Friday, December 19, 2008

(Marvel/Paramount Pictures)
Iron Man When: May 2008
Why: Jon Favreau & John August How: Robert Downey Jr, Shaun Toub, & Faran Tahir

The Story So Far...
Tony Stark: industrialist, inventor, playboy, sole inheritor of the Howard Stark empire. Tony continues his father's work, developing advanced mechanics and improving upon a range of technologies exponentially, with particular success in his father's area of expertise, the weapons sector.

With the world at his feet, Stark unveils the latest war tech from Stark Industries, travelling to Afghanistan to personally oversee testing of a cluster missile called The Jericho. The visit would prove life altering as Stark's US military entourage comes under fire from militant terrorists. Using stolen Stark weapons, the Ten Rings successfully abduct the inventor, and demand he design for them a Jericho of their own.

Imprisoned with Dr. Yinsen, Stark wakes in his cave prison to discover shrapnel from the Ten Rings' attack is lodged dangerously close to his heart. With the help of the doctor he develops an advanced "arc reactor" to power technology to prevent the movement of the shrapnel that could prove fatal. This miniature super-battery becomes the lynchpin around which the pair devise an invincible suit of armor, instead of the weapons of destruction.

Under the watchful eyes of Raza and his Ten Rings terrorists, the pair do their best to disguise their true work on the ultimate escape plan - Iron Man!

Tale of the Tape...
Wong-Chu by Don HeckStrength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Iron Man 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Iron Man 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Iron Man 4 (Trained)
Energy Power: Iron Man 5 (Lasers)

- While on a field tour to observe the effects of weaponry designed by his corporation for the United States military; billionaire industrialist, Tony Stark, soon finds himself face-to-face with the bold consequences of his actions.
Caught in a rebel booby trap, Stark suffers a near fatal wound that lodges a piece of shrapnel inches from his heart. The rebels take Stark hostage to demand he apply his genius to the design and construction of weapons built from their limited resources. In doing so, they provide Stark the means to construct a suit of armor that preserves his heart, and turns him into an invincible Iron Man!

Stark's mastery over technology allows him to bring his designs home, where the availability of rapidly upgrading technologies allow him to continue to refine the build to become increasingly mobile and efficient. Stark soon dons the Iron Man armor on a regular basis, not only as insurance against his life threatening injuries, but as an opportunity to atone for the wanton destruction delt by his weapons of death. Stark protects his secrets through the duality of a secret identity, projecting to the world the image of Iron Man as a hi-tech bodyguard.

Advancements in Stark's arsenal have advanced to a point where he has now undergone cybernetic synthesis on a genetic level. The armor now not only provides him with superhuman strength and an array of offensive weapons, but also gives Stark full wireless control over the armor and other peripheral devices, as well as access to information databases, including SHIELD resources under his control as Director of SHIELD. Iron Man remains a staple of the Avengers roster.

- In the 1963 origin for Iron Man, the industrialist found himself the guest of Vietnamese communists. Stark was tasked with the objective of designing weapons from scrap salvaged by the enemy. Instead, he was able to save himself from a fatal wound, while also fashioning a powerful suit of armor with his patented micro transitor technology.

The 2008 feature film reimagines this scenario with a contemporary spin.
Replacing the communists are an Afghan group of militant terrorists called The Ten Rings. Led by Raza, they attack Stark while on tour to observe new weapons, and as with the original origin, seek to employ him to design advanced weaponry for them. Raza replaces Wong-Chu, a Vietnamese warlord, from the original.

Stark's prison mate, Yin Sen, remains in tact from the original, albeit, in a revised form, more youthful than the original. The technology Stark utilizes is also modern, giving the original "fridge" armor grounding in missile tech.

Additional: Previously reviewed versions of the origin include; Tales of Suspense #39 (1963) and Iron Man #5 (2006). The latter provides a modern update to the origin which served as inspiration for the feature film version.

