Friday, May 09, 2008

Thank You, Mr. Favreau or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Fuck Out of Iron Man

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mister Favreau for making Iron Man so awesome, proving that the superhero movie genre still has plenty of juice left in it. You will always be remembered for your Swingers and will hold a place in my heart for your part as Gutter in one of the my favorite comedies PCU (with his amazingly great Bill Clinton mocking line of "I didn't inhale?".) Favreau worked into form as a director on the very memorable Will Ferrel vehicle Elf, visually and comedywise. You just have to look at some of Will Ferrell's most recent efforts such as the subpar Semi Pro and Blades of Glory as a point of comparison when Ferrell's energy isn't harnessed by the right man.

The excellence of Iron Man doesn't mean that any director can take any script and make any comic book into a great film. Crap director extraordinaire Mark Steven Johnson got three cracks at the genre and failed miserably with, in succession; Daredevil, Elektra, and Ghost Rider. (To clarify, he wrote and directed Daredevil and Ghost Rider but only wrote Elektra. Guess he couldn't devote his time to ruining all three all on his lonesome.)Three strikes and he's out. He should be banned from any further movie set for the rest of his life. He should have one of those dog collars that shocks him any time he gets close to trying to attempt to make a comic movie.

This is the face of the enemy:

What separates Iron Man, the movie, from the garbage comic book based movies, AKA the Mark Steven Johnsonites, in recent memory?

Truly, there is just so many reasons, a plethora one might say but I'll limit myself to four with an innumerable amount of uncounted sidenotes.

First is the ingenious casting of one of the true great actors of this generation, Robert Downey Jr. It's a bold choice. Downey has a checkered personal past but his performances, no matter what the role, are never lacking. Whether it's, Chaplin, Natural Born Killers, Weird Science or more recently in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Charlie Bartlett, he always seems to deliver a quality peroformance that doesn't disappoint the audience. He owns the role Tony Stark / Iron Man. He has the charisma to pull off all the Stark phases of the film; the playboy, the beaten prisoner, and the do gooder. He takes it all in stride without losing the slightly prickishness, a asshole with a soul.

Second, is that the character of Tony Stark is not a whiny bitch. This is a major problem with alter egos of many of the superhero characters in film. Whiny Peter Parker (Spiderman), bitchy Bruce Banner (The Hulk), and the pussy Clark Kent (Superman) all provide an counterpoint or foil for their superhero opposite. When they are in superhero mode, they are anything but whimpy. They kick ass and save the world, but that is the easy part. It's the alter egos sections of each film that lead to downfall.

Tobey Maguire's voiceovers in Spiderman are monotonous, you just wished he'd shut up. But his arch nemesis/best friend Harry Osbourne is even more whiny. You just want to smack them all the time. To be honest, I don't even remember the latest incarnations of Bruce Banner or Clark Kent and that's the problem. I can't relay to you one scene from either film from my vast film watching recall. They were so blase and unmemorable that when they finally started kicking ass the contrast was so stark (pun intended) that they had already lost the audience.

Third, the strength of the origin story that they created. It builds throughout the film but keeps the audience interested with continued and explainable evolution. Iron Man is a made superhero. It doesn't magically happen. He doesn't have powers he develops. He isn't burdened with the task at hand, at least not in this first film (I'm sure it will come). Tony Stark takes it as his duty to become Iron Man. It's not a quick spider bite or something. Stark chooses to become Iron Man and the script devotes a lot of time to this process. But more importantly, the origin is interesting, partially because of the focus you see in Downey's eyes, the way Stark evolves as the the project evolves. You even forgive the ridiculous Minority Report like hand motions he uses to control his computer and allow him to interact in his 3D engineering enviroment. You take it in stride because you think that he's basically Bill Gates, a boy wonder who can create and do anything he puts his mind to.

Yet throughout it all, Stark isn't lost in the background. His personality perseveres throughout the process and his sarcasm and smarminess are completely lost so that he becomes a pure whitewashed character. He doesn't lose his edge, his cockiness. He just tables it when it comes to saving lives.

The origin itself seems so realistic. Even if the suit that he makes is impossible, the thought process behind it makes sense. The process of making the suit seems unrealistic as well but at least he seems to engineer it, craft it, and test it. The testing sequences are brilliantly done and instead of slowing the movie down, they became some of the movie's best moments. Even the often tiresome interaction with a robot assistant doesn't wear thin, it just further enamors you with Stark's quirky personality.

Originally, Stark creates the suit is made out of necessity so he can escape his imprisonment. But when he frees himself and realizes the errors of his weaponry company's ways, he brings the suit back so he can fix the mistakes he believes his company has made. It is not dissimilar from Batman Begins. Batman spends much of the film explaining Bruce Wayne's history and background. He chooses to be the dark knight yet his conflicted Bruce Wayne character doesn't lose it panache and brashness. There is a dichotomy for both, but neither loses their amiable and interesting, playboy personalities. Although both being heirs to billion dollar fortunes doesn't hurt their freedom. It gives them the tools to become whatever they want.

