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A Hero’s Demons

Iron Man 3 (2013) by Shane Black

Iron Man is back with a new director. The hero’s third solo movie is a mess – you may think it’s a solid movie but it’s really not. It’s the one I’ll be hating on unasked until the end of my days. Why? I’m not quite sure, there are enough reasons. Let’s have a look at them.

But first, as always, here’s what happens:

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has PTSD. The things that happened in New York left him paralyzed with fear, he can’t sleep, and he’s got panic attacks. On top of that, there’s a new threat that America faces: the Mandarin. He’s attacking the free world with bombings that don’t seem to use bombs.

Meanwhile, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) isn’t very happy with Tony as he takes little time for her but rather tinkers in his workshop. Tony tries to tell her about his fears but then his Iron Man suit attacks Pepper when she tries to help him and things get positively rocky when an ex-girlfriend appears at his door.

What a mess! Really, I hate this movie. On some level, I know that it’s watchable but there are a lot of things I don’t like and they just culminate into what is probably the worst MCU entry to date. You don’t believe me? You actually like it better than Iron Man 2? That’s your prerogative but let’s have a closer look at Iron Man 3:

I think the first problem is the narration, having Tony Stark tell this story in voiceover takes away some imminent threat. Think about the scene where he almost drowns. Of course, we kinda sorta know that he’ll be all right but the voiceover makes sure that we do know. There’s no real threat, we know Tony will be all right and that also extends to Pepper because if she weren’t Tony wouldn’t be telling this story. He would probably have disappeared in a hole somewhere.

In the beginning, Tony tells us about demons he’s raised and it all started at a conference in Bern in 1999 where Tony meets three people that will make their mark on him. First, there is Jinsen (Shaun Toub), the man who in a cave somewhere in the middle east will save his life. Tony brushes him off. Then there’s Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful woman who also happens to be a genius working on DNA that can spontaneously repair itself. While Tony tries to help her with the kinks she still has to work out, he seems more interested in sleeping with her – which he does before he leaves her the next morning. The third one is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the founder of A.I.M., a think tank. He’s what you may call the worst stereotype of a nerd, but also rather obnoxious. Tony tells him they’ll talk on the roof and never shows.

So his demons consist of a woman he slept with and never called and a guy he left waiting on the roof on New Year’s Eve? Considering the kind of asshole we’re to believe he was that’s a short and rather tame list. It seems that Tony’s ego once again gets the best of him and wants him to believe that he”s responsible for what happened. Neither Hansen or Killian seem that traumatized, to be honest, and Killian’s focus seems to lie more on Pepper than Tony. He calls her his trophy after capturing her and injecting her with that still unstable serum Hansen has concocted. The one thing we really don’t need in the MCU is a villain who uses the love interest to hurt the hero. As if they weren’t treating their female characters worse enough already!

They are and case in point is this movie because, in the first drafts of the screenplay, Maya Hansen was the villain, not Aldrich Killian. But Marvel was concerned about (get this!) toy sales. They didn’t think anyone would buy a female villain toy and that’s why Hall’s role was cut down and changed to what it became, a one-night-stand with a grudge.

I don’t really have words about how fucked up this is. Ultimately, Aldrich Killian is the worst villain the MCU probably has. One that makes no sense at all. I mean, Hansen really had to resort to working with THAT guy? She invented something genius, she probably could’ve been funded by universities or the government with what she was doing but instead, she chose THAT guy. That’s mind-boggling.

And it’s the worst part about this movie – the villain(s). Compared to the reveal which wasn’t really surprising by the way the movie has been set up (with Tony’s narration), the fake Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is rather amusing. It’s a commentary on how we perceive terrorists, our prejudices. This commentary is, however, overshadowed by the white-washing of another Asian character because it turns out that Killian is the Mandarin.

Basically, the whole villain storyline is stupid and sexist and racist. The worst. And that’s frustrating because there are parts of this movie that are way better than most of Iron Man 2. Like when Tony bonds with that kid, Harley (Ty Simpkins), in Tennessee. How he deals with his PTSD (except for the end-credit scene, that was just Marvel making a joke of everything), how he tries to let Pepper in and not repeat his mistakes from the second movie. He’s become a better man and there’s growth in the character. But all the rest of the movie is so messed up you hardly notice it.

And that’s why I hate this movie.

Next: Thor: The Dark World (I just noticed that the German title is Thor: The Dark Kingdom, what’s that all about?)

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Are We a Team Yet?

