First up, let's finish up the comic book movie knockout. Unfortunately, no one seemed to see my last column two weeks ago and we had the lowest voting total of the entire tournament.
The Dark Knight beat X-Men: First Class, 50-19
The Avengers best Iron Man, 57-14
Here are the finals:
Things came up last weekend and I didn't get my column in on time, so those finals were a week late. In the last column, I talked about the first Snowpiercer graphic novel, which has a very highly rated movie adaptation coming soon to the United States. That graphic novel actually went on sale last week and the second part will hit American booksellers this month. If you are one of the few people who seemed interested in that first graphic novel, keep your eyes open for the second one. This is the first release of the comics translated into English.
So, with that said, I have been brainstorming ideas that might be an interesting way to take the column to make it more interesting. So, I decided to do something I talked about a while back. The original purpose of switching Alternate Takes to a comic book movie column was to talk about all the comic movies in history, which believe it or not, there are over 150 of them. With Steve starting his own comic book column after I started this, maybe it is better if I just stepped back and worried about comic book movies and if you guys want comic book news, hit his column so there is little overlap.
With that said, I'm a man of structure, so I will focus on one movie each week and work on breaking this column into sections concerning the movie, making it easier to digest and maybe a little more entertaining and original. I will be tweaking the format a little as we go until I am happy with the format and have it set in stone.
With that said, I will hint that two movies I will talk about later this month are two upcoming releases from Shout Factory that I received advanced Blu-ray screeners of last week – The Darkman Collector's Edition and The Shadow Collector's Edition. Those will both be coming in the upcoming weeks. But first, let's just kick this new column off with one of the movies that just missed the finals this week – Iron Man.
Iron Man is a film that is many things. It is a war movie that presents a look at the Middle East that would be ignored by audiences in any other movie. It is a superhero origin story that gets it right for the first time since Spider Man. It is an overlong drama that could have used a tighter hand in the editing room, trimming some excess fat out of an otherwise solid story of a man finding himself. However, what Iron Man is, above all other things, is a comic geek's wet dream.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a wunderkind who assisted his father in developing Stark Enterprise into the premiere weapon's manufacturer in the world. His father worked on the Manhattan Project, which was instrumental in the development of the Atomic Bomb. Since his father's death, Tony has taken over his dad's legacy of developing the most devastating weapons for the wartime factions. The movie kicks off with a bang. Tony is in route with some military personnel in Afghanistan when they are attacked by foreign militant forces. Stark is hit with shrapnel from one of his company's own weapons and is taken captive. He is ordered to build this militant force one of his prototype missile launchers, a devastating weapon that can destroy an entire mountainside in one shot.
Unfortunately, Tony is also close to dying. Some of the shrapnel is still in his body and moving quickly to his heart. A doctor is brought in to make sure he stays alive until he completes his mission. Tony, genius that he is, inserts a device into his chest that uses magnetic energy to keep the shrapnel from reaching his heart. Then he builds a prototype of body armor that he uses to escape. The escape displays what you can expect from this movie. It is complete brutality, violent and destructive. While in the armor, he shoots men in the chest with power blasts that should kill them on impact. He uses his heavy armor as a battering ram, smashing his enemies to death. He is a one-man wrecking machine, and obliterates any enemy that stands in his way. It all makes sense, as Tony has developed weapons for years that made him known as the "Merchant of Death." Here, he just takes it to the next level. As I said, it is a war movie, dressed up as a superhero film. The devastation and destruction that Iron Man leaves in his wake is no different than that of any other movie depicting wartime factions. It's just a more in-your-face sample.
When Tony returns to the United States, he decides he does not want to develop weapons anymore. Furthermore, he wants to find out what enemies his weapons were sold to and eliminate those threats. Tony goes from being a war monger to a man who wants to fight to protect and save people who are put in the line of danger from the weapons he helped develop. Along the way, he must face those in his own company who oppose his newfound ideals as well as those warring countries who are using his weapons to beat their enemies into submission. With great power comes great responsibility.
At this point, we get the best superhero origin story ever. Batman travelled the world learning various forms of fighting and detective skills. Spider Man just threw himself off a building and let whatever happened happen. Superman was a natural with his new powers. Even the X-Men, with their school to teach them the responsible ways to use their powers, caught on quite quickly. Iron Man might be the first movie I have seen that goes into painstaking details concerning how hard it can be to master new powers. Comedy is used at a high level as Tony struggles to figure out how to harness the powers that he himself created. He creates the ability to fly, but that does not mean he can just go up, up and away. It takes lots of practice and even more failure before he is able to use the new armor without killing himself. Along the way, we get the best example of how to create a superhero from scratch.
And never once along the way do they cheese up the character of Tony Stark. Fans of the comic know that Stark is, among all other things, an arrogant and self-centered man. He is a publicity hound who loves to be in the spotlight. If you think about how Bruce Wayne acts in public, you can come close to how Tony Stark is supposed to be. The only difference is that Tony Stark wants to be a partygoer, wants to be in the limelight and needs to be the center of all attention. The very last scene of the movie (before the credits), you see that, despite finding his true calling, he has never changed who he is deep down. Tony Stark, playboy, may be a superhero now, but he is still Tony Stark, Playboy.
