Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Am Not Iron Man

Six months after its release I finally watched Iron Man. I didn't see it in theaters since the trailer made it pretty clear that I wouldn't like it and I wouldn't have even bothered with the DVD except that Rifftrax released a commentary for it. My initial impression from the trailer was dead on; Iron Man is exactly what I don't like in superhero movies.

The thing about superheroes is that they are completely ludicrous but have their own conventions and form which is followed. In short it's the implausible form of modern day deities beating the snot out of each other that forms the basis of superhero comics. Yet somehow superhero movies tend to forget that's what the "stories" exist for.

Looking at Iron Man we have exactly three short set pieces where there is superhero action and only the first of them is particularly satisfying. First we have the emergence of the superhero in a prototype form smacking around the terrorists who were holding him hostage. Despite the fact that this takes almost no effort there is a certain amount of catharsis to the sequence which lets it pay off.

Not so for the second time where the completed Iron Man goes back and with even less effort kills more of the same group of terrorists. This is clearly intended to stand in as the hero goes out and does good deeds to establish himself sequence but because it's a fight with no risk involved it doesn't really matter. I've already gotten my "Hell yeah! Take that terrorists!" moment out of the way in the first set piece and the second one feels pointless.

Finally at the very end of the movie it's time for a supervillain confrontation. Except Iron Man has already been disabled and the "fight" isn't much of one. The villain is never established as a real threat since he had to cheat even before he debuted. Iron Man is never established as a hero because we never saw him do anything heroic. So the final set peice lacks any weight at all.

Compare this to The Dark Knight where Batman and the Joker have repeated confrontations. Similarly in Spider-Man 2 there's a lot that happens specifically to establish what Spider-Man does (besides "whatever a spider can"). Iron Man is closer to Daredevil where we only see the superhero action a handful of times and none of them feel significant.

The reason this happens is obvious: action set peices are expensive. With a bit of effort and skill, however, this can be worked with. When the narrative form of a superhero movie can't even live up to your standard level of superhero comics then there is a real problem.