Monday, May 19, 2008

A Day at the Movies, Part I

Some people say Iron Man follows the "formula for the superhero movie." I think those people are deeply stupid. Let's compare Iron Man (which I saw last night) to Spider-Man (which I saw seven years ago), shall we?

In Iron Man, our protagonist is Tony Stark. He's wealthy, he's successful, he's charming, and he totally bangs a ton of hot babes. In the first ten minutes of the movie, he meets a woman who dislikes him and reduces her to a ravening, cock-thirsty slut. Everything is turning up Tony, so to speak. Unfortunately, or not, he gets captured by terrorists. (The movie sort've belabours the idea that these terrorists aren't Arabs by having them all speak different languages, so half the guards can't communicate with Yinsen and Tony. Brilliant move on their part.) Tony's injured, and to save his life, a magnet is implanted in his chest. He builds a better one shortly and uses this device to power his escape vehicle, the Mark I. In all this, he also finds out that the weapons his company produces are winding up in terrorist hands. After destroying all the weapons at that camp, he makes good his escape and finds his way back to America where he embarks upon a crusade to keep the weaponry he designed out of the hands of the bad guys. He builds a new, more powerful suit, and becomes the invincible Iron Man.

In Spider-Man, our protagonist is Peter Parker. He's a dork, he's broke, the girl he loves barely knows he exists. In the first ten minutes of the movie, he not only misses his bus, but when he gets on, not even the other fucking losers will sit with him. Nobody likes Peter, and his life is going precisely nowhere, fast. Sure, he's smart, but it's high school; nobody gives a shit. On a field trip, Peter's bitten by a radioactive spider, and he gets incredible powers, such as being strong, being fast, and shooting webs. You can still kill him with a bullet, but that's ok, he's Spider-Man! He accidently gets his uncle killed, and that makes him realize that With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility, a theme we will have explicitly crammed down our throats with each passing sequel. His powers don't increase, and by the end of the movie, nothing has really changed all that much for Peter. He's killed his Uncle Ben, and his best friends father, but he's still poor, he still doesn't have the girl, and is life is still pretty much headed nowhere. He just sticks to walls now and has to deal with an incredible amount of personal guilt, which gets piled on higher and higher until it becomes kinda funny.

I don't see much similarity. There is some, but as research has shown, all stories are essentially the same story. So there's no reason to suspect Iron Man of shitty writing for this. In fact, I think the writing was pretty damn good. Many comic movies follow the "superhero formula" to the letter, and that framework is fairly solid, however. It's what you hang on that frame that makes the movie good. If you hang repetitive plot points on it, with flat actors (Tobey Mcguire) and tedious dialogue, your movie will suck. If you put interesting elements on it, though, you get a brilliant movie. The Punisher, Ang Lee's Hulk, and Iron Man are all good examples of this brilliance. (Why people objected to a movie like Hulk, I don't know. The Hulk is a very psychologically-driven character, so why wouldn't a movie about him be psychologically-driven, as well? This new one coming out with Ed Norton looks like Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which is actually a pretty fun video game, but will just be a worthlessly banal popcorn flick making crude japes at the mental issues surrounding the Hulk without exploring them in earnest. Just lots of smashy-fighty!)

Tony Stark is an odd choice for a hero. He's a womanizing, arrogant drunk. Well, he's not a drunk in this movie, but perhaps the next. Regardless, Tony is not a "good" person. He's a real bastard, and he understandably makes a lot of people violently dislike him within the movie. This makes his transformation into Iron Man that much more potent, because it's a real shift. He doesn't go from "dorky kid" to "dorky kid with superpowers"; it's a complete paradigm reversal from "arrogant, blithe merchant of death" to "socially concerned, determined man with superpowers." It's a more real storyline. More honest. I wish we had more honest superhero movies. In the past few years, we've gotten precious few. Spider-Man 1 & 2, Hulk, Punisher, Batman Begins, and Iron Man. (Persumably The Dark Knight will fall in here, too, but I'll wait until I see it to pass judgement.) Instead, we get crap like Superman Returns, X-Men: The Last Stand, Elektra, Spider-Man 3, and Blade: Trinity. Seriously, writing good movies isn't that hard. Just take some time, and wait for a good story to come along, don't crank the movie out because you can.

I'm gonna go take a Valium, and when I come back, I'll talk to you about the other movie I saw recently, the Wachowski Brothers' childhood fanwank, Speed Racer.

No comments: