive in. Therefore, this site is transitioning to an extension of my new role as a mentor. It’ll still by my little effort to participate in the ongoing conversation about stories–how they’re told, and the splinters of light that point the way to the Great Story–just in a different way.

I may still post an occasional movie review, too.

There’s a lot of stuff that I wish I had known about this gig when I was 15 and 16. I’m eager to share what I’ve learned, and I’m eager to learn from them as well.

Everybody wants an Incredibles sequel. Except me.

(c) Disney/Pixar

(c) Disney/Pixar

Disney CEO Robert Iger made the announcement yesterday: The Incredibles 2 is happening, and Brad Bird is writing it.

Ten years on, The Incredibles hasn’t aged a day. It’s my favorite pick out of the Pixar library. It is easily their best candidate for a sequel. And while my inner 11-year-old would love to see it, my inner 33-year-old feels a little disappointed. I wanted The Incredibles to stand alone.

It’s not that I’m tired of sequels (though, when it comes to Pixar, I am). It’s not that I think Brad Bird isn’t up to the task. In my mind, there’s a very fine line between a film that begs for a sequel and one that could, but shouldn’t. If that even makes any sense.

Let me put it this way: If John Hughes were still alive, I wouldn’t want him to make Ferris Bueller’s Next Day Off. I kind of wish Ghostbusters 2 didn’t exist, and I’d be all right in a world that stopped with one Back to the Future film (as was originally planned). 

Some movies don’t necessarily need a sequel. It’s not that they’re not good enough, or that another adventure in that world wouldn’t be worth the trip. There’s some … I don’t know, a vague sense of integrity that gets lost. I know a sequel won’t sully the original one iota. Nothing I love about it would change. It’s just —

You know how Toy Story 2 capped the story so well we thought Toy Story 3 was unnecessary? That’s what an Incredibles sequel feels like to me. And just like Toy Story 3 defied every expectation, I fervently hope The Incredibles 2 will do the same.

There’s no reason not to get excited. Bird will be back—that’s a solid plus, and I’m all for letting Bird do what he wants. I loved Ratatouille. His take on Mission: Impossible injected some much-needed fun into a franchise that needed it. I have no doubt Tomorrowland will be great. Thing is, before Tomorrowland ever got the green light, Bird was well into pre-production on 1906, a film about the San Francisco earthquake of that year.

Details on 1906 remain thin. The film was a victim of the 2008 economic crisis, which made studios a lot less interested in spending $200 million on less than a sure thing. Early word was that Bird’s script was terrific. As great as an Incredibles sequel could be, I wanted to see 1906 more.

I have every confidence in Bird. He’s a proven talent. He’s stated before that he wouldn’t go back to The Incredibles unless he had a story to tell that was just as good, if not better than, the original. I believe him. And when it hits theaters, I’ll probably go and see it. My inner 11-year-old will be thrilled. 

My inner 33-year-old will just have to wait and see.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

(c) Lucasfilm/Paramount

(c) Lucasfilm/Paramount

While Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull retains many of the qualities that raised its predecessors to legendary heights, it takes things a step or two beyond the line of credibility.

It’s 1957. Upon arrival at a secret army base in Nevada, Indiana Jones is pulled from the back of a car where he’s confronted by the nuclear age’s answer to the Nazis—Soviets. Leading the Soviets is the rapier-wielding Irena Spalko. She represents a speculative arm of Soviet muscle, implying an inclination to telepathy in her service to the Motherland. Her men have commandeered the base and they want Jones to help them find a secret weapon hidden inside the base’s warehouse. It’s something they say he’s seen before, something very powerful, and not of this world. (more…)

Man of Steel (2013)

(c) Warner Bros.

(c) Warner Bros.

