Monday, May 05, 2008

Iron Man

The comic book heroes brought to life on screen the last decade have been a letdown. If someone promised me Spider man, Daredevil, or the Hulk, on film as a kid I would have gone manic - no exaggeration.

 The wistful dreams - if only  Peter Parker or Matt Murdock or Bruce Banner were on screen life would be perfect. If only. 

Life was simpler then. Today a number of comic heroes are CGI polished in big screen HD but leave me unmoved.. Much as they've tried they're caught up in the myth, slow and self conscious. The film makers too aware and weighed down by the expectations of generations of kids weaned on the various tales, to loosen up and have some fun. The comics are better than the films. They're more risque, with shades of adult meaning that the film versions have censored.

The writing has not been of the quality of the enormous special effects budgets.  Stories have been narrated in ponderous fashion. Recall the line from Spider man "with great power comes great responsibility" and you might have felt the urge that I did to tell him to fuck off.

Whether the sad state of comic celluloid transformation has been fueled by a trinity of factors, a stifling reverence for the subject matter, an artistic affect grounded in the desire to beat out a mythic drum like Ang Lee's Hulk or just cookie cutter cuteness like the Fantastic Four, its all led to the same conclusion, forgettable films and considering the lavish budgets a disappointment.

Don't lose hope though because Iron Man is here to lift the whole genre out of its funk. Iron Man is the comic book brought to life on the big screen.

 There's not been a finer cast assembled for a comic book film. Robert Downey Jr, Gwynneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard.

 Downey Jr is the heart of this film. He's a center of gravity that allows everyone room to work. Paltrow  plays a Julie Andrews stock character (Maria Von Trapp, Mary Poppins, Truly Scrumptious minus the three octave vocal range) with creditable elan. It's hard these days of arch self conscious irony to play dutiful and sincere and sound like you mean it especially if it means playing second fiddle to a talented Peter Pan. Also credit Downey Jr and Howard for a dynamic in their friendship that's real, not just the standby pairing, well intentioned liberal values trying too hard.

The story is a lesser light of the Marvel Pantheon. Iron man never seized the imagination like other heroes  with their familiar imbalance of super powers and larger than life vulnerabilities. He seemed manufactured.

Now he has a stamp of authenticity many superheroes lack. Radioactive spider bites add to a probable risk of cancer as do exposures to massive doses of gamma rays or any of the other similar radiation themed misencounters that thrust great powers on comic book super heroes. Sad but true. Machine exoskeletons and enhanced robotics on the other hand do allow men powers much greater than their own. A limited form of enhanced robotics are a current reality on the battle field. Technology's forward advance is relentless so Iron men will exist at some point barring any cataclysmic disasters.

The mythic Iron man is on display, the man who is all mind no heart gains one when his own is under threat. The writing is excellent and serves as a reminder that no one should be paid more than the writers. The elements of story are shown not narrated, the dialogue not stilted, situational, with none of the ennui that falls in with a lapse into narration ( the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so bad it was almost cruel, a betrayal of the books).

In a political sense the film offered a microcosm of an impossibly large thing, the military Industrial complex and its inexorable demands on National budgets. The nameless giant cogwheel of the modern world economy is brought down to size, to one company, one arch villain but even with the oversimplification it  offers a tangential understanding of the real thing. Companies that are beholden to shareholders, economic needs tied to national security interests in a real politic world of shifting alliances and regional power struggles, competing interests and visions. At least the bogeyman third world terrorists are not solitary parties in a terror obsessed world. It gives a more Olympian view of the whole messy overlapping process and provides some perspective to the heroes re-awakening.

The technical aspects of the film were a source of intrigue. Voice activated intelligent software that enables a collection of robotic arms to assemble prefabricated parts on demand. Three dimensional virtual blueprint designs  worn for fit before the assembly is undertaken. Arc reaction contained and infinite supplies of energy. All this and more. Music to the ears.

It's right that's it's taken an Iron Man to lift us to this the first new stage of comic to celluloid transformation. The Iron age is suitably the first to lift us out of the Neolithic times we have up to now endured.

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