Is Iron Man the Only Interesting Marvel Superhero?

Why do Thor and Captain American seem so boring in comparison?

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Marvel

If you’re excited to see Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 this weekend, you’re not alone; early estimates suggest that it might have moviegoers even more excited than they were for last year’s Marvel’s The Avengers. That might seem counter-intuitive: Wouldn’t people be more excited about seeing a bunch of their favorite heroes joining forces,than the third installment of Tony Stark’s solo adventures? There is, however, a very good reason for this: Iron Man is currently the only Marvel movie superhero who is really worth watching on screen — and throwing the other heroes in a movie with him just dilutes his appeal.

Even the most ardent fan of either Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor has to admit that those movies were superficially stirring and oddly hollow. On paper, they seemed to have everything audiences expect from a superhero summer movie — High stakes! Action! Romance! (But not too much of the latter, because, you know, superheroes!) — but in actual execution, there was something missing. You found yourself leaving the movie theater exhilarated, only to have trouble remembering later what it was that you were quite so excited about.

It takes about two minutes of watching Robert Downey Jr. in action in Iron Man 3 — in any of his appearances as the armored Tony Stark, in fact — to realize what the other Avengers are lacking: Charisma. Downey Jr. is an irresistible presence on screen, and Tony Stark — a character simultaneously cocky and vulnerable, an only slightly repentant jerk who wins you over despite himself — is a role he plays with visible relish; when he’s on screen, you can forgive almost anything (see: Iron Man 2 and the logic-bending nonsense contained therein) purely because Downey Jr.’s Stark is just so damn cool.

By contrast, you have Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Evans’ Captain America, two men who could hardly seem more wooden and emotionally uninvested. Hemsworth’s Thor seems the complete opposite of Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, sucking the air out of every scene with every glower and deep-voiced murmur of dialogue. Similarly, Evans’ performance as the star-spangled Avenger looks as if he misread “upright hero” as “uptight hero” in his script, and it stuck. I doubt that the problem is with the actors, though; watch Evans in another comic book movie, the severely-underrated Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, and you’ll see an actor who is easily as much fun to watch as Robert Downey Jr.

I suspect the fault lies in some unfortunate conception of what we want from our blockbuster movies, and the unfortunate effect that has on characterization as a whole, and characterization of our heroes in particular. In recent years, it’s become increasingly obvious that story comes a distant second to spectacle in modern summer blockbusters. As long as the audience can be wowed into submission with CGI characters and worlds that could never exist in reality, it seems, plot holes or a paucity of internal logic can be forgiven or at least excused, if the success of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies is anything to go by. With this mindset gradually becoming common wisdom, writing has become less about telling an engaging story, and more a matter of  solving “How do we get from Set Piece A to Set Piece B in the least number of moves?”

As a result, characters have devolved from individuals into interchangeable “types” acting as just stand-ins and props for us to watch run towards or away from the next big action scene. That’s fine for those who have the fun “types” to play with: the cowards, the jerks, and others tragically flawed. But for the heroes of the piece, anything resembling a quirk or personality gets ironed out in favor of minimizing the need for exposition, which is (of course) focused on the next big special-effects scene.

For Iron Man, this works out fine: Robert Downey Jr. gets to play a jerk who (deep down) means well, and does it both wonderfully and winningly. For Captain America and Thor, however — characters who border on the cartoonishly perfect even in the hangdog world of Marvel Comics — it means that Chrises Evans and Hemsworth are left with nothing to do aside from stand around looking handsome and let everyone else have the fun.

That works in Avengers —Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner can play off the straight men, after all —- but in their own movies…? How long can underwritten heroes really hold our attentions, no matter how elaborate the visuals? Perhaps we should enjoy Iron Man 3 as much as we can. It could be all downhill from here.

17 comments
TerryWylis
TerryWylis

You have to remember, neither Thor nor Steve Rogers ARE Tony Stark. Nor are they modern hip Earth guys with the moxie and money to burn up a screen with their witty remarks alone.

Thor is about as medieval royalty as it's possible to get. That means dignity, honor, and chivalry. That he's also a spoiled, reckless tween at the start of the first movie just adds to that sense of "something feels off." My problem with the Thor movie had nothing to do with the main character being boring, and everything to do with the total lack of spark between Thor and Jane Foster. Honestly, I'd rather have seen more brotherly interaction with Loki (talk about a connection).

Steve Rogers may seem boring to a lot of modern young people, but one of the main conflicts of the character is that he IS out of place in a modern world. He's a 1940s man, and was a 1940s 98-pound weakling. Men were expected to be strong, polite, reserved...gentlemen.  Even getting buffed out as Cap wouldn't have erased all the issues of being a sickly bookworm type who tried to do the right thing in taking on a loudmouth in a cinema and ended up getting his ass handed to him in a back alley. Steve's determination and his moral compass are all he has pre-serum. And he does the best he can. Which is why in the comics there's always a love-hate relationship going on with Tony.They're alike in a lot of ways and diametrically opposite in others. Avengers showed this brilliantly--Robert and Chris played it perfectly.

