Review of Iron Man 3, Directed by Shane Black
Does this movie even really need a review? As with everything else in the Avengers oeuvre to date (with the possible exceptions of Hulk and The Incredible Hulk), Iron Man 3 is a lot of action-y goodness with light moral thematic underpinnings. Which is exactly what we want from a comic book movie. Those that over-moralize at the expense of action inevitably fail, as do those that cut the moral out completely in favor of big-name stars or big-budget special effects. Iron Man 3 balances these two components well, with the result that the movie is as much a delight as the previous two in the trilogy.
So what moral does Iron Man 3 explore? Pretty much the same one as the first two: the negative consequences of arrogance in our dealings with other people. Tony Stark once again has to face the repercussions of his dissolute past as a man he slighted years ago (ably played by Guy Pearce) comes back for revenge not just on Stark, but on the whole world. Stark’s thoughtless cruelty to someone who seemed unworthy of his time and attention (i.e., wasn’t an attractive blonde) only lasted a moment, but had consequences that lasted far into the future. Not that the villain is completely without blame—he is a criminal mastermind, after all—but the film recognizes that our actions in the present have an effect on the future.
Which is an idea that Christians can get on board with, to some extent. The Bible teaches that you reap what you sow. (Galatians 6:7) How we treat others and how we live in the world matters. The popular idea that our actions and our treatment of others should be without consequence—that we should be able to pursue our own dreams and desires at the expense of any and all who would stand in our way—has little to do with objective reality and much to do with the modern worship of the self. On the contrary, how we interact with others affects our lives and theirs alike. No, we shouldn’t hold hands and sing kumbaya; but we should realize that the principle of cause and effect actually exists and that we are accountable for how we treat our fellow human beings. Kindness and cruelty towards others have effects that reverberate throughout the rest of our lives
And yet, this is only a partial truth. There are two other truths that have to be kept in mind at the same time, truths which Iron Man 3 does not engage (though it doesn’t deny them either—it’s just a comic book movie, we shouldn’t expect moral complexity here). The first is the truth that we do not see absolute justice in this world. Kindness and cruelty towards others do affect our lives, but we shouldn’t expect to see every act of cruelty come back around to bite us in the rear. Nor should we expect to see every kindness repaid in, well, kind in this life either. Bad deeds go unpunished and good deeds go unrewarded and that is how life will continue until the end of world. Then and only then should we expect to see things sorted into their proper places and rewarded or punished accordingly. As great as it is in movies when virtue is blessed and vice chastened, as Christians we must remember that such is not the usual way of the world.
The other truth left out of Iron Man 3 is the reality of forgiveness. Cause and effect do govern the world, but the good news of the Christian Gospel is that the ultimate effect which our sins deserve (an eternity in hell) has fallen on someone else. Rather than leave us to bear the punishment our rebellion against God deserves, Jesus has taken the effects of sin on himself and, in doing so, given us new life and a relationship with God that we could never have earned on our own.
Again, I don’t know that we could reasonably expect all of these complex moral truths in a superhero movie—one moral truth is probably the limit if quality is to be retained. Fortunately, Iron Man 3 stays well within the limits and, as a result, is an excellent movie that I can cheerfully recommend. (For the record, I do not recommend spending the extra money to see it in IMAX or 3D.)
Dr. Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Politics at Southwest Baptist University. At the time of this writing, his superpowers remain latent.