The Avengers (2012) by Joss Whedon

In Captain America: The First Avenger, the main villain Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) retrieves an ancient artifact from a guarded crypt in Norway. The powers of this artifact, from now on known as the Tesseract, are not revealed but it seems to be an unlimited power source. Schmidt uses it to power his weapons, he also dies at the end of the movie from touching it. We see it fall into the ocean and being later retrieved by a search party looking for Captain America.

Present day: the Tesseract resides in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that is in the process of being evacuated because this ancient power source has somehow been turned on.

This is the beginning of Marvel’s The Avengers.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back from the dead and collaborates with others to take over Earth. He’s given a mythical scepter together with instructions to take the Tesseract. So he does, he also takes Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as his mind-controlled slaves. Despite the fact that the Avengers Initiative has been scrapped, Fury (Samuel L.Jackson) still brings Banner (now Mark Ruffalo), Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and Rogers (Chris Evans) together to get the Tesseract back.

However, when they capture Loki, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appears and wants to bring his brother home. A fight between the heroes ensues but is solved when Thor agrees to join the group and have Loki imprisoned on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Only, it seems that that was Loki’s plan all along…

This is the movie in which Marvel first assembles its first Avengers team and it is a truly magnificent movie. Of course, younger me undermines me once again in this post. Nothing of what I formerly said about The Avengers holds true (except that I still very much respect and love Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man), especially not what I said about Whedon. Eight years is a long time and I’ve come to love the franchise, or maybe I just came to understand it.

The Avengers is also the end of Phase I in the MCU, it combines all the solo movies, all the singular heroes, puts them together in a group that is bigger than its components (yes, bigger even than Tony Stark’s ego). And I think the size of it is what you take away from it. The plot, the fights, everything gets a wider scope. We’re introduced to the big bad guy (Thanos) without being told who he is (comic book fans know, of course, the rest of us is like: is that guy pink?).

This is the first time, Loki is resurrected. He hasn’t been the most remarkable bad guy in Thor, I would even suggest that Thor doesn’t have what you’d call a bad guy. Loki is family, and at the level he operates in Thor it seems more like a family squabble than having an opponent to defeat. Thor’s origin is a lot more about himself than about setting up Loki as a bad guy. Maybe that’s why he operates on a far more familiar level than anyone else could in The Avengers. He’s become a worthy opponent, even if we already know that there are bigger villains behind him. In my other review, I wrote that he’s bad at being bad and I stand with that. He always tries to be the tough guy but then he’s beaten senseless by the Hulk. He lacks the authority of a truly evil villain, he’s mischievous (God of Mischief, after all) and his story from here on out confirms that.

The Avengers, on the other hand, are true good guys but at this point, they’re still individuals, not a team. They struggle with each other, with not being the biggest hero in the room anymore. With having a God in their midst, a guy that was on trading cards in the 1940s, one that could obliterate them all if he lost his temper, and one that just wants to be the one calling the shots. And then there’s Black Widow, the wild card, one that we don’t know much about (and after this outing it seem ridiculous that we don’t have a Black Widow movie but the makers at Marvel are still resisting at this point). I’m reluctant to calling Hawkeye a team member here, probably because he’s Loki’s puppet for most of the movie which makes him kind of the weakest link. But he holds his own in the final battle and that makes him part of the Avengers.

It doesn’t help that Loki’s scepter is throwing a wedge into any kind of amiable conversation at this point, but the team comes together slowly and only when they’re challenged to. The group forms for the big fight in New York, Banner takes a big step by not running away again after he loses his temper on the helicarrier. But the Avengers isn’t a fully formed group, nothing too tight. And maybe they never really will be. The fact that they fight well together, that they’re friendly in the future never really seems to signify that they’re friends. Considering that Civil War is right around the corner, the Avengers team-up seems very fragile at this point. It doesn’t help that the man (Nick Fury) who brings them together and the organization (S.H.I.E.L.D.) behind him have their own agenda.

The counsel behind S.H.I.E.L.D. seems really deviant at this point, outlines of people on screens that only Fury is allowed to talk to, people who scrapped the Avengers Initiative and instead set their money on having Tesseract-powered weapons – just like Hydra did in the 40s. And ultimately deciding to nuke New York. It doesn’t bode well and is possibly the set-up for the big Hydra-reveal in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

And this is just one more point to prove that The Avengers brings all the strings together and puts new ones out into the second phase of the MCU. The Avengers makes us hungry for more, just like the heroes are hungry in the end credit scene. It says: this is only the beginning – and what a beginning it was!

