Before "Iron Man 3" opened in the U.S., it made $240 million overseas. That number gave the filmmakers a nice comfort zone. When the film debuted in America, the box office take was slated to break $175 million, a scorcher of an opening.
Call "Iron Man 3" the first serious tent-pole film of the summer. Tent pole being an interesting metaphor, alluding, I assume, to its ability to draw thousands inside to watch what will be a colorful spectacle.
The question begged regarding these blockbuster films that use comic books as their platform is what makes them so compelling? But then before getting on a roller coaster, we don't ask ourselves why we're taking the ride. It's all about the experience, the turns, the drops and the speed. And that's the attitude adopted when watching any of the "Iron Man" series. It's all about the rush.
Pain & Gain
The best movie of the franchise was the first — fresh and original and above all fun. Plus the pleasure inherent in seeing how the filmmakers would translate to the big screen Tony Stark's (Robert Downey, Jr.) high-tech, all-powerful, jacked up sarcophagus. It was exhilarating. Similar to the first "Transformers." Both films relied, of course, on the best techie effects CGI could offer (and continues to offer). And not to forget that Downey is a consummate actor who does irony with casual élan.
But ultimately, franchise films such as "Iron Man 3" begin to get creaky and stale. The real challenge for any rinse-and-repeat series is to create compelling and original stories. Every time. After the first, the audience has seen Tony getting into and out of his Iron Man suit. With the third film, they've grown just a tad jaded when it comes to the suit and simply blowing up lots of stuff.
In truth, there is one thing that can't be created with special effects and that's a captivating story. Start with a really solid and believable nemesis. One who has some clear and well-defined reasons for wanting to do Tony and America serious harm.
And if Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Tony's relationship is evolving, well, fine, but it would be good to feel some heat between the two. Anything.
None of this happens in "Iron Man 3." The reason that the faux Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is eager to unleash doom on Tony is never made clear. Hence, the audience has some difficulty grasping what's at stake. All that is clear is that Stark and Potts have to scramble while bringing to bear not only the Iron Man suit, but also Tony's backup Iron Man squad. Tony has a deep bench.
In other words, the story is lame. But the CGI is spectacular — the film a visual treat. One suggestion for "Iron Man 4": hire the writers first and the rest will follow.
In a nutshell, here is the essence of director Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain": You go into the kitchen feeling like an icy cold swig of milk. Impatient, you skip the glass and, opening the 'fridge, grab the bottle and take a long, deep swig. A second passes and your taste buds, suddenly on full alert, send your brain the message that the milk is curdled and way past its shelf life.
The next reaction is the gag reflex, and you run for the sink, spitting out the milk you didn't swallow, trying not to vomit while rinsing your mouth out with water from the tap. It's an awful experience. You check the "sell by" date on the bottle. Way past. The milk is ready to go yogurt without the flavor or the fruit at the bottom.
The shelf life of "Pain & Gain" expired the minute it hit the theaters. And my reaction, after the first 30 minutes, was the gag reflex. The movie is simply awful. It's cynical, cruel, sleazy and misogynistic, and appeals to the worst instincts of the audience.
Perhaps in the hands of a more intelligent filmmaker, other than Bay, who approaches filmmaking with a hammer and sees every set-up and prolonged scene as a nail, this might have made for a dark comedy or satire. Maybe. It is, we're told, based on a true story.
The Big Wedding
The title is "The Big Wedding." But the size of the celebration is incidental as is the wedding itself. What the film offers is a platform for the silly, meaningless, raunchy antics of the parents of the soon-to-be-married couple.
That's not to say that there isn't a deep bench of actors in "Wedding." There is: Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried and Katherine Heigl. In some ways, it's as if a very small car enters ring center at the circus and an improbable number of colorful, talented, well, clowns exit.
The problem with "Wedding" is not the actors; it's the writing, which is mediocre and unoriginal at best. To be a bit hyperbolic, there's no there there. It's all formulaic nonsense, one cliché after the next, layered like a wedding cake, aimed at the AARP crowd, while clearly underestimating that audience.
You only have to compare "The Big Wedding" to "The Marigold Hotel" to see how lazy the former movie is. Older folks know when a movie is crisp and crackles with good humor while addressing issues of aging honestly.
None of that is even remotely embedded in this film.
It's sadly dull and the soon-to-be-married couple would have done better eloping to Vegas and taking a pass on the wedding, which was never about them to begin with.