Just when you thought everything that could be said about Iron Man had been said—presuming you thought the subject was worth discussing at all—yet another wrinkle appears. Having just returned from a 4 o’clock matinee of Iron Man Three at the Hopkins Theater, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I found myself comparing the trilogy to that venerable Renaissance classic, Orlando Furioso. Why, because both are slightly tongue-in-cheek adventure yarns that don’t lampoon the epic form so much as they have fun with it.
Orlando Furioso, the work of the Ferrarese poet Ludovico Ariosto, first appeared in 1516 and eventually became popular throughout Europe in various translations. It’s set in the midst of the wars that raged intermittently between Christians and Saracens, and its title character, Orlando, is none other the Roland, slightly better known to American audiences, perhaps, as the hero of the earlier (1170) and more crude and sober-minded French poem, Chanson de Roland.
Orlando Furioso means “Orlando goes mad,” roughly speaking, and that’s more or less what Iron Man does, too, in Iron Man Three, succumbing to anxiety attacks at inopportune times.
Then again, Orlando discards his armor in grief when he learns of Angelica's love for Medoro; Ironman discards his when it stops working.
And now that I think of it, when Gwyneth Paltrow dons some armor near the end of the film to KO a few of the bad guys, she’s following in the footsteps of Ariosto’s Bradamante, who wore white armor and made short work of anyone she encountered on horseback.
Though it undoubtedly sounds better in Italian, the appeal of Orlando Furioso lies in its fanciful make-believe language no less than in its convoluted story-line.
Not brindled bulls or tawny lions spring
To forest warfare with such deadly will
As those two knights, the stranger and the king.
Their spears alike the opposing bucklers thrill:
The solid ground, at their encountering,
Trembles from fruitful vale to naked hill:
And well it was the mail in which they dressed
Their bodies was of proof, and saved the breast.
And Iron Man Three (like the first two) is a sort of adventure ballet. The exploding houses and red-hot glowing monster mutants come and go at a rate that’s nothing less than musical. There are a few classic lines, somewhat fewer romantic moments. The rest is pure action-theater. The “kid” who appears midway through the film helps to keep it from becoming too one-dimensional, and the transformation we witness in the character of the evil terrorist also contributes to the general levity.
There was a time when Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers made a splash comparing the deep similarities between Star Wars and ancient myths. I hope I've made it clear, I'm not talking "deep."
And the conclusion leaves us with the satisfying sense that there won’t be another sequel. Why mess with perfection?