This film happened to start on TV shortly after I’d finished rewatching The Iron Giant, and it amused me to make a double-bill of two such similarly-titled films.
The key to the movie’s success is, of course, the casting of Robert Downey Jr. He delivers offhand jokes, almost to himself, in ways that make it feel like he’s improvising while everyone else is sticking to a screenplay,* and it’s simply a lot of fun watching him on-screen – especially in scenes alongside Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. Terrence Howard makes a much better Col. Rhodes than Don Cheadle did in the sequel; it’s much more believable that he’d be Tony Stark’s friend.
As Tony Stark’s buddy Film Crit Hulk once pointed out, it’s nice that here’s a summer blockbuster in which the action is the least interesting part. In that blog post, the all-caps critic also says, “EVERYONE SEEMED LOVE THAT IT SPENT SO LONG BEFORE TONY ACTUALLY BECOME ‘IRON MAN’ SO THEY GET EXPERIENCE ALL THE GREAT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT TO GET THERE. EVERYONE LAUDED THE FUN SENSE OF ADVENTURE THAT CAME FROM HIM ACTUALLY BUILDING THE SUIT”, and I completely agree: the section where Tony gets back to the US and carries out his first experiments with building the suit is perhaps my favourite sequence in the movie. (Yeah, OK, I admit that a lot of it has to do with the way it appeals to the gadget-nerd techno-fetishist in me.) All good superhero origin movies should contain a scene where our hero first experiences the joy of what their superpowers allow them to do (see for example Superman running alongside that Smallville train, or even Neo grinning as he spars with Morpheus), and the test flight of the Iron Man Mk. II suit is one of the very best.
Something I find interesting is the way that the film both has its cake and eats it: it’s based around the idea of a warmonger coming over to the side of the peaceniks, and yet also contains gleeful scenes of t’rr’rist-slaughter which are pure right-wing hawk revenge-fantasy. (I admit I do find some of the film’s depictions of the Bad Brown People fairly uncomfortable at times.)
I do wonder if the little bit of non-linearity that opens the film was only included because of a belief that the audience would grow restless unless the movie opened with a bang. Whatever the reason: I’ve always found that little piece of “how we got here” flashbacking very effective. The high-altitude icing problem setup and payoff also works similarly well (it’s to the film’s benefit that it’s not the final thing that defeats the villain), even if it’s not exactly subtle.
I’ve never read it, but the most famous Iron Man comics storyline is Demon In A Bottle, which tackles Stark’s alcoholism. The Marvel Studios movies haven’t adapted this on-screen yet, and it doesn’t sound like they will do any time soon. This makes a nice change from the way Fox approached X-Men 3 and Sony approached Spider-Man 3: rushing to hit the most famous comics storylines and characters as soon as possible, then getting greedy and cramming too many of them into one movie. Having said that, we do get several sequel-setups: Rhodey’s “Next time, baby” line is a little too cheesy for me, the Ten Rings hints are OK, and as for that post-credits epilogue… I can’t remember if it had been spoiled for me in advance of seeing the movie back in 2008, but I remember thinking that although it was a fun tease, it was something that would almost certainly never come to pass. It’s really quite wonderful to think that the thing set up in that cameo not only happened at all, but actually matched my very high expectations!
[4 out of 5]
* OK, admittedly Downey mumbles a lot of the best lines so you could easily miss them. But its nowhere near as bad as his mumbling in the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes – inaudible dialogue from the lead character is pretty much all I remember of that movie…
(Watched for the first time, 16 June 2012.)
It’s easy to split the history of superhero films into two eras: “Before Batman & Robin”, and “After Batman & Robin”. Broadly speaking, after the excellent first Superman movie there was a gradual decline through successive Superman and Batman sequels, until Joel Schumacher hit the absolute nadir that was his second Bat-Film. (You might say he deconstructed the genre, ha ha.) After that, the Modern Superhero Film began to rebuild itself. First, it sheepishly tried to distance itself from its origins with things like X-Men (“What would you prefer, yellow spandex?”), but then, as it became the decade’s dominant action film genre, it gradually learned to embrace and take pride in its own comic bookiness, until we hit The Avengers fourteen years later.
The starting point of that revival was 1998′s Blade.
Watching it for the first time now, it’s an OK action film. A few memorable images (such as the blood shower scene at the start), some decent action sequences (nice payoff with Blade’s booby-trapped sword), some dated special effects, lots of gratuitous swearing and gory executions (“See,” it tries to say, “this isn’t your average funny-book movie!”) and lots of bog-standard exposition. It’s also far too long.
Blade himself isn’t a particularly appealing character – the way his plight is portrayed here isn’t much more nuanced than it was when the character appeared in the ’90s Spider-Man cartoon series. N’Bushe Wright’s haematologist is a far more sympathetic protagonist.
I think I’ve been spoilt by the likes of Buffy/Angel and Being Human, because the “vampire factions in-fighting and talking about how people are cattle” in this movie didn’t interest me in the slightest.
There are lots of dated flashy speed-ramping editing tricks throughout. Unfortunately, although Wesley Snipes can no doubt handle the martial arts perfectly well, he’s let down by some ridiculous undercranking in several of the action scenes (even more obvious than the sparring scene in Equilibrium).
The movie’s climax, involving blood from a sacrifice running along stone channels into a giant circular room in order to resurrect an apocalyptic demon, reminded me of the first Hellboy movie. (Which was, of course, directed by Guillermo del Toro, the director of Blade 2.) It would have had even more in common with Hellboy’s climax if, instead of concluding with martial arts combat, it had gone with the “Lovecraftian monster” battle that was originally shot for the film.
