The third installment of Marvel's "Iron Man" film series hits theaters Friday, but will it be a hit with the Christian community?
Adam Graham, a fiction author and superhero blogger, says the most successful superhero movies are those that evoke Christian themes.
"They've focused on the battle between good and evil without many shades of gray," said Graham in a statement. "Themes such as self-sacrifice, redemption, and responsibility really explain the appeal of these films. It makes them stand out from other films with less noble heroes. While some films have focused on comic book anti-heroes, such as Watchmen and The Punisher, these films have not had nearly the wide-spread commercial appeal."
In "The Avengers," the most recent Marvel film, Iron Man helped rescue New York City from an alien attack by escorting a nuclear missile into outer space, nearly sacrificing his own life in the process. In "Iron Man 3" the man behind the mask, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), tries to cope with the sleeplessness and anxiety that plague him following the incident as well as protect those dearest to him from a powerful enemy.
"'Iron Man 3' will be darker," said Graham. "What that means, we don't know. Tony Stark's dark side has been explored in the films, but to a lesser extent than in the comics. Stark's struggles with alcoholism have been well-known. In addition, the comic book version of Stark has been willing to lie, manipulate, and cross ethical lines in pursuit of what he wants. How Stark is portrayed will definitely be key to the film's success."
Cort Langeland, an instructor at Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids, Mich., says he hopes the portrayal of a struggling Stark will be attactive to a Christian audience. "I would hope it would make it more appealing, because, I mean, a Christian audience should be the first to understand the depravity of our flesh, our human nature, and our susceptibility to fear, to vice, to post-traumatic stress disorder," Langeland told The Christian Post.
He later added, "I also think Christians will go because justice is a big part of the Christian faith, and fighting corruption and fighting for truth and exposing lies. And I think that's one thing that people really like about Tony Stark's character, is that he says it the way it is...Now, he may be dead wrong, but at least he's got the courage of his convictions."
Some stories seem to lose their edge when turned from a single film into a series, but that doesn't seem to have been the case with many recent superhero series. Langeland, who played a role in the founding of Compass College and teaches story and screenwriting classes, says successful superhero film sequels bring the hero "back to a human level where they can fail." The heroes must also must face greater challenges with each film, he says, though those challenges don't have to be external.
Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson says the new movie is "the best Iron Man film to date and arguably the best comic book threequel yet made." Jake Coyle of The Associated Press, who gives the film two and a half out of four stars, says the movie has "the best dialogue of the series" even though it is somewhat suppressed by the action.
Kyle Smith, a blogger for the New York Post, was much harsher in his review. "The villains are all wrong, the motivations are muddy, even the gadgetry is off," wrote Smith. "And the swaggering genius at the center of it all has become a preening fool."
"Iron Man 3" began playing in 79 percent of foreign markets last weekend, Box Office Mojo reports, and grossed more than $198 million. The film is rated PG-13 for "sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content."