Math: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
With his armor built, Tony Stark employs the aid of fellow prisoner, Dr. Ho Yinsen, in suiting up obscured from the vision of monitoring cameras. Having already rigged their cell door with explosives, the duo buy time to download programming into the machinery, but the massive amounts of data do not transfer quickly.

With heavily armed terrorists charging to the cell, Dr. Yinsen deviates from their escape plan to afford the necessary time to complete the data dump. Leaving Stark immobile in his armor, Yinsen retrieves one of the guns from the terrorists who had the misfortune of triggering their bomb, and charges into the meandering bend of their cave prison.

Dr. Yinsen goes only so far before being confronted by an armada of armed Ten Rings soldiers, led personally by the mastermind, Raza. Meanwhile, the final percentage of the Iron Man program completes it's download, sapping the cell of lighting. The arriving soldiers observe the carnage of their fallen comrades, unaware of the beast that has awoken within the cell.

With hydraulic power the Iron Man raises it's hand, sending one of the soldiers flying through the gloom. The remaining soldiers fire wildly from the doorway, doing little to effect more than dramatic lighting in the darkened cave. They learn the lesson of their ineffective shooting as the Iron Man bursts from the darkness, sending they too into the air with strikes of his mighty gauntlets.

At point blank, the last standing sentry fires his machine gun to no avail!
The bullets ricochet from the armored exterior, allowing Tony Stark the luxury of a cumbersome but powerful right hand! He is Iron Man!

Like a sentinel of doom Stark marches fearlessly through the cave tunnels that had kept him from the outside world. Bullets do little. A charging terrorist does even less. The heavy metal of the Iron Man armor does all the work, dropping his enemy with an unforgiving lariat. Those that wait for the Iron Man give him chance again to exercise the technology that lets him move massive arms.

Iron doors do little to prevent Iron Man's march, but his titanic strength soon presents a negative when a wild swing buries parts of the armor into the cave walls. While Stark tugs at his trapped arm, one of the terrorists looks to take advantage of the opportunity, closing in for a point-blank headshot with a handgun.

The soldier pays for his sneak attack at the pistol's bullet ricochets back at him!

Free from the wall, Iron Man stomps ever closer to freedom. His path confronts him with the cost of his efforts -- the bloodied body of Dr. Yinsen. The dying scientist shouts a cry of warning, giving Stark the split second to avoid a missile fired by the Ten Rings leader, Raza!

Iron Man counters with a missile of his own, fired from his gauntlet!
The explosion topples his nemesis, allowing him the opportunity to come to the aid of his wounded friend. Slumped over stolen US supplies, Yinsen reveals his willful sacrifice to Stark. The Doctor's dying words inspire renewed rage in Tony Stark's wounded heart.

Outside the cave, a small army of terrorists gather with guns at the ready.
A thunder rumbles from within the darkness of the cave, heralding the arrival of the Iron Man! The terrorists let out a war cry and open their barrels, sending a spray of sparks from the armor that looks all the more magnificent in daylight.

The wall of bullets barely trembles the looming colossus.
With a voice as cold as the metal around him, Tony Stark makes his vengeful declaration -- "My turn."

Wrist-mounted flame throwers spew fire across the surrounding encampment, forcing the Ten Rings soldiers to flee. Crates of Stark's own munitions burst into flames as his fire seeks to destroy the stolen instruments of destruction.

From the raised vantage point of surrounding terrain, one of the terrorists reaches a powerful mounted machine gun. The force of it's artillery is the first attack to pause the Iron Man! Those that had fled return to lend their firing power, eventually hitting exposed mechanics of a knee joint!

On one knee, Stark raises his arm, counter attacking with yet more flames.
They do little to deter the distant gunmen, but add to the inferno of the camp. Time is on Iron Man's side as the flames finally reach the volatile components for the terrorist's weapons. Explosions distract the terrorists, allowing Stark to seek his final trump card - a primative propulsion system!

With the mountains engulfed flame, Iron Man emerges from the exploding fireballs, heading skyward like the missile he was kidnapped to build!
The makeshift machinery proves capable of supplying only a brief moment of relief, as Stark's jets cool, reducing him to metallic dead weight!