Superman first appeared in 1938. In the 78 years since, his origins have seen so many retellings that expecting any new interpretation to strictly adhere to either one of them becomes an exercise in futility. However the story plays, the same fundamentals continue to assert themselves:

Superman was sent to Earth from the dying planet Krypton by his father Jor-El. He landed outside a farm in Kansas where he was raised by a kindly farmer and his wife and taught the values of Truth, Justice and the American Way (TM). As an adult, he becomes Superman, a hero for the ages. Disguised as Clark Kent, a mild-mannered newspaper reporter, he engages Lois Lane in battles of rapier wit, hard-hitting journalism, and eventual romance.

That’s the gist in a nutshell. MAN OF STEEL covers each of the highlights while dressing the proceedings in an odd combination of influences. Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder possess very different strengths. Nolan brings a level of sophistication and dark morose to his work. Threads of sadness weave throughout his stories, like he knows the world is broken and fixing it may never happen, but someone has to try. Snyder has a much more aggressive, much less nuanced approach. He can certainly choreograph action far better than Nolan, but he can’t lay subtext without showing the seams. Parts of Nolan want to break through, but what we have here seems to be two competing sensibilities. The result is a big bombastic romp that feels like it’s missing one thing while retaining too much of another.


Iron Man Three (2013)

(c) Disney / Marvel

(c) Disney / Marvel

It’s a bitter pill, sitting down to watch a film that has every ingredient it needs to be something special, and what you get doesn’t live up to it. Iron Man 3 has everything it needs to work the magic. The spell just isn’t cast.

Let’s look at what the chefs at Marvel pulled out of the cupboard. Robert Downey, Jr. A solid talent, comfortable with the banter just as much as the serious stuff. Shane Black. An excellent writer who’s already established his ability to blend plot with complicated emotional baggage. For Black, who created Lethal Weapon, Tony Stark riffs on the Martin Riggs archetype: the lovable, damaged rogue. Before, it was Stark’s destructive lifestyle/career, and then it was his daddy issues. Now it’s some kind of anxiety in response to what he encountered in The Avengers. The potential threat level looms larger than he had ever imagined and he’s curse with the weight of keeping prepared.

Into this steps the Mandarin, a terrorist preying on the innocent, a villain no one seems able to defeat. Stark doesn’t like bullies. He may not stand as noble as Steve Rogers, but they believe in some of the same virtues. Stark challenges the Mandarin to a fight, and much fighting ensues. There might be some logic gaps involved with some of the tech, but it manages to work well enough.

All the problems creep in through the telling. Certain reveals strain some old clichés. No one expects comic book movies to ground themselves in reality, but they should at least reach for some semblance of it. Rich corporate geniuses aren’t the ones blowing themselves up in the real world. There are others, but it’s here that IR3 makes some of its biggest stumbles.

Much of the film’s middle deals strictly with Stark’s development. Once more, he has to battle some iteration of his inner demons. This time, there’s a kid involved. He’s a young charmer, an anchor to keep the hero grounded. He fills the roll Pepper Potts vacates this time out. Though Pepper gets a few cool moments, the absence of her influence lingers in spite of the kid’s efforts.

I don’t believe the idea that, now that the Marvel movies have entered phase two, these films have to reach higher in scope and action than previous episodes. IR3 feels like it wants to believe the same thing, but it doesn’t feel very confident about it. Some of the set pieces, particularly at the climax, get to be a bit much. Those logic gaps only increase the longer the action plays. It all looks very exciting, and one moment right at the height of the action plays pretty well, despite the fact that it really shouldn’t be happening at all.

Then there are the plot similarities to The Incredibles. Brad Bird did it better.

The heart at its center beats with all the earnestness it can muster. There’s almost an excess of Tony Stark, doing his best to ply his charms. While it might be because Downey, Jr. wanted more face time, the film at least provides some context. Tony is Iron Man — the hero is more than just a suit. It matters who wears it.

That angle should work. All the beats are there. I don’t even mind the absence of AC/DC. But watching this feels like listening to someone else cover their hits.


Robert Downey, Jr.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Don Cheadle

Guy Pearce

Ben Kingsley

Written by: Drew Pearce and Shane Black

Directed by Shane Black