That is where the movie succeeds most, as the casting of Robert Downey Jr. was a brilliant move by Jon Favreau. He embodies everything this character stands for. He is able to step into the character like an old pair of shoes and is the best fit (outside of maybe Hugh Jackman for Wolverine) that I have ever seen step into the body of a character I grew up reading about. To add to the great cast, Jeff Bridges was perfect as Obadiah Stane, Tony's partner at his company and someone who does not completely agree with Tony's new ideals. Add Terrance Howard as Tony's best friend Jim Rhodes and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and you have a central cast that exceeds any expectation that I ever had going into the movie.
There were small problems. The movie could have been cut down a little bit. I think some of the comedy could have been scaled back to keep the story a little more tightly paced. I also feel that the final battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger had a little of the Transformers style editing and that makes the battles hard to follow. These problems are small and in no way hurt the credibility of this movie.
Everyone loved The Dark Knight, which came out a few months later, but Iron Man was just as great at telling a very different kind of superhero story. This movie proved that Marvel superheroes could be a big deal. Without Iron Man, there would not be the Marvel movie universe and few have lived up to its lofty accolades.
"To me, with the political climate what it is now, it's such a complex character and these times are so complex, mirroring in a lot of ways, his inception in the 60′s when on the cusp of Vietnam, it was just as unpopular to have an arms manufacturer as your hero. I really wanted to explore that so it's very exciting to me in that way." – Jon Favreau, 2006
"Nobody went to see a movie about the pirate ride at Disneyland. They got interested in it because of Johnny Depp. When Robert was cast in ‘Iron Man,' it was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. He was not the obvious choice, but my larger fear was making a mediocre movie; the landscape of the superhero is very picked over. I knew that Robert's performance would elevate the movie." – Jon Favreau, 2008
"We wanted something for the fans.... Nick Fury from the Ultimates — which is a new series of books that sort of re-conceives the tradition of Marvel characters — he was always depicted to resemble Samuel L. Jackson. And so I turned to [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige and said, ''You know what would blow their minds? Should we so this?'' Kevin was like, ''Let's try.'' And then we actually pulled it together." – Jon Favreau, 2008
"I remember being a kid and how deeply the SUPERMAN, with Brando in it, affected me and I always kind of think of IRON MAN as a little bit like if Robert Altman had directed SUPERMAN" - Robert Downey Jr, 2007
Finally, here are some Easter Eggs:
Tony Stark's ringtone in the movie is from the 1966 Iron Man cartoon
There is a billboard in one of the road scenes with Fin Fang Foom on it
There are a ton of references to the 10 Rings, which of course paid off with The Mandarin in Iron Man 3
Arguably, there is a shot in the background of Captain America's shield in Tony's work area
5. The Invincible Iron Man Marvel Masterworks: Volume 1
We should start off with the real origin story of Iron Man, which can be seen in the Marvel Masterworks graphic novel collection. This is a good place to start because we can see how he became a hero originally in South Vietnam (changed to Afghanistan for the movie) and see his transformation into a hero. This collection also includes the introduction of the red armor we have grown to love as well as a couple of his more famous antagonists, Crimson Dynamo and The Mandarin, as well as a battle with Angel of the X-Men.
The one thing that Marvel has done with their movies is to bring in perfect choices to direct their movies. They hired a Shakespeare director to helm Thor, a television cult hero to direct The Avengers, and a disciple of Steven Spielberg to direct Captain America. For Iron Man, the studio went for Jon Favreau, someone who had only proved once they could handle a special effects movie and had never done anything that had as much action as a superhero movie. However, what he had done was direct two movies with great character development in Made and Elf as well as writing one of the best indies of the 90s in Swingers. What made Iron Man great wasn't the action, although that was good, but it was the characters and story that was great. That is why Favreau was such a solid choice.
3. Iron Man (1994-1996)
A lot of people thought that creating an Iron Man movie was too risky as a first choice for Marvel to break into the movie production world. However, Iron Man wasn't quite the unknown that some made him out to be. From 1994-1996, The Iron Man television series was a huge success and actually has the distinction of being one of the few cartoons on TV to be re-recorded in THX. With the fans of that cartoon in their early 20s when the Iron Man movie hit theaters, there was still a ting of memory of the hero for the age group Marvel was shooting for with this first Marvel movie.
2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Without a great actor as Tony Stark, Iron Man would have failed. Robert Downey Jr. was cast for the role and there was no better choice for Tony Stark than Downey. He could not have made it to this point if not for some trustworthy friends in the business. After his numerous drug arrests, rehab stints and jail time, he was persona-non-grata in Hollywood. However, Shane Black saw something in him and wanted to help him so he cast him in his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The movie was one of the best films of last decade and proved that Downey was back to form. It just took a few more chances and Marvel was ready to trust their franchise in the hands of the former golden boy.
None of this would have mattered without Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Outside of the X-Men franchise, no Marvel superhero movie really proved that a solo comic book movie could work. The Daredevil theatrical cut was disappointing, no one really counted Blade, the Punisher movie was a major dud, and even the Fantastic Four movie proved that X-Men might have been a fluke. When Spider-Man was a success and then Spider-Man 2 was a huge improvement, it proved to Marvel that – if done right and with a geek friendly director, a Marvel superhero movie could succeed. They saw what Sony did with Spider-Man and replicated it, creating a movie that actually surpassed Spider-Man in every way.