Just reflecting on one of the previews before the film made me even more thankful for Iron Man's excellence was watching the trailer for the latest incarnation of Hulk. Even the trailer looks boring, why would the film be any better. (If you haven't seen it and don't believe me, head over to the Apple Trialer site and take a look for yourself, but I would highly recommend against it. I would embed it but that would imply that I would actually support watching it.)

The Incredible Hulk looks like the same old shit, different lead actor in Edward Norton. Norton exemplfies the whiny bitch quality. He has made a career off of it. (Even the badass he starts off as in American History Xturnss into a pussy). Think about it.

Norton's two most famous roles were in Primal Fear and Fight Club, films where he played the wuss but had great twist endings in which it is revealed that he was not the whiny wimp we see during the rest of the film. The Incredible Hulk has enormous steaming turd bomb written all over it. I don't know what they else they could have done to try and revive this classic comic but this was not it. To be honest, I don't think Hulk has what it takes to be his own film. He would be fine as part of another series, maybe in an X-Men standing by Wolverine's side kicking ass.

As a sidenote, The Punisher, my personal all time favorite comic book character, seems to have the same issues. In this case, I just don't think they've found the right man yet. I haven't seen much on the upcoming film, probably because I'm trying to void any information because of how much it upsets me. The Punisher is a revenge comic. He's not really a superhero and doesn't really deserve to be lumped with these superhero films. It's compared because it's also from Marvel Comics. I really hope this latest incarnation can breath some life into Mr. Frank Castle and his bloodthirsty rage but it's doubtful. The Punishher, in all honestly, is best suited as a horror film or a first person shooter video game. There is nothing special about the plot. It doesn't have the greatest villians. The Punisher is a loner. He's like the main characters in The Terminator, Old Boy, and the Kill Bill trilogy. The one thing latest film has going for it is the absence of John Travolta. What a fucking joke he was.

Which beings me to possibly the most important point on Iron Man, the excellent supporting cast performances. I don't know if casting agents get awards but whomever did the work for this film should get a big check from Marvel. Downey carries the movie for the most part but unlike some recent casting that tried to ruin excellent superhero movies *cough* Katie Holmes *cough* or the previously mentioned awfulness of Travolta, Iron Man brings in high quality actors for decent quality roles.

Jeff Bridges was an interesting choice as the arch nemesis Obidiah Stone. He's the sedated, sadistic villain that is the antithesis to the loudmouth Stark yet no matter what it seemed like he was kind of still talking like The Dude. His performance is understated until the final battle sequence, where his character goes a bit over the top but that will happen when you're talking through a giant robot suit.

Terrence Howard's role was quite minimal but he made the most of his screen time, trading shots with Downey Jr and standing toe to toe with the banter and intelligence. The one hole I possibly saw before I saw the movie is what is always the weak link, the love interest.

In every superhero movie, it seems like you want to mute every scene when the love interest pops on screen, Katie Holmes in Batman Begins (who was thankfully replaced for the upcoming awesomeness that is Dark Knight), Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane, and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane. I don't know how she did it but Gwyneth Paltrow pulled it off as Pepper Potts despite the ridiculous name that she would probably call her next kid if the name wasn't already taken.

The chemistry between her and Downey was undeniable as his important personal assistant and as his love interest, although I wished they would have left her involvement out of the final sequence but that's probably how they did it in the comics. To be honest, I never read much of the Iron Man comic as a kid. It just always sounded like the most bland of the superheros. He looked cool but had a lame name and never really crossed paths much with the Wolverinesof the world. But after seeing the movie, I might just have to check a few issues out.

Some people may complain about the abrupt ending but I thought it was perfect. Sure it was sequel bait but what superhero movie isn't these days. And after seeing the film, all you wanted was more. It wouldn't have been satiated no matter how many more fight scenes they had. They gave you a lot but left you thirsting for a whole lot more (which if you stayed all the way to to the end of the credits, you got a real treat of what is to come).

Favreau didn't over complicate things with more villains. That always seems to be the answer but they were smart to streamline it. They laid the groundwork for introducing new characters. And the final line of the movie is perfect, it portrays just what made Downey so great as Iron Man, that he throws away the playbook and writes his own. He says fuck it to the cue cards and he stands up there and doesn't bullshit the people. He looks right into their eyes and tells them "I am Iron Man." Thank you Mr Favreau, and here's hoping you can carry the torch to bear light on the excellence that can be showcased in the superhero movie genre.

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