Next: Iron Man 3 (the movie I truly hate)

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A Hero Faulters

Iron Man 2 (2010) by Jon Favreau

I think I could watch this movie every day and still not see why people hate it so much. I’ve actually already written a review of it after I first watched it and while I wasn’t super-enthusiastic, I still deemed it a good movie. That hasn’t changed. (What has, is my harsh opinion on plastic surgery, feel free to ignore that paragraph.)

The plot goes as follows:

Tony Stark is dying. The palladium core in the arc reactor in his chest is poisoning him and he can’t find an element to exchange it. So while he’s opening the Stark Convention (a year-long exhibition showcasing innovative technological ideas, a throwback to what his father [John Slattery] used to do), he’s rather on edge, taking unnecessary risks.

Meanwhile, in Russia, a man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is building his own version of Tony’s arc reactor from an old schematic bearing his father’s and Howard Stark’s names. When they finally meet (on a racetrack in Monaco), the world gets a glimpse of an Iron Man that could be beaten by his own invention. While Tony is determined not to let that happen again, even his allies start to turn against him.

The Tony Stark we meet in the beginning is not the larger-than-life, devil-may-care egomaniac we cared for in the first movie. The new Tony has an edge to him because he already knows he’s dying. And his Iron Man suit, the thing he feels makes him a better version of himself, is advancing his demise. Against JARVIS’ (the voice of Paul Bettany) advice, he doesn’t even tell Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) about his condition, instead, he aims to push her away.

Is this what people dislike about the movie? A more vulnerable Tony Stark who, on top of that, also has a boatload of daddy issues in this movie? If that’s so: well, every female character ever written by a man has to deal with these things as well, so get over yourself. I’m not saying I like this version of Tony better but it’s a believable one if you care to look beyond his passive-aggressive dick-behavior. And Downey Jr. plays it like the brilliant actor he is.

One thing, I just remembered, that I didn’t like about Iron Man 2 (something less apparent in Iron Man unless you remember that one scene on Tony’s jet): women as eye-candy. Women as mere distractions. While Iron Man 2 (magically) passes the Bechdel test, Iron Man doesn’t even try (it’s all about Tony, all the time, with the ladies). The poor choice of treating everyone but Pepper Potts as eye-candy sadly includes Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). Yes, she’s formidable, she can stand her own against multiple opponents but for most of the movie, she’s just someone Tony pants after. Building a hero in this way takes away a lot of her industry and I think it’s one of the reasons so many fanboys don’t value her as a hero on her own. From her standpoint, she did her job, she did it well but for her character development, this whole situation can be deemed demeaning. (And what’s with Kate Mara being used in that 10-second stint? Burning great actresses much?)

There’s always talk about Iron Man’s enemies, how they’re not the best villains they could’ve saddled Tony with. Agreed, but since the series started something much bigger, shouldn’t we admit that they couldn’t have started with the likes of Thanos? I mean, they were building a world for the long-haul. Having Jeff Bridges as Iron Monger and Mickey Rourke as Whiplash doesn’t feel like a letdown to me, just two guys who, for different reasons, wanted Tony to suffer and die. And they’re not overwhelming Tony’s own story which is still developing. Where the third movie is concerned, yeah, I agree, BAD villain, but I’ll come to that after I rewatched that disaster.

Pardon me if I seem to lecture, I just like this movie. I think it’s at least as entertaining as the first one, while I got a little more love for a good origin story. The characters act believably. Maybe Justin Hammer is a little bit too much of a caricature but he seems to be what happens if a man with a small… penis happens upon Tony Stark. He can’t compete and he knows it and Sam Rockwell is just the man to play this to the max (have you noticed his hands? Hilarious!).

So maybe give this a rewatch, tell me what you think. I think as far as a developing superhero story goes, Iron Man 2 is a worthy successor of Iron Man. Why everybody felt like trashing it in hindsight, I cannot say. On my list of favorites (which I will probably have to revise at the end), this movie is #15 (with Iron Man at #7).

Next: Thor (by Kenneth Branagh?)

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A Hero Emerges

Iron Man (2008) by Jon Favreau

It’s been almost twelve years since Iron Man graced the big screens with his inflated ego, his quips, and a new cool-nerd presence. You may wonder why I chose to write about him now that his story seems officially over within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that he launched.

