So, IRON MAN 3.
Um... no, not so much. No.
I watched this with most of the fam last night. I felt vaguely dissatisfied all the way through it, but could not put my finger on why. The characterizations felt vaguely off, the relationship dynamics didn't seem to work well... Tony and Pepper, Tony and Rhodey... in fact, the only time I really felt anything much at all other than, you know, visceral excitement and some nervousness about Tony and Pepper's various plights was when Tony ran into the movie version of Ho Yinsen in an flashback to the late 90s meant to set up the movie's main villain(s). That brief cameo was about the only thing I genuinely liked about the movie when I watched it... and this morning, it came to me that that is very indicative of just what, in general, was missing from this film:
Marvel superhero movies to date have had two kinds of roots to the past - either they had cleverly updated references to the concept's Silver Age template that, while they worked well for the modern, uninitiated moviegoer, still firmly connected that movie back to its actual origins, and/or, in the case of those movies with sequels, they had firm continuity connections back to the previous installment of the movie franchise.
This is the first Marvel superhero movie that has largely lacked either kind of connective tissue. Nearly everything in this film is self referential. The villains, such as they are, are established entirely in this film (no, the Mandarin does not arise from the cool Ten Rings thing clearly established as a Mandarin lead in in IRON MAN). There are absolutely no connectors back to Iron Man's comic book Silver Age, such as the first two I.M. movies were rife with -- this movie is entirely a Modern Age film (based in large part on a relatively recent Warren Ellis arc). And the only connections back to previous films are the already mentioned cameo of Ho Yinsen (the movie version) and Tony's post traumatic stress stemming from the events of the AVENGERS movie, which is just there to provide a vague, vestigial semblance of a character arc for Tony to undergo in this movie.
But that's it. Other than that, this movie has no past. Everything takes place in a sort of eternal present with no history. Everything works as established, and at the end of the movie, nothing has really changed. In the first two IRON MAN movies, Tony went through definite arcs -- in the first one, he went from drunken sybarite to hero, in the second one, he finally surpassed his father and while doing so, he also created the War Machine armor and defeated a couple of really cool villains with strong Silver Age roots (and, we got to see the Black Widow for the first time, which was very cool).
In this movie, nothing happens. It has no real history and it makes no real changes to Tony's life, except for the negative one of removing the shrapnel from his heart, and therefore, making him no longer dependent on the Iron Man armor to live. This is a bad idea; various writers and editors have tried doing this with the character in the comic book, sometimes for years at a time, but what makes Marvel superheroes work is that they are all flawed (unlike their largely Golden Age predecessors from National, who are generally perfect and therefore boring).
But this is why I was not moved and did not feel anything deeper than the visceral while watching IRON MAN 3 -- there is nothing deeper than the visceral there. It's a throwaway movie. It means nothing.
Now, I'm wondering if all the Phase 2 Marvel superhero movies will be like this. If so, I imagine I'll have stopped watching them long before AVENGERS 2 finally comes out.