Saturday, August 8, 2009

Second Act Trouble

With the leaking of the Iron Man 2 trailer, premiered at this year's San Diego Comic Con, my thoughts have turned rapturously toward said film's release. Even with the questionable audio and drastic contrast of the image quality, I was filled with a sudden rush of anticipatory glee- the return of Tony Stark to the silver screen, manic and insulated and beautiful, the further blooming of the newly planted seed that is the Avengers movie, a brand new Rhodey for a brand new day. I was lucky enough to see the footage in all its glory at the event itself and then speak to the cast, director and producer, but seeing it again broadcast in all its tinny, fuzzy glory on youtube has renewed what may only be described as my fervent lust-

Yes. I said it. My fervent. Lust.

-for this movie.

It is, however, tempered. How, one may ask, could anything so powerful as a fervent lust!!! be in any way tempered? And furthermore, after that court room scene alone, what concerns could I possibly be harboring?

Well, I'll tell you.

(Giant aside: Many believe Nolan's Batman franchise is the key progenitor of the new comic book movie genre, and I wouldn't fight them on it, but I'm not talking about comic books, strictly. There are many comics that are not, in fact, about superheros, and it is in fact the superhero, and in particular the Marvel superhero (as I am a Marvel fangirl through and through), that Iron Man, I feel, has done the most for.)

Bringing a cast like Jon Favreau did to Iron Man took a film that would have been cool and amusing and fun and made it awesome. Sheer geek-out brilliant awesome. Everything up until the well-done but admittedly uninspired showdown finale and everything after it set up a world in which I could actually believe in superheros. I Believe in Tony Stark. The world was complete enough and was filled with characters whole enough that I didn't question the validity or likelihood of the events taking place. I bought it lock stock and barrel. The science, given my essentially non-existent background in its principles, seemed sound to me. And now here comes the sequel. MOAR TONY STARK. I am excited to my toes, but I am wary, even with Favreau at the helm, of some sequel proclivities detracting from what could be a great franchise.

There are certain tag lines and buzz words that go hand in hand with sequels, particularly sequels to blockbusters, and particularly sequels to blockbuster action flicks. As far as I'm concerned, Iron Man raised the standard and severely dented the mold for superhero movies in much the same way Spider-Man 2 did. Things like "bigger and better". You hear that a lot: "We know that if we want this to work, we have to make it bigger and better than the first one." Typically, this means the sequel is longer and predictable, as it essentially follows the same basic plot patterns as the first film, just with more. The greatest and most damaging symptom of the Bigger and Better belief in superhero movies is the presence of multiple villains.

Burton made it work with Batman Returns, but since then, I am hard pressed to think of a single movie where the sudden and seemingly arbitrary inclusion of multiple villains has worked toward the ultimate success of the film. I understand how the Joker and Two Face feed each other and Batman's crisis in Dark Knight, but I still found the handling of both plots and both characters unwieldy. Frankly, when you have the Joker, you don't need anyone else. I loved Eckhart's performance and, given the tragic events that followed the filming of the movie, it is ultimately a blessing for the franchise that they did introduce and cultivate a second villain, but I don't think the movie needed two.

In Iron Man 2 we have the traditional and, for my part, traditionally worrying introduction of a new slew of characters. We are re-establishing Rhodey; we are meeting the Black Widow; and we have two villains. One is our powerhouse, our physical threat to the hero, and the other is our non-combatant back up. Intelligently on Favreau's part, they are not exclusively these roles: Whiplash doesn't have minions doing his work for him. He is himself a genius inventor. His suit is his own creation. He is dangerous and capable. Justin Hammer is not a nerdy weakling, his is a savvy business man and an arms dealer. He has the support of the government, which our hero does not. Iron Man has the unique characteristic of being hounded by villains who do not merely hate him as a symbol and want him to die, but seek to replace him in the world. Tony/Iron Man stand for many things. He's not an anomaly or aberration like the Hulk or the X-Men that people want to use or eradicate. His abilities and positions are coveted, and it's this drive to dethrone the king, so to speak, that has motivated his nemeses so far.

