Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Superhero Movie Done Right

Although my parents like to tell me that I am the Clive Barnes of cinema, I am actually quite picky about which comic book superhero movies I give my gold star of approval to. Some of this may stem from the fact that I was terrified of the Tim Burton Batman film when I was young (and mistakenly called it "Fatman"). Some of it may stem from a period in which I devoured the old school Marvel comics, my favorites being Spiderman and X-Men, until the fracturing of the 'verses into too many different comic books and story arcs and AUs to keep track of and a certain soap operaish quality that took over. Prepubescent boys have more in common with middle age housewives than they ever would contemplate given the stories their chosen mediums choose to tell.

I love (now) Tim Burton's Batman films; the first was one of the truest and most engrossing adaptions comic books have ever experienced. It wasn't just a comic book movie. It was a movie anyone could enjoy, based on a comic book character. X-Men was a movie that stuck true to the philosophy of the characters and meaning of the comic while playing around with the internal continuity. Rogue with Iceman? Iceman being in a class of students of new mutants and not on par with Cyclops and Jean Gray? But it worked because it respected the fundamental draw of the 'verse and the characters. The second continued along that line, even though the third went a bit off course by being a bit more modern soap opera for me to take seriously. Spiderman suffered the opposite problem by being too faithful, especially in terms of dialogue, to the original text. The Fantastic Four was a campy movie; fun and very similar to cotton candy in terms of what the audience walks away with. 

The new Superman was flashy but held no real heart. Its villains were more engrossing than its heroes, always a problem in a movie. Batman Begins had an excellent Batman, but its Bruce Wayne was a little weak. I'm still looking forward to the sequel for Heath Ledger's Joker (the previews are absolutely chilling) and the arrival of Harvey Dent and the eventual evolution of Two-Face. I would be more inclined to see The Incredible Hulk if the Hulk remained closer to his counterpart Bruce Banner's size, like they were able to do with The Beast in X2 and Thing in Fantastic Four. Edward Norton looks like he put together an excellent portrayal of Bruce Banner, and it to the detriment of the film that the Hulk is so incredibly unbelievable.

Iron Man was actually a comic book that I was never able to fully delve into. It seemed like Marvel's answer to Batman; millionaire who becomes super through the help of technology. The movie, however, is engaging. It has a gravitas that transcends its medium, both of them. It pulls in from real world issues of corporate responsibility, issues with culpability, how innocents are the ones who are most hurt when nations cannot or will not step in. It has a wholly human protagonist, though a genius. It has an intelligent woman, played expertly by Gwyneth Paltrow. It is, like its only rival Tim Burton's Batman, an excellent movie. Period. No need to qualify it with what it had previously been before. It was humorous. It had compelling characters. And it was hands down an incredible origin tale. The transformation from Tony Stark: Playboy to Tony Stark: Superhero is an incredible one, filled with gambling, drinking, and then a capture by terrorists and a refusal to build a weapon for the enemy. Watching Downey Jr, one understands why Woody Allen was willing to put up the insurance money to work with him. Inside the robotic Iron Man suit, Robert Downey Jr goes to work, actually making the audience believe he is inside the wholly CGI'd affect. This is Marvel's best production yet, rivaling X-Men. It is better than any of DC's Supermans. In the end, it isn't about a man in a suit, but a man who sees the wrongs of the world, and who can't help but try to use his resources -his money, his intelligence, and his contacts- to right them.


jjfs85 said...

"The Fantastic Four was a campy movie; fun and very similar to cotton candy in terms of what the audience walks away with." A tummy ache and a sticky cardboard cone? I don't get it.

petpluto said...

There and gone; fun in the moment, but has no actual substance.

You get a tummy ache when you eat cotton candy?! You use the phrase "tummy ache"?

jjfs85 said...

I choose my words sometimes to convey certain feelings. In this case tummy ache was the right phrase for the job.