This is pretty much the same as the review I posted on Letterboxd. Later I’ll post a separate, more detailed version containing spoiler discussion.
The Avengers (all right, “Avengers Assemble” if you insist) really is extraordinarily good. It’s pretty much everything that’s fun about superhero comics translated directly onto the screen – I was hoping for as much from Joss Whedon and he delivered.
Like Serenity and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 5 finale, it’s extremely well-structured so that everyone gets more than one moment to shine in both dialogue and action scenes; I can’t think of another action movie that has so many characters and is so well-balanced between them all, and all the different combinations of arguments and team-ups between them.
It’s also extremely funny (but mostly not in that trademark Joss Whedon “Buffyspeak” way that some VERY WRONG people find “precious” and annoying). It has better Tony Stark dialogue than either Iron Man movie. Having said that, the funniest gags are visual ones that involve the Hulk…
I often complain that superhero films’ weakest parts tend to be their climactic action sequences: the stakes are raised, and believability is strained. As a rule of thumb, the closer to Armaggedon a superhero film’s climax gets compared to the preceding parts of the movie, the more disappointing it’ll be. Well, for once we have a superhero film whose best action scene comes at the end! It’s one of the best-sustained action finales since The Matrix, constantly spectacular and containing countless satisfying moments in both action and dialogue – most of which also happen to be very funny. The constant barrage of events means that spectacular actions that would have been highlights of these superheroes’ individual films are easily forgotten amidst the rush of even better actions. And yet it’s all presented in a coherent way, with the geography of the battlefield remaining clear throughout – there are none of the incomprehensible shakycam shots that spoiled The Dark Knight‘s action scenes.
And that’s just the third act action finale! The big mid-film action sequence, which splits up the characters into pairs, is almost equally good.
However, the best single scene in the whole film isn’t an action scene. A standard phrase Joss Whedon has used in promotional interviews is “I wanted to figure out why all these different characters should even be in the same room as each other”. Well, that scene where they are all in the same room as each other turned out to be the film’s absolute highlight. There have been lots of action films that I’ve enjoyed at the cinema for their sheer spectacle but then have felt little desire to rewatch because that they didn’t have much else going for them (Avatar comes to mind) – but due to scenes like that, The Avengers isn’t one of them.
The film’s plot isn’t exactly intricate: it’s extremely tightly focused around the MacGuffin from Thor and Captain America. However, this isn’t a bad thing: in a film of this scale, ensuring the characterisation and action is satisfying is an ambitious balancing act as it is, without adding a complex plot as chaotic as that of The Dark Knight into the mix as well.
The film doesn’t carry any sort of larger real-world message; it’s really just a movie about these specific characters – about guys in silly costumes beating the crap out of each other. But as far as movies about guys in silly costumes beating the crap out of each other go… well, it’s hard to imagine how they could get much better.
I saw The Avengers (or “Avengers Assemble” if you prefer) on its UK release the other day. But before I post my review of that, here are some brief comments on the only Marvel Studios film I rewatched in the run-up to the release of that crossover film.
Iron Man 2 is entertaining, but it’s a collection of individual scenes that each contain amusing touches, rather than a film that really hangs together well as a whole.
Those fun touches include: Tony Stark getting distracted by the executive toy on Pepper’s desk; Mickey Rourke’s “burd” and “drones better” scenes; the patented Genndy Tartakovsky robot blood oil splatter (and the car alarm gag was his, as well); Hammer’s “ex-wife” weapons dealing speech; “Hammer-oid attack”; “I got him!”; “I’d like to point out that that test pilot survived”; and the bickering when Black Widow links up Iron Man and Pepper’s radios at the end of the film. I also think the final action sequence makes for a better climax than the Stane fight in the first film.
But on the other hand you have weird pointless stuff like Nick Fury saying “Agent Coulson will be keeping an eye on you” – then all Coulson does is watch Tony make his particle accelerator before buggering off to look at Thor’s hammer. And for some reason the whole Formula 1 action scene feels a lot less weighty and important than its obscene budget would suggest.
The idea that Ivan Vanko might have a legitimate grievance against Stark and his father had potential, but is underexplored. The dialogue between Stark and Pepper isn’t as amusing as in the first film, the Senate hearing scene doen’t really flow well, and Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Rhodey is a bit too subdued compared to Terrence Howard’s.
I don’t often completely agree with Devin Faraci, but I thought his review of the film summed up its qualities and flaws very well.
Fortunately, The Avengers has since come out and eclipsed it in every respect!
News! There’s a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer reimagining on the go (which, as Slashfilm points out, is completely unrelated to the one that was rumoured in 2009), which caused Joss Whedon to give an amusing response that was reminiscent of his Terminator franchise proposal a while ago.
This provides a great excuse for me to air my pet prediction regarding his next movie!
I can see one of two things happening with The Avengers:
A) The film makes an obscene amount of money eclipsing Titanic, Avatar, and all the Harry Potter and Bond movies put together. Studios fall over themselves to let Whedon make whatever he wants, which happens to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. Then — while finding time to do some part-time script-doctoring on a couple of Pixar films, because they’ve really missed his help since the original Toy Story — he goes to HBO and makes more episodes of Firefly, which runs for ten seasons, three feature films and a spin-off animated series, is universally adored, and ushers in a new utopia of world peace and prosperity, Wyld Stallions-style.
B) Coming fourteen years after Blade, twelve years after X-Men and ten years after Spider-Men, it has the misfortune to be released just after the end of the superhero movie boom and flops miserably.