However, even with the inherently more complicated relation between the villains and our hero, the sequel is still facing a trap that I have every faith it could escape, but for the fact that the first film did not. The requisite showdown between Iron Man and Iron Monger was fun to watch, but a bit too long given the fact that we knew what was going to happen: Tony doesn't die, Pepper doesn't die, Iron Monger loses. It's a given going into it, so the length of the sequence was undeserved. It's the least interesting part of the film. Now in the sequel, Favreau faces a looming pattern: Instead of one hero against one villain in an epic showdown, the outcome of which we all know, he will have one hero and one new hero/sidekick versus one big bad villain and one slightly smaller bad villain in an even moar epic showdown.

At least, this is what the traditional progression of superhero movies would have us anticipate. Knowing that the production team built the largest green screen ever constructed for a three day shoot that we may only assume relates to this epic showdown, while cool to know, does little to assuage my fears. Once again, we will have a guy in a suit versus a guy in a suit, which made sense for the first film, but I didn't especially want in the second. Much more interesting is the personal and human clash between Stark and Vanko. Two brilliant creators whose backgrounds couldn't more different: the resentment and hatred, the guilt and self loathing bred by their situations. That's drama. If I want to see dudes in suits fighting I can watch G.I. Joe. Apparently. Which I now plan to because that movie sounds epic in its unabashed popcorn awesomeness. So.

Two villains, though cleverly constructed to be highly complimentary as well as individually threatening. Could go either way. Suit versus suit verus suit (War Machine = Wild Card)- not terribly exciting as a concept, but hopefully will go more one way than the other. Moving on.

Black Widow is a character almost as old as Captain America. Her canon is massive and complicated. A huge part of what makes up her character is the appropriating of her life by the Communist party, a very real threat to the world Cap and Iron Man were originally created to champion, but an incongruous and outdated concept for a film set in the present, even a skewed one. She was a product of the Cold War who defected to the side of the Good Guys. When I asked ScarJo if she could tell us what entity or mitigating factor had replaced the influence of Communism in her character's life, the answer was essentially that she couldn't, and the impression I got was that this was so because she didn't actually know. They don't have room enough to delve into where the Black Widow comes from and who she is, in this movie. Understandable, but slightly frustrating: For this film, she will probably fill the role of Ass Kicking Eye Candy in a way that Pepper cannot, both because she is a non-combatant and because she's just not that kind of gal. Tony is too messed up to be forging new emotional connections, especially when the only ones he has have become dead or strained- Obediah, Rhodey, and Pepper were the total of his family, and two of them are gone. Given her nature as an unknown quantity, Natasha will not be stepping into any such role. Another distraction- hopefully just for Tony, though, and not for us.

It is actually my hope that Kate Mara's presence in the film will be as that of Bethany Cabe, [ED: It won't be. Rats.] and that we'll get to see Tony finding even just the end of that life line. Although I wouldn't object to a Janet Van Dyne cameo, either. WHERE MY GIRLS AT. Sigh. Jenny Baird as Ms. Marvel, any day now, Marvel. Come on, let's make it happen.


The greatest sequels are not the ones with more villains, more sidekicks, more fight scenes. Empire, Godfather Part II, The Road Warrior, Terminator 2, Spider-Man 2- these movies aren't about more of the physical components that made up the first movie, they're about a continuation of the themes and character development that caused their predecessor to strike a chord with audiences. It is my fervent hope (to accompany my still ever so fervent lust, yup, still lusting all over the show) that Favreau will make this happen for Iron Man 2- that he will successfully expand Tony's world without weighing it down with unnecessary tropes and 'requisite' complications. And also that he will make an HD version of the SDCC Iron Man 2 trailer available on iTunes so that I can watch it every night before bed time amen.


TotoroVsBatman said...

This is one helluva articulate position on this topic... I have tons to say myself. However, I don't know if you mentioned it (need to re-read your post) but X2 really set a high standard for the sequel to the comic book movie. I think that it is still easily in the top 5 comic book movie adaptations of this decade. Like Dark Knight to Batman Begins, X-Men was to X2, with each respective sequel being the masterpiece. (The tragedy inexorably comes with the part 3s of the franchises. Spider-Man 2 was so fantastic and such an improvement on Spider-Man, yet part 3 was a face-maul of damnation. And X3 makes me weep silently at night...) Anyway, this is a great post...

TotoroVsBatman said...

