Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"I Am Iron Man"

“Iron Man” is among the best films in the superhero genre. (Creating that list before this year’s Batman release would be a premature undertaking.) That is a bit of a surprise considering that Iron Man has always been one of the lesser Marvel heroes, and a cheap Batman imitation in some ways. The Iron Man movies continue the Batman imitation, in that they try to create a plausible real world version of the hero the way that Nolan’s films have done. That is part of what makes it a great movie. Fantasy is a good vehicle to get us thinking about important issues, but when the fantasy seems possible the ideas are easier to grasp. In this case the ideas practically hit one over the head.

Tony Stark is a flawed, fallen man who profits on war. He is a jerk to people in general and a cad to women in particular. In the storyline of the first Iron Man movie, his flawed character becomes a physical problem when his heart is damaged. When his life is saved and he acquires a “new heart,” his outlook on life changes as well… for the most part. He still struggles with his basic personality issues, but he tries to do the right thing. Downey’s performance, the way that Iron Man is tailor made to look well in CG, and the rare authenticity that the Stark-Potts romantic tension plays out, are all contributing side issues that help make this film so great.

In the second film, we get to see Stark continuing to grow. He still wants to do the right thing, but has become distracted by his mortality. It is all well and good to want to make the world a better place, but how do we deal with the fact that we will not get to enjoy that place? Since this is not a story told from a position of faith, it becomes one about legacy instead of afterlife. We see Stark's legacy attacked by the villain, the government attempting to take it away, and we see that Tony himself is his father’s legacy. The problem here is that none of these issues are as well thought out, and the attempt to set up the ultimate Avengers movie derails a lot of the already sketchy plot-line. Still it is a solid, middle of the superhero-movie-pack effort.

Spoilers for “The Avengers” after the pic: 

In many ways “The Avengers” is “Iron Man 3.” Tony Stark is comfortable with his role in the world, his relationship with Pepper has grounded him, and he is the key element that brings the team together. When the time comes for Stark to make the ultimate decision to sacrifice himself for the sake of others, he is ready and makes the hard choice with no hesitation.  Where it does not feel like an Iron Man movie is the way we combine this sort of plausible hero with the far out fantasy of monsters and gods, but more on that later…

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