Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's May, and everyone knows what that means

The Summer Blockbuster, of course. Or rather, the first of many. This year promises wonders like a new Indiana Jones movie, and all manner of big comedies with huge stars. First on this summer's list, though, was Iron Man.

Review: Iron Man

How in the heck many superhero movies have we been subjected to over the past few years? Three Spidermans, three X-Mens, a Hulk and a Batman with more of each coming this summer, a Catwoman (that most people would perhaps rather forget), a Superman, and doubtless others that I'm neglecting to mention. Add Sin City and 300 and V for Vendetta if we want to extend the category to "comic book and/or graphic novel movies".

Most of them are decent. Not excellent, not hideous, but entertaining. And that's what you expect. The Spiderman movies and the X-Men movies have both gotten worse as the series have dragged on, but let's face the fact that most people interested in this sort of movie aren't going to fashion themselves into playing movie critic.

So with a healthy dose of skepticism, I followed those Movie People friends of mine into a theater to see the latest in the flood. And to my surprise, I actually could play movie critic on this one and not have it destroy my opinion of the movie. The characterization was excellent, especially with respect to Tony Stark himself. Nearly every other superhero movie features either 1) some emo guy who accidentally acquired superpowers and has Internal Conflicts about how to use them (eg Spiderman), or 2) some mystical, otherworldly Force of Good must battle Forces of Evil to save men (eg X-Men). Tony Stark is neither.

In fact, he's something of a douchebag. Billionaire weapons dealer, doesn't give a crap about anyone but himself, and downright hilarious to watch. When he's captured by al Qaeda-esque terrorists, he naturally becomes a lot less of a douchebag--though his personality doesn't immediately and completely swing to implausibility. The best part, though, is that his superhero status doesn't emerge as the result of any powers. It's his own cunning that allows him to become Iron Man. And that's a refreshing shift from "ooh, I have superpowers, but I don't know how to handle them, whine whine whine."

Of course, Stark goes to exact some revenge on the terrorists, the leader of whom bears a striking resemblance to any number of 24 villains, but not before he realizes that... guess what? His "loyal number 2 guy" has been in league with the terrorists the whole time. Okay. Just once, is is too much to ask for the "loyal number 2 guy" to be legitimately loyal? That has to be the most overused plot device in the history of storytelling: the hard working protagonist eventually attains success, only to be betrayed by his deputy. In a slight variation on the theme, the protagonist comes to deal with an honorable guy in charge, only to be rebuffed by the guy-in-charge's vizier, who of course happens to be not only evil but also diametrically opposed to the protagonist's goals.

And like in every other story, in the Climactic Battle, Tony Stark defeats his betrayer, manages to survive himself, and maybe learns a lesson from it? Another distinction from your run-of-the-mill superhero movie, though, is the obligatory "love interest" subplot. In the majority of other superhero movies, you'd have to lump "gets with the girl he's been after the whole time" in with the list of climactic plot devices. Not here.

The one scene that sticks out in the movie is Stark's interaction with his half-love interest and half-assistant Pepper at a party. It's appropriately awkward, with both Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow cutting each other off at exactly the right time to make it seem unscripted. Making the two of them get together at the end of the movie would have been disappointingly cliche enough to devalue the believable predicate that the movie had worked hard to achieve to that point. Fortunately, it didn't. Superheros, like the rest of us, have relationships with shades of gray to them.

And I have to give credit to the writers for the delayed gratification of not having Stark utter the line "I am Iron Man" until the very end, and having the possibly-eponymous Black Sabbath song roll over the credits. Any earlier in the movie would have been unnecessarily cheesy.

Currently listening: "Sweet and Low", Augustana


Anonymous said...

The one thing that really bothered me about Iron Man was their stupid villian numero 2, the guy who does bear a striking resemblance to probably every 24 villain ever conceived. Every time he was shown on screen he had some dramatic profile with some dramatic music and I couldn't resist facepalmming. It was pretty ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, did you notice Pepper's shoes? She looked like she came out of some porn movie. She must be kind of short, but damn she had some sweet heels.

Matt Pavlovich said...

I think this is more than likely a guy thing, but I can't actually remember having ever noticed a character's shoes, regardless of the situation.

Anonymous said...

lmao perhaps it's just a me thing to notice them.