Pretty Vacancy: Why I’m Not Watching Iron Man 3

Shane Black's Iron Man 3
Shane Black’s Iron Man 3

First of all, I’d like to make it clear that this isn’t a rant about snobbish intellectual cinema versus eye-popping Hollywood action movies. That’s a tired and largely ridiculous argument, something akin to saying that one type of cheese is better than a particular flavoured milk. To do that would also be hypocritical. I have no problem with the content of Iron Man 3. I’ve paid good money to see big budget Hollywood offerings before and I’ve enjoyed them. I was there last year for Avengers Assemble (largely because I’ve been a big Joss Whedon fan since my mid teens) and even gave it a glowing review which can be found elsewhere on this very site. I’m even a champion of the much-maligned Avatar. This is not about the film itself.

So why not Iron Man 3? And for that matter, why not Star Trek Into Darkness or Man Of Steel (to which this piece also directly applies, but whose mention in the title would’ve been a tad long-winded)?

The reason I feel moved to boycott these huge blockbuster releases is the assumption that I couldn’t possibly manage to.

I’m not trying to be difficult here, or purposefully stand apart from the crowd in order to draw attention, but I feel the need to articulate why these goliath features make me feel uneasy, and it has nothing to do with their content. It’s the blanket marketing campaigns that feel inescapable.

This isn’t new. Last year around this time it was hard to open a magazine or walk down the street without seeing some banner advert for The Dark Knight Rises or Prometheus. Those two campaigns especially felt exhausting. There was so much advertising that the movies themselves almost shrunk in comparison. They were the by-product of a campaign, not the event itself. At the time I found them troubling. But they were nothing compared to the deluge of promotional material that has appeared for Iron Man 3Star Trek Into Darkness or Man Of Steel*.

These films, bankrolled on vast amounts of money, all drawn from proven franchises, are guaranteed to draw profitable returns. To the point where half of this stuff feels unnecessary. Stifling. I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t be advertised. All movies draw important audiences from marketing. If they weren’t placed in our view we wouldn’t know they were there. But there is a saturation point, and it’s a point at which I’ve found myself feeling unduly hostile toward them. Which is ridiculous. I shouldn’t feel encroached on by an ad campaign for a movie. But I do. It’s what Naomi Klein wrote about 15 years ago in No Logo.

The loss of unbranded space.

So Iron Man 3 is there on the bus shelter where I go to get my bus to work everyday. Robert Downey Jr.’s on the side of the bus too. I log on to Facebook and the sidebar is asking me if I’ve seen the movie yet. It’s on magazine covers. Supplements. Television. Websites that I visit are plastered with huge banners for it, or are redressed on garish Iron Man 3 wallpaper. I’ve remarked on how tiring it is and been told not to pay attention, to ignore it, but it’s everywhere.

This deluge of hype is almost panicky.. Heaven forbid I should decide not to take part. In multiplexes there’s been adverts not just for Iron Man 3 but for seeing Iron Man 3 in the cinema. “An experience worth paying for” I believe it says. Studios feel threatened by illegal downloading, that’s understandable, but creating an advert to convince the part of your audience who by definition aren’t there anyway seems like an act of mad desperation. It also suggests that if I’m not watching it in the cinema I’ll be watching it at home. It’s assumed I’ll be watching it somewhere. I’ve been counted as an audience member already. Factored in. My participation has been taken for granted.

And that’s got my back up.

I genuinely find it a little bit offensive. My decision-making process feels overruled by an aggressive advertising campaign which assumes I can’t possibly resist its product, a product I might even steal in order to consume. The hubris. Blanket marketing is one thing. I don’t like it and it makes me feel claustrophobic, but I can accept it’s an unfortunate by-product of films like these. But assuming my involvement? Removing the idea that I have a choice in the matter? It’s not only smothering, it’s insulting.

I’m not trying to be stubborn. I am being stubborn, but I feel like I have just cause. Probably I’m being over-sensitive. Reading more into the campaigns for Iron Man 3Star Trek Into Darkness and Man Of Steel than is actually intended. Have I become just another barking dog, another stray let loose on the internet? I’m not sure. These marketing campaigns simply feel invasive now, and they make me want to step away from the product.

I’m sure all three films will be entertaining. By deciding not to participate I’m likely bypassing some good times. That’s my choice though. I’m not suggesting people who want to see them shouldn’t go to the cinema. If you’re a Marvel fan or a Trekkie or whatever someone-who-likes-Superman-is I genuinely hope that these new films make you happy. It’s what they should do, after all. Everyone enjoys some well-crafted escapism. I just wanted to put a voice to this strange feeling I’ve started to get every time I turn a corner or open a new web browser and Robert Downey Jr.’s face is there to greet me. Or Chris Pine’s. Or that-Superman-guy.

I want my space back. I want the option to decide for myself back. These three movies are not the only films released in the next 3 months. So many others will simply not be seen because they’re pushed out of the spotlight. Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man Of Steel will have gobbled up all the oxygen. To these all-encompassing marketing campaigns I make one simple plea; stop being so greedy and allow me a choice.

I’ll go back to rocking quietly in the corner now.

*In fairness, the full campaign for Man Of Steel hasn’t quite kicked into gear yet at the time of writing. But you know it’s coming…

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