Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Flashback: Iron Man

In anticipation of Thor's release this Friday, I thought I'd take a look back at some other Marvel movies from the past few years, since decided I wanted to watch several of them over again. The first is Iron Man, the only film in 2008 that I like more than The Dark Knight, and the film that raised the Superhero movie to the point where it's probably my favorite single genre. Iron Man was the first of the films made by independently by Marvel Studios, and the company's ability to understand their own property probably helped Iron Man get a better movie than the less fortunate Fantastic Four. Avoiding and updating much of the traditional Iron Man storylines probably helped as well. Classic villains like the Mandarin are only hinted at, while the Alfred-stand-in butler Jarvis is replaced with the computer voiced by Paul Bettany. Of course, the real reason this film works so well is the performance of Robert Downey Jr.as the arrogant, womanizing, alcoholic genius Tony Stark. These reasons alone are enough to get Iron Man onto my list of all-time favorite movies.

Solid entertainment

I actually reviewed Iron Manback when I was working for The Sounds Newspaper (though they didn't have a website back then). At the time, I wrote:
"Iron Man is the quintessential summer movie. It mixes action and humor together in the entertaining blend that has become expected of a good popcorn film. This is the kind of movie that people want to go see. While it may not have deep, thought-provoking elements or emotional drama, it provides entertainment that is too often missing from current films.
I still stand by that, with the caveat that since then, I've decided that I don't necessarily think there's much point to telling stories people don't want to hear. The truth is, I want to write stories that have action and humor but aren't completely mindless (like Fast Five).

Not too much

I mentioned that Iron Man does away with the classic villains, and even though it hints at the larger Marvel universe with the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. and an after-the-credits cameo by the great Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury, it doesn't overdo things and keeps the story focused on Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 didn't manage to pull this off, and even though it turned out better than Spider-man 3, it still became overly convoluted with too many characters and heroes being tossed around.

Setting in cultural context

One of the things Iron Man did well was set its story into the cultural context of the time it was made--one that hasn't actually changed much since then. Tony Stark's captivity in Afghanistan and the thought of American corporations selling weapons to the highest bidder were--and still are--easily believable and recognizable to the audience.

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