Movie Night: Iron Man

Year: 2008

Director: Jon Favreau

Production Company: Marvel Studios

Leads: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard

hi-res-domestic-poster-iron-man-879214_864_1280In the run up to seeing Iron Man 3 in the near future, Little Satis and I decided to revisit the current series of Marvel films in their chronology, and it all starts with Iron Man. There’ve been so many superhero movies since then – both in and out of the Marvel universe – that it’s hard to recall just how exciting Iron Man was when it came out five years ago. In those past five years Marvel have released The Incredible HulkIron Man 2ThorCaptain America: The First Avenger and of course The Avengers. Outside of Marvel, D.C. have had their go with WatchmenJonah Hex and Green Lantern, but Marvel have accomplished something extraordinary by linking these six (now seven) films in a coherent string, with cameos, crossovers and S.H.I.E.L.D. lurking always in the background.

This was evident even in Iron Man, because although the plot and events center firmly around Tony Stark and his redemption, the hints at a larger world are already there with Agent Coulson trying to get Pepper Potts‘ attention early in the film, with no other background or reference to who he is or what he wants. This isn’t recapped at all, instead being left open to interpretation and follow-up, which becomes increasingly important throughout the series of films. It was a stroke of genius, really – had the movie failed, the subplot with S.H.I.E.L.D. was insignificant enough to be ignored; having succeeded, it opened the door to a multi-branched world of superhero movies that are all interlinked.

That being said, none of this was known when Iron Man was first released, and the film is more than able to stand tall on its own merits. The very opening is startling; it has all the tension of a war movie, and indeed the battle in which Tony Stark is captured is gritty and realistic. The neat polish of a typical superhero movie is absent: there are no capes, no perfect hair, no clean-cut bad guys out to rule the world. From the outset, we are introduced to a character who, on several levels, spends the entire film fighting against himself, and this theme dominates the story itself.

Tony_captured

Tony Stark: captured, bound, injured and defiant as ever.

Tony Stark is about as far from the humble, down-to-earth alter-ego that we have come to associate with superheroes. Even Bruce Wayne, with his lavish and decadent lifestyle, is a saint compared to Stark, whose arrogance and supreme confidence make him one of the most unlikeable protagonists ever. Robert Downey Jr. portrays this as only he could, throwing his all into the multi-billionaire playboy role as though it were his own (perhaps it is). The only redeeming features are the facts that, for all his arrogance, Stark is usually right and deep, deep down his heart’s in the right place.

His capture, torture and escape from radical terrorists is, of course, the life-changing moment for Stark, and Iron Man actually takes the surprising route of having these events affect him as exactly they should: making him reevaluate his life and his goals, and the purpose of his entire existence. It would be all too easy for a character as self-obsessed as Tony Stark to come out unaffected – “of course I’d survive” – but the filmmakers were brave enough to actually go with the obvious.

The showdown between Stark and Stane.

The showdown between Stark and Stane.

Nonetheless, Stark continues to struggle with the lifestyle he enjoys and the new ideals he wants to uphold, and this kicks off the true conflict of the movie between himself and the man who runs his own company, Obadiah Stane. This is the internal strife externalized, as Tony ends up facing down his old friend in a mechanical suit inspired by, and distorted from, his own original designs. Even a machine that was built first to protect himself and then to protect others ultimately has the power to destroy, and in endeavoring to stop his company from producing weapons he inadvertently creates the most powerful one yet.

Iron Man bucks the trend of superhero movies in a number of ways, from the extroverted protagonist to the unconventional world-ruling villains, and the ending is no surprise; who else but Tony Stark would come out and actually tell the world he’s Iron Man? Talk about breaking superhero rule number one!

Ultimately enjoyable, Iron Man was a surprise in a number of ways, capturing a depth that had been missing from so many superhero films up to that point. It was a huge success, spawning an ongoing series of related and semi-related sequels, and was for Little Satis and myself a top class film.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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Movie Night: The Avengers

Year: 2012

Director: Joss Whedon

Production Company: Marvel Studios

Leads: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans

avengers-assemble-poster-500x742Well, well, well. Here is a movie both Little Satis and I have been dying to watch for I don’t know how long, and finally decided it was just time to get it out of the way.

I should start by saying that I am a fan of good superhero movies; that is to say, movies that both respect the style and material of the original comic book, while at the same time humanizing the characters by giving them flaws deep enough to destroy themselves, never mind the bad guys. In essence: The Crow = good; Batman & Robin = bad.

One of the most successful of these in recent years has been, of course, Chris Nolan‘s Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises). We are introduced to a Bruce Wayne who fights not for a noble cause but for revenge; a man who has no desire to continue his crusade against Gotham’s underbelly other than for his own self-flagellation, driven by hate and guilt.

But this is the DC Comics universe. Responsible for the two most formidable superheroes ever created – Superman and Batman – Marvel ought to be the underdog, always caught in the shadow of their larger-than-life siblings.

But not so. Other than the recent Batman films, D.C.’s output has been mediocre, at best; meanwhile, Marvel Studios has had nearly incessant success over the past decade with the Blade trilogy, the insanely popular X-Men franchise, Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger (I’ll let them off for the first Hulk and Fantastic Four). More than this, though, they’ve carefully built an entire universe of co-existing and overlapping story lines, threading the continuity between Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America in so deft a way that there was really nowhere left to go but: The Avengers.

Though obviously distorted by necessity for Hollywood, The Avengers retains a remarkable affinity for the comic book origins; though many of the characters are different, Iron Man/Tony Stark and Captain America/Steve Rogers are core members of the group, and this is evidenced in the film by the focus of drama on these two (and indeed the conflict that arises between them). Even the story is retained: demigod Loki comes to earth seeking revenge on his brother, Thor. Loki’s power of illusion and manipulation causes near-fatal rifts between the fledgeling group’s members, until they realize that they can only defeat Loki together.

To be perfectly honest, there’s not a lot else you need to know about this movie. In the past, Marvel Studios has done a good job of digging deep into their characters’ history and bringing out the ‘person’ behind the superhero, something that is particularly noticeable in the X-Men films as well as Captain America. While there is an attempt to retain this in The Avengers, the very fact of having an ensemble cast of superheroes dooms this from the beginning: it would be nearly impossible to focus equally on six different characters and still have room for self-reflection.

Not that it matters. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about The Avengers is that, frankly, it doesn’t try to pretend to be anything other than a mindless, visually thrilling romp of destruction. And at this, it is very successful. Despite the knowledge that at least half of what’s on screen at any given moment was created by ILM, the visuals are nonetheless stunning, and – astonishing, really, in an era of CGI-anything – there are a few moments that are quite literally jaw-dropping, including the ridiculous aircraft carrier scene (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean).

This is not an intellectual movie. In fact, it doesn’t even advance the stories of any of the individual heroes (something Kurt Vonnegut would understand), and no one leaves any different to how they entered. It’s basically good guys kick bad-guy ass. The genius of this movie is that it works anyway; having come to know the characters so intimately through their previous filmic incarnations, it’s actually kind of relaxing to sit back and watch them blow shit up.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