Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blogorium Reviews Assemble!: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk

Luckily for all of you, The Cap'n did actually have a couple of stored up reviews just in case such a day came where I was a) no longer angry about the news or b) irritated by something in the film department. In a rare show of "double featuring", I watched Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, roughly back to back not long ago.

Of the two, I'm definitely landing on the Iron Man side of things. It's hard to not want to compare Iron Man to The Dark Knight, the other "big" summer comic book movie, but I'm going to try. They're very different types of films, anchored in very different ways (which actually comes in handy when we turn to The Incredible Hulk, which tries to be darker).

I'm a casual Iron Man reader, so forgive me for not knowing the series as well or catching all of the in jokes, but I did dig the hell out of this movie. While I'd be tempted to say that it could still work with someone else in the suit, Robert Downey Jr is pitch perfect as Tony Stark and kicks the movie from "very good" into "a damn entertaining movie".

And that's what Iron Man is: entertaining. As an origin story, it covers all of the necessary ground quickly and integrates it into the narrative in such a way that things feel organic. In most "origin stories" (think Spider-Man or Batman Begins), there's a dividing line between "hero hones his skill" and "first major test from any villain". Iron Man has three pretty serious tests to the suit, punctuating the film in such a way that the "learning" process scenes in between feel necessary and not, well, "necessary".

The difference is that you're on the ride with Stark as he changes from indifferent playboy to man with a cause, and his adjustments to the suit and his technique don't feel perfunctory because "an origin story needs x, y, and z". Credit for that goes to Jon Favreau, who I felt made a surprisingly good kids film with Zathura a few years ago and is really establishing himself as a great director of summer entertainment.

The cast all seems to be having a great time, with Downey in the lead, but that shouldn't leave out Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Favreau himself who plays Stark's chauffer. What Iron Man has that few comic book movies do is the sense of enjoyment with the material, and a wonder at what unfolds onscreen. In that respect it's a lot like Superman: The Movie.

And yes, there's the Nick Fury scene at the end, setting up the whole "Avengers Initiative", a thread that continues in The Incredible Hulk. Most of the weaponry used by General Ross (William Hurt) against Bruce Banner / The Hulk (Edward Norton) comes from Stark Industries, and Robert Downey Jr makes an appearance in the film as Tony Stark. This is notable because two different studios made Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, but Marvel is asserting its universe whoever finances the film.

Like I mentioned above, The Incredible Hulk is "darker" than Iron Man, by which I should say "angstier". Like Superman Returns, the film is almost slavishly devoted to the Incredible Hulk tv series, borrowing music, iconography, and even some cast members (look for Bill Bixby on a tv show and Lou Ferrigno halfway through the film). Ferrigno is also the "voice" of Norton's Hulk, and yes, that does mean he talks, not just growls.

To separate itself from Ang Lee's Hulk, the reboot has a Spider-Man 2-like opening which quickly recaps the Hulk origin story in flashes. The movie goes ahead and assumes you've either a) seen Lee's version or b) watched the tv show, so there's not a lot of time spent recapping stuff. There is a lot of staring, running, Edward Norton and William Hurt looking angsty, and Liv Tyler being menaced.

In fact, only Tim Roth seems to be having any fun with the movie, until he too is reduced to the cgi Abomination for the big brawl at the end. I'll give it to The Incredible Hulk for upping the "destruction" quotient in this second go-around, but overall the movie is narratively fractured, edited sloppily, and mostly uninterested in doing more than moping and smashing. I'm not in any hurry to watch it again, or see the "alternate opening" and deleted scenes, which Edward Norton claims are a fraction of what was cut from the film (oh boy, a longer, angstier version of The Hulk awaits...)

They do continue to set up Captain America, particularly since Roth's Emil Blonsky takes the Super Soldier serum to equal Hulk in power, and the aforementioned Iron Man / Avengers connection. I look forward to Iron Man 2, even if the "Terrence Howard / Don Cheadle" situation confuses me a bit. If Kenneth Branagh is still involved with Thor, I'm quite curious, and the announcement of Joe Johnston on Captain America doesn't feel like a detriment. We'll see what Marvel has in store for us.

 Bonus: Four Reasons Why Iron Man is Not for Children!

To preface this edition of Four Reasons, allow me to explain what seems like a fairly obvious argument. I made the mistake of telling someone - based on having seen Iron Man once a year and a half ago - that it might be the kind of movie they could show an eight year old. The way I remembered Iron Man, which is admittedly a PG-13 movie, hinged upon the scenes where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) put together the Mark II and was flying around like a goofball (i.e., Tony hovering in the garage, flying too high and freezing, and the airplane chase).

What I'd forgotten about was the rest of the movie, which is not at all kid-friendly. In fact, I'd say that Iron Man is on the "hard" end of a PG-13. Of course, I had to find this out while watching the movie with said parent, who seemed alarmed I would even suggest this film was appropriate for a kid who liked Iron Man as a character.

But let's make with the specificity, shall we? Then you - like I - can remember exact points of reference and never made the mistake the Cap'n did.

1. Depiction of Women - You could argue that there are, essentially, two women in the story: Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb). Pepper is Stark's loyal assistant, who willingly puts her life aside to serve Tony at whatever whim he indulges in. In exchange, she occasionally gets to make a snarky quip at his expense, which is what passes for comeuppance considering that he twice puts her life at risk and sees her as a "love interest" in the most passing and incidental of ways.