There is a great deal to enjoy from the Cap and Thor movies which doesn't rely on the fancy suits and the heavy CGI action scenes. Not that I dislike Iron Man--I love Robert Downey Jr, and I love Tony Stark. But IM3 disappointed me because it felt forced. Like they were pushing to outdo Avengers with the action and the humor (the whole Mandarin thing failed utterly with me). All of the trailers and lead-up talked about stripping Tony back to just him and his wits against a formidable enemy--what I saw was a far-too-dense storyline that buried the characteristics I love best about Tony under a mountain of snarky kids, overdone girlfriend rescues, and a postlude that tied up far too many things without really explaining them. 

I'm most certainly hoping it goes UPHILL from here. It wasn't a nosedive, just a stumble, but it WAS a stumble for me.

mshavzin
mshavzin

Oh I get it. There is no logic to your comments. Its just that Downey Jr gets you hard. That is fine, I have no problem with that, but you shouldn't pretend there is artistic merit being discussed here.

mshavzin
mshavzin

No. Stark is actually kind of boring. I would say if anything Hawkeye had more presence with two minutes screen time, then Stark with all of his nerd king witticisms. And I loved captain America. I am starting to find Stark extremely irritating as of Ironman 3. The Avengers was a much better movie.

GuðmundurSteinarJónsson
GuðmundurSteinarJónsson

Tony Stark is a person with a personality, Steve Rogers and Thor Odinsson are not. This isn't me dissing Cap or Thor, Clark Kent doesn't really have a personality either. They are archetypes, more like the characters you find in Homer as opposed to Ibsen. 

The typical Iron Many story is that something Tony did in his wicked arms-dealing past comes back to bit his reformed ass. He has to deal with his guilt, suit up to protect himself and his friends and family. This is the basic plot of all three Iron Man films. Downeys Stark has enough personality so that to make a compelling story you just have to put the character into a dangerous situation which is ultimately of his own making. 

To tell a compelling Cap or Thor story you need to make the story compelling and to put the morally and ethically virtuous character in compromising moral positions (like Nolan did in Dark Knight and Donner did in Superman I). Cap has to choose between saving Bucky and stopping the bad-guy, he has to choose between saving his own life or saving New York. In a sense Cap never changes as a person while Tony Stark does. 

It's not that only Tony Stark can make interesting movies, it's that you have to tell a story that fits the character. 

rmcmillen01
rmcmillen01

I am a huge fan of Marvel and comicbooks over all..... have a comic library dating back roughly 40 years............................................... and........ how do I put this......... how do I put this NICELY??......... The way Disney and Marvel have told the stories on film? It appears there isn't ANY character within the Marvel Universe that I would consider "interesting".......... sad to say really..... I love all the characters.... I really do, but the powers that be have continuously botched the telling of their stories over and over... all while insulting its fan base and their intelligence at the same time.... it really saddens me as a fan boy.

Especially the way they messed over one of the ultimate Iron Man baddies, "The Mandarin"-  http://rmcmillen.hubpages.com/hub/Iron-Man-3-Through-The-Eyes-Of-A-Real-Fanboy

LarryMosley
LarryMosley

I am a die hard Marvel fan from the comics and I really love seeing my childhood brought to the big screen.  I have to disagree with the author that IM3 was more anticipated than the Avengers movie (opening week sales tells the story).  I love all of the marvel attempts thus far (except the hulk with eric bana).  The sarcasm that Downey brings is great and this is what makes the Iron Man character unique, however if tall of the characters were the same this would make the rest of the characters as well as Iron Man boring.  Besides at the end of the day we are not talking about shakespear, they are fictional characters for God sake.  Oh yeah Dare Devil with Ben Affleck was horrible as well!

BruceWilliams
BruceWilliams

@LarryMosley I agree with you on Hulk but not Daredevil- I would say the movie was decent but not a classic  :P

BruceWilliams
BruceWilliams like.author.displayName 1 Like

"Is Iron Man the Only Interesting Marvel Superhero?" 

This is a COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS NOTION!!! Before Marvel Studios released Iron Man, no person [with a life] knew who Iron Man was. If the person did know who Iron Man was, they who say he was a C-List Superhero.  Marvel has more interesting superheroes and characters than Iron Man (Marvel would not be one of the BEST COMIC PUBLISHERS if it they didn't have more popular characters, like Spider-Man and X-Men). 

