Ferrous Thoughts

I spent an awful lot of time as a child and teenager tinkering with various projects. I’d have lots of projects on at any one time, brewing in my head for a while, and making their way to soldering iron, meter, …notebooks and scraps of paper, then to elaborate drawings showing the technical details, and ultimately to some sort of realization in the real work, some percentage of the time. In the Summer time, I would probably have one Big Project and that would occupy my thoughts for a great deal of time, and would involve a lot of hiding away doing things. Lots of these projects would involve electronics (increasingly as time went by and I Learned more and my various part time jobs could support more) and there’d be lots of tinkering with all sorts of items, and a constant feature would be the soldering iron, one not so different from the one that you see above right.

Well, one of the many things I liked about the Iron Man movie (yes, I was right there to see it in the wonderful Arclight Dome the day after release… wanted all the good old-fashioned buzz of the big night out at the movies – sorry it took so long to get around to telling you bout it) was the fact that they captured a good deal of the feel of that sort of mode of working, and overall did a (mostly) excellent job of fleshing out the character of an inventor/scientist without trotting out the usual clichés of him or her being mad, or cold or detached. Tony Stark enjoys life and is a fleshed out person… Flawed, but fleshed out.

During the film I was delighted to see how long and well they lingered on the moments of creating and crafting in the basement (or the cave in Afghanistan)… I loved it. It was a lovely reminder. Ok, I funded my projects from newspaper rounds, and mopping floors and cleaning toilets as a porter in a local department store – not arms dealing… and none of my projects could help me fly… but I was a teenager. What did they get right? Among other things, the solitude, the mumbling to yourself happily as you’re getting on with the work, the arguing with the things around you as you’re assembling something (perhaps soldering something), and then the testing of the prototypes – Oh! The testing! So much anticipation and disappointment… tinkering and tweaking, and then the sheer joy of what you designed finally working. They got all that so well done. Those early scenes alone are worth going to see the movie for if any of those feelings and impulses mean anything to you.

Actually so much of the movie worked really well! (Maybe it is not a coincidence that some of the screen writers involved also worked on Alfonso Cuarón’s excellent Children of Men from 2006? See here.) Most especially, I thought that the script was excellent, and the dialogue really zipped along and felt rather more real than you’d expect given most examples in this genre. I think it is simply refreshing to come away from a film in this superhero genre and be remembering enjoying so much because of the excellent dialogue and not the showy special effects. Having said that, it is a bonus that they actually got the look and feel of the movie so well using the special effects. The Suit… The actual Iron Man suit… was marvellously realized, and felt very real indeed. The hacked-together prototype made in the cave felt like real too, and so despite the actual context… Taken alongside the excellent dialogue and delivery from Downey Jr., Howard, Paltrow and Bridges, the movie felt rather very good.

There was just the right mix of humour and (in character) seriousness. It did not stay so tongue in cheek and slapstick that it just “popped you out of the film” as is very common in the genre. And it was not taking itself too seriously either. I suspect that a lot of this was as a result of the excellent casting of RDJ as Tony Stark.

Plotting wise, they did well there too, more or less. The early comic book Iron Man themes were nicely updated, while keeping the core ideas, and I have to say that it was rather good to see how good a job they did on some of the themes of arms trafficking, interventionist foreign policy, and so forth. Better treaments than many “serious” films that have entirely focussed on those issues, to be honest, even though only lightly touched. A friend of mine who went to see it pointed out that it was actually quite a break from the standard movie conventions that our hero gets involved directly with saving the foreigners at the outset… Trying to undo so much of what has been done wrong.

If you’re one of those people who can’t suspend disbelief about various bits of made up science, and are not content with at least letting them be reasonably self-consistent with the universe they’ve created….this is not for you. But if you’d like to see a rather well realized splashy Marvel comic character properly brought to the screen, after so many dreadful attempts for so many other characters (I can only think of a handful of exceptions – the first two Sam Raimi Spiderman movies, and the first two Bryan Singer X-Men movies spring to mind – and hey, except for the last parts, I don’t agree that Ang Lee’s The Hulk was as bad as people claim), then give this a go. They got it right. It is fun whether you care about comics or not.

This is all a big surprise for me. There’s a lot in the genre coming to the screen this Summer (too many), and I only really expected a good job from Christoper Nolan and crew’s followup to the excellent work they did for Batman Begins, which was strikingly good. (I define “the genre” to include action-oriented comic book heroes from any stable, so Marvel or DC or other houses). So my hopes were pinned on that, and given the work on other characters such as Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra, the latter two being rather wonderful characters (that Frank Miller honed so much of his talent on) that were ruined by these poor treatments, I was not sure what to expect from Iron Man, and the relaunched Incredible Hulk, even though they are led by excellent actors. Iron Man is happily making me adjust my expectations.

You know what’s really annoying? Film reviewers who pre-decide what they want about films from this genre and write about them without actually properly seeing the movie. It is so disappointing, since it does not encourage studios and filmmakers to do a good job if this stuff is just going to get lumped together by such reviewers anyway. A case in point is David Denby’s review for the New Yorker. Please, fellow New Yorker readers, just ignore what he says, If you actually read the review after seeing the film, you will rapidly realize one striking fact. He has not seen the film (or was not paying attention, if he went). It is annoying and disappointing since Denby, although never as good as Anthony Lane, is usually not so bad s a reviewer. Although I only read such reviews for entertainment, so after I’ve seen a film (I like going into films with as little knowledge about them as possible – this can really lift a film), or for films I have no intention of seeing, I think that I’m going to have to be much more careful of what he says from now on…

Anyway, there you have it. Short version: You probably just wrote it off, but Iron Man was actually rather well done, for the action genre. (Put differently, it is an action film that you can enjoy without having that bad taste in your mouth you so often get from knowing that it could have been so much better if they’d spent a tiny bit of effort on the script. This time, they got the script right.)

Next: Report on a Professor Movie Double Bill! (Just got back from it…better get to sleep now.)

-cvj

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