I'd forgive you if you forgot who Christine Everhart was, since she only appears once during the beginning (outside the casino), the middle (at the charity ball), and at the end (the press conference). She's the reporter who sleeps with Stark immediately after some verbal sparring, is suggested by Potts to be part of "occasionally taking out the trash", and then reappears to create the schism between Tony and Obadiah (Jeff Bridges) so the conflict can begin properly, and then gets one parting shot in before Stark announces "I am Iron Man." That's it. That's her character.

While you could make the argument that they're doing this job because they enjoy it, I do feel the need to mention the flight attendants on Stark's private plane who strip down and work out on a stripper pole in mid-flight. One could also argue that this entire sequence exists only so that they could incorporate a Ghostface Killah video into the film (as one of Ghostface's alter egos is named Tony Stark and his first album was called Ironman), which I'd buy, but it doesn't necessarily explain away the "women as objects" argument in Iron Man.

2. Violence - I lost count of how many people Iron Man cripples, maims, or kills during the film (either by burning them, blasting them, or in explosions), but it's a pretty high body count, even for a comic book movie. To put it in perspective, let's look at X2 and Spider-Man 2, which both have higher body counts than the first film, but still nowhere nearly as high as Iron Man*.

Okay, in X2, Wolverine goes on a berserker rage and kills ten to fifteen soldiers in the Xavier Institute. Let's safely assume he wipes out some more in Stryker's lab, plus the presumed killing of Lady Deathstrike (always possibly alive for sequels). All of the other murders are committed by villains; Magneto kills the guard, Mystique kills a bunch of schmoes, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something else. Nightcrawler doesn't kill anyone, per se, in his White House siege, although I'm sure he knocks out several people.

In Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man kills... nobody. He doesn't even accidentally kill someone, like the Green Goblin in the first film. Doctor Octopus kills all of the medical staff, and I'm sure there was some serious collateral damage during the "car thrown into the coffee shop" scene, but he also willingly sacrifices himself to the deep to save Spider-Man and Mary Jane (and the world). I'm reasonably certain less people die in Spider-Man 2 than did in Spider-Man.

Iron Man is not quite The Dark Knight in terms of violence, but there's a lot of carnage in the film. Even when Iron Man and Iron Monger are fighting, Jeff Bridges is talking the entire time, so it's hard to pretend that two cgi robots are kicking the crap out of each other. Speaking of which, that brings us to the second reason...

3. Generally Disturbing Content - See, it's not just that Obadiah has people killed, including two attempts on Tony's life. The way he does is is way too creepy for children. Bear in mind that the "paralyzing" sonic device that he uses is not explained in full until he uses it on Stark, so the first time it comes out on Raza, we don't know what the hell is happening. All the audience knows is that the veins on his head are becoming very pronounced (and blackened) and he's having trouble breathing. Then Obadiah says "that's the least of your worries right now" and leaves. We have no idea what's going to happen. Is there some kind of horrible virus in him?

To make things worse, when Stane uses it on Tony, Stark is at a 45 degree angle on his couch while Obadiah leans over him and explains a) how the device works, and b) his evil plan. Then he uses a device to burn through Tony's shirt and pull out Stark's "heart", leaving him there to die. As someone who watches quite a few horror movies, this would fit nicely in one of the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels as a Freddy torture dream. Definitely not for kids.

For more examples, let's move along to number four...

4. Again, This Movie is Rated PG-13??? - While I think I've laid out a pretty good case so far, let's push a little further, shall we? I haven't even mentioned the fact that the film opens with Tony Stark under siege and the troops protecting him being wiped out one by one, or the fact that he's captured by the Ten Rings, which is presented as a terrorist organization and makes a video eerily reminiscent of al Qaeda hostage tapes. Or we could talk about the fact that Tony Stark's Mark One is constantly being attacked by his own machine guns. Or Stane trying to crush Iron Man to death, and then opening his suit and falling to his death, or any number of wonderful things that happen earlier in the film before Stark has his eyes - and chest- opened and begins a not-so non-violent reaction to the Ten Rings.

Don't get me wrong; The Dark Knight is a MUCH harder PG-13 (I'm surprised, at times, it's not an R), but Iron Man is not at all a movie you should show to kids. I'd debate showing it to a 12 year-old, as some of the thematic material at the beginning of the film really surprised me. I honestly didn't remember the movie being so "adults-only" when I saw it the first time. Maybe it was that the development of the Mark II really brought out the "kid" in me, but I instantly regretted ever recommending this movie for an 8 year old.

So hopefully I've made my case, which many of you can simply reply to with, "well, duh." And that's fair, but the Cap'n makes mistakes too, y'know. I watched the remake of Friday the 13th, for crying out loud. Anyway, the moral of the story is that geek parents might want to think twice about bringing their kids to Iron Man 2 this summer, which looks to be darker than the first one by sheer virtue of Mickey Rourke. I mean, just look at him.

* I'm willing to concede that the Cap'n is probably forgetting a LOT of other acts of violence in Spider-Man 2 and X2, but for the purposes of this argument I think I covered the bases pretty well. Yes, I left out the scene where Logan sustains a head shot - which later becomes a joke about spitting the bullet out - but at that point you are aware of his healing abilit

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