Personally, I'm still waiting on a serious, mature HULK film franchise :P



cliffsofmoher11
cliffsofmoher11

Totally agree with MacMillan -- I think the Iron Man movies (pace IM2, which did have its moments - as he says, mostly because of Downey) are the best of the "superhero" genre, mostly because of Downey's insouciance and charismatic depth.  I LOVED IM3 because it is mostly the story of Tony Stark discovering that HE is Iron Man.  Iron Man is not the suits -- in fact, the weakest parts of any Iron Man movie are always the scenes of the big silly CGI iron men bashing and blowing each other up.  The IM3 script subverts that entirely by taking Tony OUT of his suit for most of the movie, making him rely just on his own brains and courage.  And the climactic battle scene at the end shows us just how disposable those suits -- which he neurotically poured all his energy into building - really are.  Taking Tony out of the suit gives us a great two hours of just enjoying Downey playing a smart, emotionally burned out guy who learns to trust himself and his own intellect, and I could watch the actor do that forever.  Is there any actor onscreen today who's more appealing AND compelling?  

Agree that Downey and Ruffalo pretty much blew everyone else off the screen in Avengers -- yes, the two Chrises (Hemsworth and Evans) are pretty darned wooden, but how can they not be when their characters are written that way?  And the other two Avengers, Hawkeye and Black Widow, were pretty underwritten (especially poor Hawkeye).  


The brilliance of the IM3 script is in its twists and turns, its completely subversive takes both on the villain (ha ha - the fanboys are SO upset, which makes it completely worth it!) and in the extended scenes of Tony with the little boy who helps him, which could have descended into pseudo-"Shane" maudlinism, but instead are so tart and play so much against what you'd expect that they are among the best things in the movie.  I wouldn't compare IM3 to the other Iron Man movies, which are far more comic-booky (though IM1 was genius in its own right).  I'd compare it to a couple of Shane Black's other movies, the classic "Lethal Weapon" and, of course, the tremendously under-appreciated "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which deserves WAY more critical love than it got.  They are all about heroes who come unhinged and who, battle-tested, emerge on the other side as men healed and made whole again, or as nearly as possible in the messy Black universe.  IM3 fits right into this mold, and Downey can play this sort of character as almost no one else can.  I loved it.

Rhomega
Rhomega

Iron Man's appeal to me is that he's like Batman, except with all the emo brooding and a much cooler suit.  I do like the Fantastic Four too.

JoeyFeir
JoeyFeir

and I have to agree - Scott Pilgrim was severely underrated and deserves more credit. Now how about that Wanda movie? That would be exciting. 

Sun_shine
Sun_shine

Yeah, no. Seriously favorite characters in any series has alot to do with personal preference so to say only one is interesting insults fans of these other great characters both in comics and in cinema.

SashaNixon
SashaNixon

Well that was pessimistic. Look, sure we all love a smart ass, Han was always cooler than Luke, Logan will always be cooler than Cyclops etc etc etc and so it goes. But if we just had smart asses as our heroes that would get dull too. You need both. Without the straight man, the jerk is just a jerk. 

yogi
yogi

Nah, the problem is they're super heroes and you know they will win in the end, Tony Stark is at least somewhat interesting in that he's a normal human and its his suit that gives him power. Plus the hope they'll rip out his heart for the millionth time and he'll actually die. Its the same reason the recent Batman movies worked and the Superman movie flopped (remains to be seen for the new one).

danjtrudeau
danjtrudeau

While I agree Downey's Iron Man has been, by far, the most charismatic Marvel hero on-screen, I'm not sure I agree with your reasons why.  Thor did come up with a hook (mighty god made humble) that made the character more interesting on screen than he's ever been in the comic for me.  CA managed to give the character an earnest goodness missing from most other action leads these days.  

The reason the movies didn't stand out was their lack of inventiveness in the film making itself.  While Marvel has yet to put out a Superman Returns level disappointment, too many of their movies feel like they've come off an assembly line.  There's a sameness to them that keeps them from making much of an impression.  On paper, Iron Man had the same issues except its actors, and the flourish of character they got to act out, rose above the formula.  I haven't seen IM3 yet but from what I'm hearing, I hope it breaks the mold like the original did.  

steelgoat67
steelgoat67

That 'sameness' being the origin story template, to a certain extent. With that over with, maybe we can get what Tony Stark suggests to Bruce Banner in Avengers; "You need to strut."

I disagree the assessment that Hemsworth and Evans were merely there to 'look handsome'. I'm secure enough in my manhood to say that they successfully achieve that, and my wife would only too happily agree (a little too happily). Hemsworth actually put forth that childish, stubborn, arrogant man-child in the beginning, and that was at once compelling and enjoyable to watch, but his evolution into a humbled, noble and king-material-quality felt natural and not at all rushed given the fact it spanned the time of just a movie. Additionally, it is unfair to tar Evans with the same brush; in the first film we see him in, he is in his element, in his era, in his world. It's when we take him out of it we can see the depths of his profound sadness at dances missed, and the alien world of the present day that he finds himself in. Thanks to Whedon, we saw both of them as they were at the end of each of their premieres, but unfortunately they have to give up screen-time to each other so there are only so far in depth you can plumb. Their respective sequels will do well to keep plumbing, and give them all a chance to really 'strut'.