It is a small price to pay for freedom.

The Hammer...
It might be a bit of a hollow victory, but despite this being the third time we've run through the origin, I give you, Iron Man!

It seems undeniable that Iron Man has set yet another benchmark in the development of superhero adaptations. One could arguably trace the bridge to this new era through Blade (1998), but it was the 2000 release of X-Men that truly declared superheroes to Hollywood.
Since, there's been a deluge of superheroes on the big screen, building upon a legacy of acceptance that has only enhanced what these films are capable of.

Iron Man undoubtedly benefits from a process - a genome - that has been in development for a decade. Films like Blade, The Matrix, and X-Men were vital to addressing comic-style storytelling and ideas to mainstream audiences, disguised beneath the black leather of contemporary cinema. X-Men in particular indulged the expectations and restrictions of superheroes in film, suffering a script worthy of a Saturday morning cartoon, riskily establishing itself through a soft introduction, before arriving at a far more admirable representation in X-Men 2.

With their many successes behind them; Marvel enter the arena for the first time as producers of a Marvel property. With that in mind, it should come as no shock that Iron Man does Spider-man 3 one better in mirroring the design sense of it's print counterpart. So literal was the translation that armor designs were actually overseen by one of the modern era's definitive Iron Man artists, Adi Granov.

All of this goes a long way to endear to a ravenous fanboy audience, but Iron Man's success did not end there. The film premiere ranked among the top grossing comic properties, entering into an echelon previously dominated by Spider-man, and it's sequels. Certainly no mean feat for a character with a much lower pop culture profile than Spidey; one of the world's most recognised heroes.

Critical success soon followed financial gain for the armored avenger, but this is where the Infinite Wars drops off. Jon Favreau deserves full credit, as does much of the cast, for delivering an adaptation that went above-and-beyond competence in navigating the mythology surrounding the character. Introducing eighties Iron-foil, Obadiah Stane (aka; Iron Monger), as the film's lead villain, proved to be a stroke of genius, despite defying the convention of leading with more recognised foes. This decision, which nixed the mystic influences Tony Stark's iconic arch-nemesis, The Mandarin, embodies an intelligence and understanding of the material that sets Iron Man on a level above many other adpatations.
It is a decision making process that resembles and reflects that strong connection to the comics that inspired the project.
That said; the same decision ultimately undoes the film in what feels like a thoroughly lazy third-act. A superhero showdown between the armored Stane and Stark - complete with an obligatory unmasking to give actors screen time - felt like a betrayal to a film that had otherwise made great sacrifices to honor the strength of the source material.

A casualty of this approach was Terrence Howard; whose role was drastically minimized with the hopes of expanding the franchise to include his character's armored counterpart, War Machine, at a later date. Howard incidentally failed to impress in the role, lacking the presence of a character well known for his internal strength, and ability to combat Tony Stark's extroverted dominance.
Though reports vary, it seems difficult to imagine the relegation to supporting role did not influence the departure of the actor for it's sequel [replaced by the equally baffling recast, but no less respected, Don Cheadle].

On the subject of actors, one cannot look past Robert Downey Jr and Jeff Bridges. Each actor appeared to comfortably nestle into roles that naturally complimented them, but together, they had a chemistry that could have commanded a film all to it's own. Bridges in particular, sporting a smoothly shaven head and smug sense of corporate satisfaction, shines not only as his own character, but as a textbook portrayal of what Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer's Lex Luthor could have been, (in Superman Returns). His interactions with Downey immediately gave Obadiah Stane the spark of life, and made him a villain I loved to hate.

Corporate espionage crossed into the world of contemporary politics as Stane was adapted to become that much more evil, tied to the terrorists responsible for Stark's near-death abduction. Like Ra's Al Ghul's in the Bat-origin of Batman Begins; it was a tweak made palatable by adequately representing the original characters, while also creating connective tissue that provided far greater resonance in the transition from 'origin story' to 'adversarial showdown'.

