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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Iron Man: how to make a superhero movie right

I just saw Iron Man and, IMO it is probably one of the best superhero adaptations made since Superman. It could have gone so very, very, wrong. We have a prolonged origin story, the driven hero with personal demons, the avuncular villian we see coming a mile away, a political subtext about weapons proliferation combined with the obligatory scenes of the hero making things go boom. . . Just think of what a mess this would be if Michael Bay was involved.

First of all, while we get the inevitable superhero origin, Iron Man handles it as an integral part of the story. The origin and development of the suit is an integral part of the movie's plot, the inciting incident of Iron Man's creation is also the inciting incident of the story that is resolved with the climax. (Superman was slightly different in this respect, as it was structured like a biopic rather than an action movie.) The superhero genre has many examples of origins clumsily shoehorned into some other story, Daredevil being the most egregious example I can think of.

Second, while Tony Stark could have been played as a self-righteous emo supertwit, we get Robert Downey Jr. playing a nuanced and very credible performance. He is a reckless, self-involved playboy who has a near literal change of heart after a period of (PG-13) torture and imprisonment, but his change in attitude is believable. We clearly see that this guy is the same reckless, self-involved genius he was before. Just he's now going to fix the problem.

Third, the politics. Dicey thing, especially in an action/superhero move, to tackle things like weapons proliferation (Case in point, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace). When the main character starts blowing things up, he can lose some credibility on those points. Iron Man actually is smart enough to take a pragmatic view. Tony Stark is not against weapons, just weapons in the wrong people's hands. He is quite content to deploy flame throwers, missiles and any other ordinance at the bad guys. Agree or disagree, it is perfectly consistent with his character. Especially when he takes the idea of non-proliferation to the logical extreme, he's the only one who gets the suit.

Combine that with the fact the writers could pull off wry humor without losing respect for the characters, they treated the material seriously but not so much to give off any weird ├╝bergeek vibes, and while they stepped in the occasional clich├ę, they didn't track it all over the carpet.

All in all, this movie is made of win.


Kris Johnson said...

I saw Iron Man last night and I agree: this is a superhero movie done right.

The origin story was handled very nicely, keeping all the right elements of the original comic book origin while effectively forklifting the whole thing into the here and now.

The origin story, as involved as it was, also moved along very nicely, suffering none of the interminable foot-dragging we saw in Ang Lee's [i]Hulk[/i], yet never feeling like the story was tripping over itself to be told quickly. Pacing problems can quickly (or slowly) kill an otherwise entertaining movie, and Jon Favreau paced Iron Man pretty much perfectly.

The effects were fantastic and I appreciate that they didn't have to rely on jerky camera motion or maddeningly quick cuts to imbue a sense of action into the battle sequences. I saw what was going on when the hero was in combat, rather than having to guess because choppy editing made it near impossible to follow. Sorry, I'm still recovering from 28 Weeks Later.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoying film.