It is miserable disappointment for me to have to admit that a person who hates sports but loves superhero movies thoroughly enjoyed the superhuman heroism of 42, and was disinterested in the sound and fury of Iron Man 3... But this is probably all my own fault; if I hadn't seen 42 in the same week as Iron Man 3, maybe it wouldn't have seemed like such a featherweight.
20 minutes ago I walked out of Iron Man 3, a film about some really great looking middle-aged people and some roboty suit things (and yes, I do know who and what Iron Man is. I read the comic books and I like the character, but that is what I took away from the film). A couple of my favorite actors where in the movie, as well as one of my favorite stunt-women. The explosions were terrific and there were effects. People were yawning a lot when they left, much like Bruce Banner at the end of the film, no one seemed particularly interested or excited. I guess they thought that was all they could expect from a comic book movie. As Aldrich Killian aptly said in the film; "Ever since the guy with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety kind of went out the window."
This weekend I also saw 42, a film about someone else who was almost superhumanly strong, skilled, and brave. He and his team changed the world, with his actions and behavior he paved the way us to treat each other with a little more respect. Despite the fact that this was a true story which everyone knew the outcome of, it managed to be maintain tension, and become engaging and exciting in a way which I hadn't expected. Jackie Robinson was a super hero in every sense of the word and when the lights came up, the dazed, tearful audience spontaneously burst into applause.
I'm a pretty disastrously nerdy person (i.e. I love those clichéd nerdy things like comic books, science fiction, and old movies, and I take absolutely no joy in saying that, since it has been quite inconvenient for most of my life). Unfortunately I compound this nerdiness by not liking sports at all to watch or participate in (I wish I did, it would have made my childhood much easier, but it never interested me). Despite this, when I went to see 42 it blew my tiny nerd mind. Along with a packed audience (impressive for a film that's already been out for a couple of weeks) I became completely engaged in the beautiful, inspiring, difficult journey of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Watching them try to play baseball and behave like human beings in the face of so much antagonism and prejudice was heartbreaking. Witnessing him surmount those obstacles and knowing that the fight is ongoing was truly inspirational.
You get the idea; I love superhero comic books and I hate sports, so I really ought to have enjoyed the superhero movie and been bored by the sports movie. But what I love about superhero comic books are the parts which are super and the parts about heroism. While it was slightly entertaining, Iron Man 3 was neither super nor heroic. Even knowing that Tony Stark is not your average do-gooder, but an ex-alcholic womanizer, I still expect decent writers, directors, and producers to be able to take a team of talented actors and give the audience a certain emotional draw in a film about a damned superhero. The first two films were enjoyable and even if they had an element of disposability about them, there was a depth and a warmth that was strangely absent here, and saying "it's just a superhero movie" isn't a good enough excuse.
At 42, at a matinee showing for a two week old movie, the audience was inspired to overtly express their warmth and appreciation. At the evening of an opening week showing of Iron Man 3 (arguably when the film audience is still at it's most excited), the sparse audience quietly ambled out of the theater, subdued and underwhelmed. This is not why superheroes stories exist. While action is fun, it is not the most important aspect of a superhero movie. Stories about heroes are a way to share our humanity, to inspire and remind us of our potential and our responsibility towards each other. If this is the one thing that we are not getting out of our superhero movies, then they are missing the point entirely.