Iron Man 3 vs. Pain & Gain: Comparing Miami's Biggest Summer Movies
Iron Man 3, opening Friday, is partially set in Miami.
It's been a huge week for Miami on the big screen. Last Friday, Pain & Gain opened nationwide, bringing Pete Collins' New Times tale of bodybuilders' extortion schemes gone wrong to audiences across the nation. Meanwhile, in theaters from Japan to Portugal, Iron Man 3 wowed Marvel fans, creating enormous expectations for American viewers who'll pack cineplexes to see it when it opens in the States this weekend.
Both movies were made, at least in part, in Miami. Michael Bay spent months on various locations around town to capture that inimitable Miami ambiance. Iron Man 3 director Shane Black, meanwhile, brought his cameras to Vizcaya and a couple of other Miami locales. But until now, we didn't know just how much Miami we'd get to see in the third installment of the Tony Stark saga.
Turns out it's a pretty hefty chunk of the film. That means Miami is the star of two consecutive number one box office hits (unless something beats Iron Man 3 this Friday, which: no). And she's a versatile actress too, because once you get past the explosions and the testosterone, these two films couldn't be more different. Here's why.
Miami vs. Not Miami
Pain & Gain, as we've written before, is an only-in-Miami story. That's part of why Bay filmed it here; the city is an inextricable part of the plot.
In Iron Man 3, on the other hand, Black had just a few requirements: a fancy mansion, an ocean, and a wide-open space where a bunch of stuff can blow up. Miami has the ocean, Miami has Vizcaya, and Miami has, uh, the other thing. (We don't want to spoil it for you.)
That doesn't mean Miami is more recognizable in Pain & Gain; seeing Tony Stark amid its skyline, buildings, and bridges add extra geeky giddiness for Magic City audiences. But while Pain & Gain is a story about Miami, Iron Man 3 is a story that just happens to take place, in part, in Miami.
Advantage: Pain & Gain
Hero vs. Antihero
Tony Stark is a superhero. Fans root for Tony Stark because he is a good guy who does good things with his superpowers. This is not new, and it does not change in Iron Man 3.
On the other hand, the members of the Sun Gym Gang, positioned as the protagonists of Pain & Gain, are not heroes. They torture and kill innocent people just to take their money. They are not heroes. Hell, they shouldn't even be likable. But they're who you're watching for almost the entire film.
One could argue that the complexities of Pain & Gain's characters, antihero protagonists with sympathetic dreams but abominable means of achieving them, are more intellectually stimulating than the same old superhero story. But Bay doesn't have the nuance to exploit that complexity. And besides: Tony Stark! Witty banter! Explodey things! America! Come on, people, we're not made of stone here.
Advantage: Iron Man 3
America vs. 'Merica
Both films have strong themes of patriotism -- or at least "patriotism." Pain & Gain's protagonists are chasing the American dream, which to them means strippers, status, and boatloads of cash, delivered in an actual luxury speedboat. What would the Founding Fathers think? Bay doesn't care. Boobies!
Iron Man 3, meanwhile, continues its tradition of addressing issues of war with relative subtlety. In this edition, Tony Stark struggles with anxiety attacks stemming from his last big battle, referencing the epidemic of PTSD among soldiers. There's also the Mandarin, Ben Kingsley's impression of Osama bin Laden -- but even that character develops into something more interesting and complex.
Advantage: Iron Man 3
Addicts vs. Drunkards
For all the over-the-topness of Pain & Gain, one thing the movie does right is addiction. Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, as Peter Doyle, plays a recovering junkie who got clean in prison, only to relapse as the extortion scheme spirals further and further out of control. Johnson perfectly walks the line between comedy and tragedy; when he does something "funny" because he's stoned, part of your heart aches for him.
Iron Man 3 has just one addicted character, an alcoholic, and his drunkenness is solely exploited for laughs. It makes for an interesting plot twist, but it's not the most sensitive portrayal.
Advantage: Pain & Gain
Feminists vs. Oh What the Hell, Here Are Some More Boobies
Look, nobody expected Michael Bay to make a movie that's sensitive to women -- especially not one about roided-up musclemen. T&A is part of Bay's aesthetic; hell, it's part of the Miami landscape. But it's still gotta be said: Pain & Gain is recklessly sexist. The main female actor in the film is Bar Paly, playing the quintessential stereotype of a dumb blonde, who also happens to be a stripper. She's based on a real person, but Bay leaves out all the details of her life in Collins' story that help audiences understand how she got to be so gullible. (The real woman was a foreigner raised on American-hero films and desperate to believe them.) Instead, in Pain & Gain, she lets herself be convinced that the Sun Gym Gang works for the FBI, and it's funny because women are stupid, right?
But here's what we didn't expect: a feminist Iron Man movie. Tony Stark has long been among the least woman-friendly superheroes, with his dismissive attitude toward the opposite sex (especially after he's slept with them) and his ever-patient mommy figure of a girlfriend, Pepper Potts. But, to borrow a Pain & Gain term, Pepper gets jacked in this new version; fans know from the trailer that she gets to put on the Iron Man suit, and that's just the beginning of her kick-ass role in this latest film. Shockingly, Iron Man 3 also passes the Bechdel test: There are two women in it (Potts and scientist Maya Hansen, played by Rebecca Hall), they talk to each other, and their conversation is about something other than a man. Hell, it's about science! That's gotta count for Bechdel extra credit.
Advantage: Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 clearly comes out on top here. But let's be honest: The real winners are Miami moviegoers. More giant film projects in the Magic City, please!
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
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