I think the one issue I have is this, I believe The Dark Knight to be a pinnacle of comic book movie-making. (In fact I argue that it was a better made and more engrossing film than any one of the nominees for best picture last year.) But The Dark Knight almost transcends the 'comic book' movie and is just a great film... It just happens to be based on a comic. Aside from its faithfulness to the material (a component that should never be overlooked) I argue that it really wasn't a two villain picture. The villain of the movie was The Joker and Harvey Dent was almost the protagonist. Although Batman was the main character it was Dent that made the true arc of the tragic hero. So his being Two-Face at the end is really just happenstance whereas the villainous engine perpetuating the movie is the Joker.

Anyway, Dark Knight aside... I agree overwhelmingly with what your position is on Iron Man 2. And given my love of Iron Man I hope it stays strong. I am also concerned how they will weave all of this into a larger Avengers picture. For example will there be a Hulk cameo. If so, will it be a throwaway?

There is so much opportunity here yet so much chance for failure. Black Widow's inclusion seems superfluous to me... and that is my biggest worry so far.

EruditeChick said...

I really, really liked X-2. I think I made a post about this before, just how much I loved it. In fact I know I did, I'm just lazy and not hunting through the links right now. I think it was my "Dear Trekkies, Quit Your Bitching, XOXO, A Marvel Fan" post. That said.

I think the first X-Movie is okay. Not great, but pretty good, and the third is an atrocity against mankind. However, The X-Men movies operate on a different level than the other superhero movies do, because they're a team. It's not about one protagonist coming into their powers and one villain rising to oppose them, it's about a group of people discovering what unites them and what their purpose in the world is. Of course protagonists arise, and of course there are struggles and showdowns, but the formula's a little different. There's still a formula, but Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man are all about one person becoming something more and being defined as a Super-Hero. That's why I didn't include it in this particular post.

As for the Dark Knight, while I enjoyed it immensely, found some of the performances to be brilliant, and think the sequence that begins with the police convoy being detoured to the lower level of the street and going through to the Commissioner Gordon reveal is UNFUCKINGBELIEVABLY AWESOME, I do not find it to be the rebirth or the dissolution of the genre the way many do. When a movie is undertaken with any degree or sincerity or seriousness, I think it's a disservice to place it in a genre. Action movie, Romcom, Disaster movie, etc., are all labels that movies may fit into, but for a movie to be defined by its genre in that way generally means that it is, ultimately, probably not that good a movie, or that it lacks resonance. The Dark Knight transcends so many genres in part, I think, because it's so long. If it had been condensed down, it probably would have been more easily fitted into a genre, which isn't something to aspire to by any means. That said, I'm a fan of economy and brevity in film-making, if only because more often than not ignoring those traits is symptomatic of self indulgence. The Dark Knight walks a line for me. But yes, I absolutely think it elevated the standing of 'comic book movies'. For starters, now there are almost no 'comic book movies'. There are a buttload of 'adapted from the graphic novel' ones, though.

And yeah, with the current evidence, Natasha is looking up to be kind of a nod and a throw away, so hopefully the current evidence is just powerfully misleading.

EruditeChick said...

Oh and THANK YOU for reading and commenting :D

Unknown said...

If I want to see dudes in suits fighting I can watch G.I. Joe.

The suits are incidental! They appear for all of one action sequence. Really bizarre that so much press focused on them.

Which, of course, is the hope here, too, that any worries about it being too much of one thing of the other are because of misplaced marketing.

I find it notable that, like you said, we've got a hero and a sidekick vs a bad guy and a (sort of) sidekick, and I think also possibly Pepper vs Black Widow, in some way. It seems mirrored, since I imagine Widow will be, at least initially, working for the bad guys.

But here is my hope: Tony's being set up not against a guy in a armoured suit. He's being set up against Justin Hammer. If this movie has Tony win because he outsmarts his opponent I'm going to be honest, I will forgive it just about everything. Having the hero out-think their opponent is better than them out-punching them any day, in my book.

And, well, I think there's a chance. War Machine has to take down someone, or why include him, so... that's what happens to Whiplash, leaving Tony to save the day with brains. I hope. I dearly, sincerely hope.

EruditeChick said...

See I kinda figgered Hammer would be set up to be a mainstay through further pictures and only Whiplash would be taken down, and War Machine would somehow play into subduing a force that belongs to the Mandarin, even though they don't know that yet.