Well, I’m in the process of going back, you see. To the beginning. When I didn’t feel compelled to watch all MCU movies at the theater, to when I didn’t even know about most of Marvel’s heroes and wasn’t really interested either way.

ironman-poster

You see, Iron Man and Marvel have changed my perception and understanding of superheroes in much the same way that Kenneth Branagh and Much Ado About Nothing changed my understanding of Shakespeare – in that they made it possible. Up until Iron Man, the most I’d seen of superheroes were Batman (who I don’t like as a character) and Superman (whose 80s movies are awfully dated and whose 90s show I can’t watch anymore because Dean Cain voted for Trump), so I’m not what you call target audience for any kind of superhero franchise. There’s the added difficulty that while I loved 90s superhero shows, they all had female protagonists (what a time to be alive to watch Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Trek: Voyager within the same week, that’s the most representation of female heroship I remember from when I was growing up!) and let’s face it: Marvel, as well as DC, still have to up their game on that front.

ironman2

And yet! And that’s why I’m here because Iron Man and his cohorts lured me in despite myself. I watched all the movies, plus Agent Carter, plus a lot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., bloopers, WHIH Newsfront, what have you. I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan, just someone who enjoys – a lot. And before any questions come in as to my background: I’ve never read a single Marvel comic (I only own two DC comic books, both Wonder Woman), I only recently watched a Marvel animated series (The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) on Netflix (and didn’t have time to finish it before they pulled it), and I enjoyed the Marvel superhero game on Facebook which is also long gone but gave me a view of the vast line-up of heroes and their superpowers. So, if you now think my opinion is not worth your time, so long, but if you’ll like to know what I’ve got to add to the subject, great to have you.

Back to Iron Man:

I had the perfect intro here that I had to revise because upon checking my collection of movie tickets (dating back to the earliest from 1993, I was serious about the nut part in movie nut), I found out that I did watch Iron Man at the theater. So the year is 2008, I’m studying North American Studies in Berlin (the one in Germany, yes) and I must have been shocked seeing Robert Downey Jr. in a trailer. So much so, that I went and watched Iron Man.

For those who don’t know what it’s about:

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is making good money selling weapons to the U.S. Military. However, as he finds out while being kidnapped in the Middle East, the military is not his only buyer. A group calling themselves the Ten Rings wants him to build his newest weapon, the Jericho, in a cave from parts of his other weapons. Instead, Tony Stark builds his first Iron Man suit and leaves captivity.

ironman3

Back home, he finds himself conflicted by what he’s seen and wants to shut down the weapons manufacturing part of his business. But that doesn’t go over well with his closest friend/adviser Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who’s been the one behind Tony’s kidnapping and wants to take over Stark Industries. Iron Man emerges, having to fight (not for the last time) his own creation.

Iron Man is a great origin story. It may not be entirely new (the rewatch invoked thoughts of Hamlet in me) but it’s still a fantastic watch and a great start into a new universe – multiverse even. Robert Downey Jr. carries this iconic character almost effortlessly, transforming into the character but also making him his own – it’s a perfect symbiosis that way. And he isn’t the only recognizable actor by a long shot: Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and even director Jon Favreau round out an ensemble that would make any movie proud – Paltrow and Favreau in recurring roles. The movie is perfectly paced, mixes storytelling with action with fun.

And this is really what drew me in – imagine knowing only Batman (and only loving him in that wacky 60s show) and then coming across Iron Man. Yes, they do have similar backstories, yes, they’re both super-rich and don’t have superhuman abilities. But similarities end there. Tony is nothing like Bruce and that is his strength because you don’t have to sit through another bleak version of Gotham City and see its strongest hero flagellate himself (metaphorically) over the deaths of his parents over and over again. Tony has a sense of humor where Bruce has only depression. I know that there are voices out there who think Marvel is overdoing its trademark quips at the disadvantage of earnest storytelling. But if DC movies are the alternative then, please Marvel, keep making inappropriate jokes.

ironman1

It’s astounding to read that Iron Man was never the biggest draw among Marvel’s comics because he’s become the biggest draw in the MCU and we’ll have to see how Marvel manages without him (if they will, who knows what’s gonna happen?).

There has been talk about how superhero movies are not great cinema or whatever another old white director-dude has shouted at a cloud lately (no, not a Scorsese fan here) – this is, of course, bull. For one, if you look at Iron Man alone, it’s positively Shakespearean (with the uncle-figure trying to kill the heir-apparent of the throne and such), for another: how dare you? Superheroes have been around almost as long as mobsters and have actually done the world some good, so there!

Iron Man is a very entertaining movie, you won’t even notice that two hours have gone by since sitting down (and don’t forget to watch the post-credits scene like I did last night). The MCU couldn’t have chosen a better character or actor to introduce us to their (lesser-known) stories. It didn’t necessarily get better from here (not right away) but it has done what few movies have done before – it launched a movie series where even the worst are still watchable.

