Monday, June 2, 2008
Iron Man Delivers
"STOP! In the name of Glove." Here are a few thoughts on Iron Man (2008). So what have been the normative practices of the remediation process of a graphic novel/comic book to a motion picture? Conglomerate Hollywood and synergy strategies brought DC comics to Warner Brothers where ownership has remained to this day. The standard technique (at Warner Brothers or elsewhere) has been to synopsize a character’s origin (usually a superhero) and then pit him/her/them against a villain from the character’s story world. Frequently, this constitutes a condensing of (minimum thirty, frequently more) years of story and history into less than two hours. The Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Blade,and X-men franchises, The Shadow, Daredevil, Elektra, Catwoman, and The Fantastic Four, are just a few examples of this process. This dilemma of adaptation is endemic to the comic-book industry at large and is what spurred many filmmakers and screenwriters to try and somehow perfect the transliteration process. I presented at a conference in Florida a few years ago about this very topic in relation to Frank Miller's/Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City (a lot of that conference paper dealt with digital new media, but there was a substantial covering of transliteration processes too). Well, Iron Man was Marvel Entertainments first self-produced motion picture (distributed through Paramount) and I think it shows. Because ya know what? I think we're starting to get there friends and neighbors. I really do. The odd thing is that we were "there" thirty years ago and, I think, have just had a hard time "getting back" there despite the technological advances.
By this, I mean to suggest that Richard Donner's Superman (1978) is really the quintessential benchmark for all other comic franchise adaptations. It's really a perfect film. Do you know I STILL get starry eyed and goose pimply during the pre-credit role - the curtain parts, the comic book opens, the daily planet, we move beyond it to space, and John Williams takes care of the rest... It's cinematic fantasy perfection. Credit to the very brilliant decisions made early on. The Salkinds' hiring Mario Puzo to pen the first, massive script - providing all of the material for Superman and its sequel. The Salkinds' hiring (then later, in a classless and slimy manner, firing) Donner, Donner bringing aboard the ever brilliant Tom Mankiewicz (one of my ALL-TIME favorite screenwriters) as a "creative consultant" and then the decision making just gets better and better. Geoffrey Unsworth, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Glenn Ford, John Williams, and so on. In my opinion, no film based on a comic book has surpassed this early blockbuster era masterpiece. Frankly, I doubt this will ever happen - we really don't have a cache of Glenn Fords', Marlon Brandos', Geoffrey Unsworths, or Dick Donner's anymore. Batman Begins comes close in my estimation, though not perfect, it was a great re-launch of a franchise. And, Sam Raimi's tenure with Spiderman has yielded some very fine efforts. His casting of Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben is most certainly a nod to Glenn Ford's Jonathon Kent. But, I don't think any comic-based film has equaled Superman. Oddly enough, I still come across people (usually with one or two active cells left in their brain) who say, "Man, that movie sucked, the shit with the world spinning, worst ending, total cop out, blah blah blah." It is a fruitless endeavor to tell them that they missed the entire point of the film (Americana, myth, A selfless morality, hope, etc) and that if they've already suspended their disbelief concerning: Krypton/Kryptonians, A flying man powered by our "yellow sun", laser beam vision, a woman who can't tell a man from his glasses, and so forth - than this logic defying ending should be taken in such same spirit. Spielberg always said (regarding Jaws) that if they were with him until The Orca was sinking, then they'd "swallow" the one in a million "smile you son of a bitch" oxygen tank massacre magic bullet scenario. And, we completely fucking did.
I thought this post was supposed to be about Iron Man? Well, it is. I just wanted to share my philosophy with how I measure comic book-based motion pictures. First consideration is, naturally, based upon the film's own merits - as a solitary entity. The next level of analysis comes in direct relation to the genre and it's (if any) recognized masterworks. And, Iron Man fares well on both fronts. I think that despite all of the booze, I would call this the most sobering translation of a mainstream franchise character. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect. The dialogue is perfect for him, the character is perfect him, the timing is perfect for him. And, this film, unlike Superman Returns, is not ashamed of itself. The script, while not perfect, is perfect for this well chosen cast. Major props to Gwyneth Paltrow for her soft and subtle, yet polished and in control performance of Pepper Potts, my personal favorite executive asst. in all of Marvel's universe. I'll spare you synopsis or thematic analysis of the plot - etc. Just some basic knee jerk reactions - that was the aim of this post.
Me and my fellow droogies were wondering if they would do anything with the television theme, for those of you who remember it - "Tony Stark makes you feel, he's a cool exec. with a heart of steel, as Iron Man all jets aflame, he fights and smites with repulsor rays!" Well, when Tony is to accept a humanitarian award the band strikes up this theme as he's "supposed" to take the stage. It's also Tony's cell phone ring tone! Great little touches that just add to the enjoyment of this very good and highly recommended film.
IMDB reports that in 1999 Quentin Tarantino was approached to write and direct this project. Uhm, uh... Er... All I can say is that I know now what that whizzzzzzzzzzzzz was back in Oct. of 99'. It was the bullet that I unknowingly dodged. Don't need Tony and Pepper spouting dialogue about what they call Chicken McNuggets in Kuala Lumpur. The last thing I want to say is that I am an avid comic book collector and have been on and off since early childhood. My favorite comic book as a youngster was Iron Man (a close second was Dr. Strange). This is essentially the film I have been anticipating for all these years. Sequel Please!
"I hereby give this film my official Sherman T. Potter Okey Dokey. Fan-Damn-Tastic!!"