Marvel At The Sight
It’s now been a good decade since I found myself being asked which movies I was looking forward to that year and counted up a bunch of movies with numbers after them and a good bunch of them were based on comic book content. The rise of Marvel as a movie studio has been spectacular as the decline in story-developing prowess of the traditional studios has been precipitous. Each year it gets harder to see cool movie with original content. The big winners are increasingly adaptations, and even the uncool ones that seem to win big at the box office seem to be increased on nothing more than a ride (‘Pirates of the Carribbean’) or a toy (‘Transformers’).
These movies of comic book and toy adaptations have eaten Hollywood alive like. Proper careers and talent has been consumed to turn out this furious Sturm und Drang of chaotic adrenaline-charged entertainment. It’s driven Steven Soderbergh into retirement. So here we have Robert Downey Jr. in what is becoming his signature role of his career, well into the fourth movie of playing Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. It’s worth considering if this is worthy of his talents.
What’s Good About It
They hired Shane Black to co-write and then direct this film. it’s turned out to be an excellent choice as he brings a great sensibility to the Tony Stark banter. The action is crisp, the irony sharp, the dialogue is snappy, and the pace doesn’t flag. Black also manages to engineer a way to keep Stark out of his suit, and thus more physically vulnerable. Black has also kept the Military Industrial Complex subtext of Stark’s family business out of sight inmost part, which has freed up the narrative space for the movie to look to explore different aspects of the character.
What’s Bad About It
Remarkably, the film being directed at kids, still can’t shake the simplistic view of politics of the state or the monopoly of science by corporations. The concern is there in there somewhere, but you only see flashes of it before it goes back into a bit more of the biffo. As such, the notions raised so interestingly in the first film hardly get any development; and it’s a shame because I think kids would be able to handle it – right up to and including the ambivalence about war, patriotism and violence.
Of course this being an American film, they douse the whole thing with comic book morality as Americans douse their hotdogs and hamburgers with ketchup. And it’s a real shame because it just lets a golden opportunity go by.
What’s Interesting About It
Once upon a time Shane Black was the young tyro writer director who penned such marvels as ‘Lethal Weapon’, ‘Predator’ and and ‘The Last Boy Scout’. It took him a long time but his directorial debut was with ‘Kiss Kiss bang Bang’. It’s hard to figure out what happened, but between the time of ‘The Long Kiss Good Night’ and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ there’s nearly a decade of blank time. Still, his imprimatur is unmistakable in the wise-ass banter and dare I say a whole lot wittier than the banter that went around in ‘Iron Man 2’. Here’s hoping he gets to do more things. The world is a better place with Shane Black movies, especially now that Tony Scott is gone.
Four Movies Of Stark And Potts
Without a doubt Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow are the acting limelights, the premier talent of our day. Downey Jr. has multiple awards and Paltrow already has an Oscar for her efforts in ‘Shakespeare in Love’, a film that probably wouldn’t have worked as well without her amazing control and insight. 50years from now, they are in danger of being remembered for their roles in the Iron Man movies and in Paltrow’s case, the bit part she had in ‘The Avengers’.
This is kind of disturbing. It’s a wonderful thing that Marvel Studios has the nous and wherewithal to pull together these lavish productions where the villains are played by such acting luminaries as Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley. It’s an amazing feat, a bit like a Las Vegas circus landing The Rolling Stones as their guests. I guess it’s all about the money but it is interesting if you consider Ben Kingsley is hardly likely to be remembered as the Mandarin when he is likely to be remembered as the guy who played Gandhi, while Robert Downey Jr just might end up Iron Man forever.
The ‘Big Now’ In Fiction
I know I keep saying disparaging things about comic book content but what really is the problem? To tell you the truth, I don’t know. It’s just my own snobbery that prefers literariness; but I’m also contrarian enough to prefer comic book content to say, ‘Australian Cinema’. You know you’re going to have a much better time watching a bit of special effects spectacular with a bit of biffo.
I’ve been thinking that as we find ourselves deeper in the post-post Modern, we should accept the deep validity of anything that garners great crowd support. Cinema and film and movies are culturally significant. They might be even more important than other media such as photography or literature in that it can capture movement and present it as an aspect of the art itself. Marvel might have started with Comic Books, but they are now firmly in with the big boys doing cinema, and judging by the success, there’s a case to be made that in fact Marvel speaks to our deepest needs in our civilisation. Take that scholars of Shakespeare – but that’s what we have here. So I really shouldn’t poo-poo these films as much as I do. There’s something in them that speaks to us about the condition of our civilisation. You might be surprised at how morally needy and yet fickle with our affections we are in the eyes of our superheroes.
The fact that these comic book movies keep getting better suggest there’s a long way to run yet on this genre of movies.
The Joy Of Repetition
Spoiler alert for this bit…
One of the things we discover about Iron Man in this film is that he is possibly suffering from PTSD from his near-death experience in ‘The Avengers’. In fact the whole Iron man persona seems to have something to do with PTSD and manic responses to stress. I am beginning to wonder after 4 of these movies whether Tony Stark really ought to get some serious help rather than lying on a couch talking at Dr. Banner. a.k.a. The Hulk.
Anyway, one of the things that comes out of this is Tony Stark’s insomnia and his need to keep building Iron Man suits of varying designs and it struck me as very insightful that his obsessive compulsive routines actually comes out of a combination of his insomnia and PTSD.
I mentioned in the crit for ’42’ that the number 42 keeps coming up in fiction for some reason and well, the main suit in this movie is suit Mk. 42.