Next: The Incredible Hulk (speaking of the worst…)

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Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) by Joss Whedon

It’s funny but I don’t know why I watched this. I didn’t want to, I actually wasn’t the least bit tempted after I saw the trailer. And then I stood infront of the movie theater yesterday and I could have watched Spiderman or W./E. but instead I watched The Avengers. I am still a little astounded by this turn of events… but, well, so I watched it.

I guess I had forgotten that it was directed and written by Joss Whedon but when I saw that it had been done by Whedon I was a little bit peeved. I mean, Whedon gave us one of the best female action tv heroes of the nineties, then he tried to give us fabulous shows like Firefly and Dollhouse and for no apparent reason failed… they were very good shows. And now he gives us The Avengers and my surprise is that it is mostly a make-no-prisoners-dick-flick. Sure, he tried to integrate The Female into this film but with all the phallic imagery (the same as when I wrote about Thor) and male heroes and male villains it kinda got… c**k-blocked.

What we saw of female hero-ship was mostly Scarlett Johansson looking verrry goood (men got over-the-shoulder-shots, Scarlett got full-ass-shots) in catsuit. The same could be said about what little we saw of Gwyneth Paltrow (those cut-offs, dayam!). There was only one female character who seemed almost too much of a character and that was Agent Hill (Colbie Smulders). And this is probably the difference between Whedon and any other director – he actually thinks female characters are important. Other than that, well, Captain America (Chris Evans) seems a little creepy, I never liked Mark Ruffalo, though his Banner was okay, I guees. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still the coolest superhero Marvel has (I love Stark, and I love Downey playing him), and the Loki-guy (Tom Hiddleston) is so hilarious… he’s such a bad villain, and I mean bad not in evil but just plain bad, almost trashy, because he so isn’t evil enough but still he gets the upper hand sometimes – and he’s so pretty.

Mainly this movie is a pissing contest – hell, that lengthy fight between Iron Man and Thor (Chris Hemsworth)! See me still rolling my eyes as I think about it. When it was over, I actually asked the characters to rezip their pants, because really… really…

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t detest it, it was entertainment. Some things were fun, others were totally geeky. But at the end of the day, this is not the kind of movie I want to watch anymore. And not because I think myself too old or too mature (or whatever) to geek out over an action movie – I am not above geekdom, at all – I am just not willing to pay 13 Euros to watch men being heroes and women being eyecandy. Given, the women in this film weren’t just eyecandy but they weren’t quite the heroes the men were… or maybe I just don’t get the whole world domination/war theme that sells us that there actually are heroes in something as pointless as war.

I know, I always promise myself: no more dick flicks, but then I end up seeing some anyways… I don’t know. I should have watched Madonna’s W./E...

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Iron Man 2 – yeah, well…

Iron Man 2 (2010) by Jon Favreau

It’s been a while since I have seen it but I still wanted to write something short about it. It was good – and that’s all one can say about it, I guess. It was as good as the first one but not that much different if I remember correctly.

The thing is: I really like Iron Man / Tony Stark. He does not have super-powers, per se, he is a snob, he is a little like Batman. But (and it is one of those huge BUTs that deem capital letters necessary), so, BUT I never liked Batman. Strange, I only found out that I don’t like him when Christian Bale played him the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I have liked Christian Bale since I first saw him in Henry V but I don’t like Batman… he is too serious, takes himself to serious. Tony Stark on the other hand is a snob and he is constantly mocking himself and everybody around him. He’s snarky and cynical. And of course, Robert Downey jr. is a brilliant actor (so brilliant, in fact, that one has to wonder why he is playing a superhero and not Shakespeare).

The cast is great, too. We have Downey and Paltrow (I am not necessarily a fan of Paltrow’s but there are movies where I can stand her and this is one of them), and Scarlett Johansson (always stunning and a good actress) and Samuel L. Jackson – and to see those two together again after The Spirit is really great, they are an unlikely pairing but a good one (and yes, I am aware that The Spirit is quite a silly movie but who says silly is bad – I loved it… and Eva Mendes!), Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle and Sam Rockwell.

What put me off  a little were the faces of both Mickey Rourke and Garry Shandling. Ouch. Plastic surgery is really a sad admission to one’s vanity and it looks painful. I don’t think that it’s worse with men – or women – I think it is always ill advised. I mean, if you have two noses in your face or are so disfigured you cannot live with yourself, or it is actually affecting your health (women can get serious problems with their back if their boobs are to big and I sympathize) then it is okay but getting older is not something to fret about. We are all getting older – go deal!  And let’s face it there are few women more sexy than Meryl Streep…

Okay, good movie…