One year ago to the day, I opened a package of previews of the movies of Summer 2012 by noting that critics and fanboys were facing off over a little movie called The Avengers which was about to set a new record: highest domestic opening weekend ever. Well, Summer 2013 is here, and Disney and Marvel have done it again. “With a domestic three-day haul projected at $175.3 million,” reports Michael Sullivan in Variety, Iron Man 3 has scored the second highest domestic opening weekend ever.
And on this one, critics and fanboys are more or less on the same page. Neither are exactly ecstatic, but most have had a pretty good time (we’ll get to the reviews later). No, what’s more interesting about Iron Man 3 is the role in plays in what Charlie Lyne, writing in the Guardian, calls the “China-fication of Hollywood blockbusters.” He notes that “since China reopened its doors to American releases in 1994, with the intrepid cultural ambassador that was The Fugitive, studios have fought hard to capture a fair share of the country’s immense cinema audience, with artistic integrity often taking a back seat to the demands of a strict review board. But since China overtook Japan to become the world’s second-largest box office last year, Hollywood’s more entrepreneurial quarters have been getting busy. Last year, Lionsgate spent $1m digitally substituting Red Dawn‘s villainous Chinese baddies with North Korean ones; this summer’s Brad Pitt-starring zombie epic World War Z has already excised a fleeting suggestion that the outbreak emanated from within the country’s walls; while Django Unchained toned down the color of its many blood splashes.”
And Iron Man 3 has flown “the flag for Sino-American relations by embellishing its Chinese cut with appearances from local stars Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing. But it inadvertently made a mockery of their inclusion by reducing both roles to blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos in the US version.” Still, as Clarence Tsui points out in the Hollywood Reporter, when it opened in China a week ahead of the Stateside rollout, Iron Man 3 broke the opening-day box office record set by Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011 ($21.1 million vs. $17.9 million, in case you were wondering). For more on “Hollywood’s China policy,” see Peter Enav‘s report for the AP.
Meantime, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have rolled out their summer movie specials. In the NYT, Charles McGrath writes up a backgrounder on Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (more from John Horn in the LAT), and of course, will be hearing probably a whole lot more than we’ll want to be hearing about that one towards the end of the week, and then all over again when the film opens Cannes on May 15.
As mentioned on Friday, Dennis Lim talks with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke about Before Midnight; but there’s also an accompanying video in which Linklater talks us through a scene (1’49”). And Lim highlights four performances we’ll be seeing this summer: Soko (Augustine), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha), Alice Lowe (Sightseers), and Bobby Sommer (Museum Hours).
Dave Itzkoff profiles J.J. Abrams, and of course, we’ve already got a Star Trek Into Darkness entry going. Jane Eisner talks with director Rama Burshtein and others about Fill the Void, which premiered at Venice last summer. Also, Charles Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek preview the season’s releases on DVD and Blu-ray, Dave Kehr has the annotated theatrical release schedule, and David Carr and A.O. Scott discuss summer movies in general (4’20”).
Speaking of which. Always my own favorite feature in these NYT seasonal specials, the collection of recollections: Kate Aselton recalls experiencing “an odd combination of reverence and nostalgia” while she and her husband, Mark Duplass, watched Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) for the first time. Another husband-and-wife team, Maggie Carey and Bill Hader, go for Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), “our pick for the perfect summer movie.” And for Billy Bob Thornton, Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952) is probably the greatest film of all time.
In the LAT: Gina McIntyre on Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, Marc Forster’s World War Z with Brad Pitt (much more from Ben Child in the Guardian), and James Mangold’s The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman; Glenn Whipp on Paul Feig’s The Heat with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy; Noelene Clark on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel; Oliver Gettell talks with Aasif Mandvi about The Internship; Chris Lee talks with Justin Lin about Fast & Furious 6; and Geoff Boucher reports from the set of Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.
Now, then, on to this weekend’s winner. “Shane Black, who made his bones writing Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and other crash-and-burn action films, was the perfect person to take on Iron Man 3,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com, “and not just because he worked with the franchise’s star Robert Downey Jr. on 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The new film’s not great, but it’s consistently involving because the tonal shifts are so abrupt. One minute it seems to care a great deal about what’s happening, the next it’s sneering at the notion that anyone could care about anything that happens in a movie.”
“And so, once again,” sighs Manohla Dargis in the NYT, “Tony Stark a/k/a Iron Man a/k/a Robert Downey Jr. jokes and poses, wears his superhero suit and flirts with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Stuff blows up, and then more stuff blows up, because that’s what happens when diversions like this hit movie screens around this time of year: chaos reigns, and then some guy cleans it up. The only significant difference between Iron Man 3 and others of its type is that it is opening a few weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings. It’s an unhappy coincidence that might not be worth mentioning if Iron Man 3 didn’t underscore just how thoroughly Sept. 11 and its aftermath have been colonized by the movies.”
The AV Club‘s new film editor, A.A. Dowd, finds Tony Stark “haunted by the events of The Avengers, and so too is Iron Man 3, the first new Marvel movie released in the wake of that record-smashing hit. Joss Whedon’s crossover bonanza was designed to replenish the franchises that fed into it, goosing interest in the subsequent solo outings of its respective heroes. That’s a sound business model, but a backfiring entertainment strategy. Here, it’s hard not to wish Downey were sparring with his costumed comrades again, instead of trading barbs with the far-less-colorful cast members—old and new—of this busy, sporadically diverting sequel.”
But in a discussion of Iron 3 with Eric Kohn and Dana Stevens at Indiewire, Wesley Morris notes that “the surprise story of the series for me has been the relationship among the characters—not in any deep way, but just in a classic Hollywood screwball kind of way. They have what passes for witty repartee, eye-rolling, teeth-sucking, putdowns. There’s a very catty aspect to these movies that I love.”
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir: “As far as bored and cynical, playing-out-the-string comic-book action sequels go—hey, Iron Man 3 is a pretty good one!”
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 2.5/4), Chris Cabin (Slant, 3.5/4), Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 4/5), Richard Corliss (Time), David Edelstein (New York), the Film Doctor, John Gholson (Movies.com), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3/5), David Jenkins (Little White Lies), Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist, B), Geoffrey Macnab (Independent, 3/5), James Marsh (Twitch), Kim Newman (Sight & Sound), Ray Pride (Newcity), Antonia Quirke (Financial Times, 2/5), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Adam Sweeting (Arts Desk), and Stephanie Zacharek (Voice).
“Now Downey is the biggest film star on Earth,” writes Isaac Chotiner for the New Republic. “After falling prey to the worst excesses of Hollywood, it was Hollywood in its purest form—the massive, corny, buckraking, blockbuster machine—that saved him.”