Of course, as much as the film set benchmarks for relating to the source material, the film was far from perfect.

I have to react somewhat baffled to the fever that surrounded the film.
While faithful, Iron Man emerges into a landscape of saturation in the superhero film genre. On it's own terms, I honestly felt it was a decent summer action picture, but nothing terribly special. As a comic book vehicle, it was nothing much I hadn't seen before. Sure, the practical and CG effects of the Iron Man armor went quite a bit beyond something like Robocop, but aside from bringing robotics to the table, the film felt structurally bland. While quieter moments are tended to - like the fun filled development of Stark's armor technology - true exploration of the character and his motivations feels ironically stunted.

The triumph of the movie, at least from Marvel's perspective, has to be the monetary gains of the film. In that respect, I don't think you can fault the commercial sensibility of a movie that, at times, goes through the motions.
On the other hand, I can't help but be distracted by the feeling that beneath the family-friendly entertainment is a series of mature and involving films.

The moment that excited me most in promotional trailers, and the film itself, was actually the handicam moment of Stark fleeing the destruction of his military convoy. In that single harrowing moment, when the sound drops away with Stark's macho bravado, glimpses of a very different, and very powerful, film emerge. Probably something more akin to what I might have imagined of the long rumored Tom Cruise/Michael Bay scenario.

It seems wrong to pick at a movie for not being something imagined, but this potential specifically reflects upon the mediocrity of a film that indulged it's inspirations quite well, but forgot it's self. It is probably this single detail that differentiates the creative triumph of The Dark Knight and it's legitimate claims to 'best picture' or 'best director' Oscar nominations, from Iron Man's.

Sitting through a film that breezed through familiar elements, I couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed. A little expecting. Nothing in Iron Man went to any length to surprise me, but for that, I don't want to be scathing. Again, the faith in the comics is a glaring positive. What was a disappointing distraction, however, were the clear lines that dissect Iron Man into trilogy of ideas.
While commercially unviable, I wish the entire first film could've centred around his time in Afghanistan. By embellishing those moments before, during, and after, I feel a far better, maybe even Oscar worth movie, would have emerged.

If not for the looming pressure of an Avengers franchise, I could've seen a sequel that dwelled on the development of new Iron Man technology and the changing philosophy of Tony Stark; from blazé warmonger, to righteous superhero. A film that could've either ended (or continued in a third movie) with the intercompany politics pushed by Obadiah Stane, the introduction of SHIELD, and the dedicated screen time of a war with Iron Monger.

Ultimately, Iron Man is a satisfying cinematic experience.
Like the X-Men franchise before it; I can't help but wonder if the Iron Man sequel might fullfill my desires a little better, freed from the burden of explaining the most told story in a character's history - the origin. Strong rumors suggest the second Iron Man feature will skip the long rumored Hulk battle, instead introducing yet more armor concepts through Tony Stark's historic rivalry with Russian counterparts. Casting calls suggest the distinct possibility of Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, and perhaps even, Black Widow. The success of this, however, could very likely hinge on the daring of Robert Downey Jr, whose own personal demons made his casting as Tony Stark, a recovering alcoholic, all the more enticing. Certainly, while the treatment of the origin cannot be redone, we hope the absence of dwelling character moments can be expanded.

A solid film, but unless the shift from powers to shiney robots was responsible, I'm not sure I'll ever understand the lavish praises heaped upon it.
No prizes for guessing what's up next!

The Fight: 4.5 The Movie: 5

"Iron Man" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The 2-Disc Ultimate Edition features behind the scenes behind-the-scenes documentary, brief discussions with previous Iron Man writers and artists, and revealing featurettes on the cutting edge design and special effects of the film. While not as abundant as other releases, they are sure to please the comics fanboy and film buff, alike. You can grab both versions via Amazon and by using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future scathings on the Infinite Wars. By navigating the Amazonian Gift Shoppe, you can also find other previously reviewed media!

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