Friday, November 30, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #4: Iron Man

This was #1 on the list for a very, very long time.  Robert Downey Jr. so perfectly captured the essence of Tony Stark that it can be hard to see the flaws in this film.  I was never a fan of Iron Man, the character.  I never read Iron Man comics and as far as an Avenger goes, I could have easily swapped him with Tigra and never known the difference, excepting that Tigra is a super-hot catwoman.
But I digress.  The point is, I do not much care for Iron Man.  At least that was true until the movie came out.  I was super skeptical.  I thought there was no way they could make an interesting Iron Man movie.  I knew the special effects would be dumb and way too computer generated to be believed.  This movie was going to tank hard.

It is so nice to be wrong.  And it all starts with the stellar performance by Robert Downey Jr.  The man literally makes the film.  He breathes life into an otherwise boorish and obnoxious character and makes you really, really like him.  A lot.  Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is a perfect synthesis of the right actor with the right script in the right movie.  No one else could have pulled this off with the level of arrogant charm that RDJ manages.  Forget the super-heroics, I could watch a two hour movie based on Tony Stark buying a hot dog from a hot dog cart.

Paltrow does a great job of bringing Pepper Pots to life as well, and she plays expertly against Stark's nonchalance.  Likewise, Jeff Bridges creates a wonderfully complex villain in Obediah Stane.  If you didn't know the characters well, you might not even see the reversal coming.  And when it does, what a great moment it is, thanks to Bridges playing the character to close to the vest.  The comics could use this level of subtlety at times!

As we have seen previously, it is very hard to tell an origin story and not over-complicate it.  (see Spider-Man Iron Man manages to not only tell an origin story, but it manages to make the origin story incredibly compelling.  The story of Tony Stark being captured and forced to work for terrorists, then turning that work on his captors makes for a great story, again with or without the Iron Man suit.  Taking that ball and running with it by tying in the Stane master plot creates a tight tale that does justice to both classic and modern interpretations of the core Iron Man character.

And on top of all of that, they go and make the damn suit.  Oh sure, Iron Man features some amazing CG, but because they wanted to make sure they made the film right, they went and made the suit.  And that, my friends, much like the path less taken, has made all the difference.  It looks real because it IS real!  Go figure.  And when you have something real to ground your CG in, it makes the CG that much more convincing and organic.  (Memo to George Lucas)  Iron Man features perhaps some of the most fluid and natural CG work since Lord of the Rings (which is holding up rather well, honestly).  The Iron Man suit looks great and the flying scenes are totally realistic.  There is great attention to detail in the effects that elevate them above the usual gimmick level that happens all too often in big Hollywood movies (see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, what the fork?)

So, great story, great acting, great casting, smart scripting, incredible special effects that serve the story and not just the spectacle, what is there not to like about Iron Man?  Aimee will tell you (and for the record, I agree with her.  She makes a very convincing argument).

Aimee's Take:

I'm not going to retread what Stan has already articulated, because we agree entirely. This movie rocks like crazy and there's no stopping it. BUT

Here's the thing. This movie came out the same summer as Incredible Hulk. And in many, many ways, this movie follows the same general pattern as Incredible Hulk. People lost their very minds for THIS movie, but Incredible Hulk has been subject to heaps of critical shit and nonsense about how boring/stupid/awful it is. How do I feel about this?

Girl, please.
Now, listen. I loved Iron Man and I have gone years and years without EVER touching a comic that even mentions the character. Of Iron Man, I literally only knew that his "real" name was Tony Stark, he has an alcohol problem, and he wears a suit. I also know about the unrelated song of the same name. And it made me love the character.

However, Iron Man fails to convince me that it's the opus of modern comic book movies, and here's why I actually FOUGHT with my husband about its rank.

The Big Hollywood Ending.

If you recall, this is the same thing that troubles The Incredible Hulk. There's a crucial difference. As implausible as it is to have Emil Blonsky turn into that ridiculous version of the Abomination at the end of the movie, it makes sense. They spend a lot of time painting him as the kind of man whose hunger for power and strength makes him hate and envy the Hulk's power. I can totally buy that he begins basically "juicing" just to get the edge over this powerful being. I think the ending is still kind of stupid, but whatever. It does follow what's been set up in the film. I don't like where they go with it, but it works.

This post is about Iron Man, I swear.

In Iron Man, there is a similar "two big superhero things battle it out in a big place with collateral damage" scene. Only in this one, it's Obadiah Stane who climbs into that super suit and slugs it out like a cornered pugilist. His thirst for physical power and mega-strength has led him to this... wait. What?

No. Obadiah in this movie is absolutely NOT the man who climbs in the big stupid suit and launches zingers at Pepper while he fights zippy little Tony. Why on earth would he do that? This man is behind the scenes. And the only reason that Tony knows he's truly bad is because Obadiah told him he was. As he killed him in a way that left his hands clean. He deprived him of a life-saving device, he didn't strangle him with his bare hands. That's not the kind of man Obadiah has been presented to be. He's white collar, crafty, manipulative and powerful. He doesn't need to get in the suit. It will give him nothing.

I'm going to spin this one, but next time I'll probably just wear a big metal suit to solve my problems. 
Getting in the suit really seriously tips Obadiah's hand, too, something he goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid. The man who gets in the suit to slug it out with Tony is not the same man who hires terrorists to kidnap Tony in another country, and kill him without anyone ever knowing that it was his idea all along. This is not a man who is obsessed with being a physical juggernaut who can kill Tony himself. Twice he tries to kill Tony without getting his hands dirty.

I know what you're thinking. This third time is where he snaps and goes, "Forget it, I'll kill him myself!" Ooookay. Who is he? Skeletor? This is not what he's going to do, and if it is, we are not seeing the break properly. He's not being built into a character that has a break or is lead to this conclusion. I firmly believe that the man I saw in this film would slink into the shadows, hidden behind a vast network of legal and illegal organizations, ready to strike again. He's not going to risk his public reputation. He'd be pissed that Tony turned up alive, but not so pissed he wouldn't try to spin it before he climbs in the big stupid suit and rides it all the way to the Big Hollywood Ending.

Because Blonsky's transformation is clearly motivated and illustrated very well throughout his story, I think that makes his ending BETTER, and thus, I think it makes the movie BETTER. I don't love what was done, but I understand where it comes from.

Because Stane's transformation is not clearly motivated and not illustrated at all through his story, I think that makes his ending STUPID, and thus, I think it makes Iron Man the slightly less good movie. But because the entire movie has higher production values and slicker execution (and a much more charismatic protagonist), it's only on that note that it gets the nod and the higher ranking.

Believe me when I tell you, I agonize over this. I try getting people on the street to see my view and join my cult. I usually fail, and although Stan agrees with me he still doesn't totally agree, even though everyone can see I'm clearly right about this.

I love both movies. I seriously do. I promise. This is hair splitting that we aren't going to see again until we hit the top two. It burns me that Incredible Hulk isn't in the top 5 but I can accept it. Iron Man is better. But only slightly.

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