Wednesday, 24 April 2013

...from a Certain Point of View

Iron Man 3 comes out this week.
Hopefully I'll be seeing it on Friday, with my own review online by Monday at the latest. But the actual press reviews are already out, and the consensus seems pretty damn positive! Empire magazine, in their review, have called it "by some distance, the Man In The Can’s best solo outing so far." Which would make it easily Marvel's best solo film, too. That's all they say, though - they don't qualify or explain it, they just throw it out there and then talk about something else.
Firstly, I've never heard Iron Man called the Man In The Can before, and I love it. Secondly, that statement is fantastic news if it's true, but I'm not sure how far to trust it.

I've said before that it's really hard - kind of impossible, in fact - to judge films of a similar quality as objectively "better" or "worse" than each other. There is no single value to compare; all films do some things well and other things badly (except Twilight, which does nothing well). So, when Empire say that Iron Man 3 is the "best" of the three, which attributes are they talking about?
They could mean that it's just clearly out-and-out better - like the obvious difference between Iron Man and Iron Man 2 - but the first film is so strong that I can't believe the improvement this time is that pronounced. The first Iron Man is, simply, one of the best films of its kind.

What kind of film is that, exactly? Well, this is where it gets interesting. They get called several things, these kinds of movies, and, for me at least, each name comes with a different set of values to compare:

The best comic-book movie (about a superhero or superhero team) is The Avengers. It just is. No film ever made has so perfectly captured the way it feels to read a comic-book - the hyper-realism of it all, the dizzying sense of adventure and fun, the way it makes you care about the most ridiculous things. Before last summer I would have called Thor the best comic-book film, for much the same reasons - it just felt like a comic.

On the other hand, I would say that the best superhero film (based on a comic-book) is Spider-Man 2, with the original Iron Man close behind. These films focus on the nature of superheroes - showing us who they are, why they do what they do, and how important they can be to both their world and ours.

If you shift the emphasis from superhero film to superhero film, the best candidates (much as I hate to support their slightly scary fanbase) are probably The Dark Knight or Batman Begins - films which are brilliantly made and function incredibly well as films, regardless of (perhaps even in spite of) the fact they are about a guy in a bat costume. I've heard a lot of support for Captain America in this regard, too, though I don't really see it myself.

If we define these films by their action then The Avengers takes it again, for its perfectly executed escalation. And for that one long shot. And for Hulk.

Avengers is also the best film as a complete experience, and as a piece of entertainment - though Iron Man, Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 all deserve a mention.

Finally, if we define them as character pieces, the prize goes to Iron Man - a detailed picture of one man's broken life, and the events that push him to do the right thing. The two Batmans take the runner up spots.

I doubt that there's any way Iron Man 3 will trump the original's brilliance as a character piece - and I have trouble believing that it could be a more entertaining experience either (though I certainly believe it could match it). Perhaps Empire were referring to the movie's action - the series has always been quite lacking in decent fights - or maybe they mean it's a better film in the same way as Batman Begins. I just wish they'd been more clear what they meant; value judgements like "better" and "best" are tricky at the best of time, and some context really would have helped.
Not that it actually matters - we'll all find out this Friday! In the meantime, please feel free to yell at me in the comments about which films I should or shouldn't have included - or which metric you think is the most valuable. Please do, because no-one ever comments on these things and I feel kinda lonely.