Tag Archives: Iron Man 2

Interconnected

I’ve been waiting for Agents of SHIELD to really get into its groove proper. It finally did last week, courtesy of some major plot points from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Which is kinda odd, really. A feature film bearing a different name affecting a TV show that much. I mean, it makes sense within the universe they’re creating, but from a meta perspective, it’s terribly uncommon.

And that’s one thing I love about the stories Marvel Studios’ been telling. They’re all connected. This was a gamble. Back in 2008 when Iron Man came out and Nick Fury mentioned the Avengers Initiative, Marvel was asking audiences to wait a few years and watch a few seeming unrelated movies in hope of a big team up coming out later. It could have failed, some of the movies could have sucked, but they took the risk to try and build their cinematic universe.

Seeing as The Avengers made what businesspeople call a ‘crapload of money,’ it paid off. Not only that, but it was a legitimately awesome film. Best of all, it stood alone. You didn’t have to have seen any or all of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, or Captain America: The First Avenger to get it. Sure, watching those movies helped, but it was great on it’s own. Each Avenger was quickly and succinctly introduced enough for a new viewer to get what was happening.

Every Marvel movie works that way. Someone can see The Winter Soldier on its own, or after having only also seen The First Avenger, or seen all the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe chronology as well as Agents of SHIELD and enjoy it. There’s a decided effort for each film to be able to stand on its own and yet play with the others around it. They compliment each other but are not dependent on the others. It’s a fun sort of storytelling; you follow a group of independent characters and then see them all in a big event, then see them apart again.

Marvel’s asking viewers to embrace a sort of storytelling not really seen in film (or TV, really). Outside of the occasional Alien VS Predator, having independent franchises team up like what happened in The Avengers just doesn’t happen. Though it does in the comics. Their Guardians of the Galaxy title may intersect with the Avengers title, but you don’t have to be following both to understand what’s going on. Does it help? Sure, but it’s not a requirement.

Consider the last episode of Agents of SHIELD, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” What happened in The Winter Soldier directly affects the show in a massive game changing sort of way. Like in the comics, they’re weaved together to stand alone but also enhance each other. “Turn, Turn, Turn” offers a different perspective on what happened in The Winter Soldier and the film shows the big picture of the events in the show.

This also makes great business sense. See, Marvel’s smart; they know that not everyone will watch every one of their movies. It’s to their benefit for every film to be as stand alone as they are. It allows them to remain accessible to anyone. Winter Soldier deftly sets up Steve Rogers as being a man out of time who feels a bit lost in a way that doesn’t feel obtrusive to someone who’s seen the prior movies, yet so that someone new can follow what’s going on. It plain works. Add in the fun of getting more understanding the crossovers and Marvel’s market expands.

I’m so glad Marvel managed to pull this off. Things like seeing Bruce Banner at the end of Iron Man 3, references to Stark tech in The Winter Soldier, and Sif showing up in Agents of SHIELD remind me of the Iron Man and Spider-Man cartoons I’d watch as a kid where anyone could and would show up. Somehow, Marvel did it: they made a cohesive cinematic universe. Now I really wanna see what happens next in that world.

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Where’s My Dang Black Widow Movie?

Comic-Con was last week. As in, the, Comic-Con. And we got news, like how Avengers 2 is actually Age of Ultron and how we’re having a team up between Superman and Batman and how there’s gonna be a friggin’ Star Wars and Phineas & Ferb crossover. They also screened a new Marvel short, one that focuses on Agent Carter from Captain America, who you’ll remember as his love interest. Also, Black Widow will be having a large role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Cool, women are having a growing presence in the Marvel-verse. And yet, to my annoyance, there’s no friggin’ Black Widow movie planned. Understand, this isn’t some hyper-feminist rant about how there needs to be more women in everything. This is me asking why, when we have such a fascinating character, she doesn’t get her own spin-off film.

When it comes to wanting an action movie with a woman in the lead, there’s the difference between wanting it because you want a movie with a woman in the lead, and wanting one because there’s a good character. Yes, there is a dearth of action movies/blockbusters with women as the leads; but the solution isn’t to throw more women on screen, but to write more interesting stories about interesting women. Let’s talk about Salt. Frankly, I didn’t really like it. Her story just never enthralled me, it felt bland. Sure, we had Angelina Jolie running around doing Bourne-y stuff, but so what? Jason Bourne with boobs does not inherently a good movie make.

Compare The Hunger Games’ Katniss. Katniss clearly has a goal and motivations. We know what she wants, and, rather than pulling a Bella Swan, she goes to great lengths to achieve them. Most importantly, she’s an interesting character. She lives in an interesting world, finds herself in interesting circumstances, and makes interesting choices. And, unlike in Salt, the choices make sense and create a cohesive plot. Furthermore, Katniss isn’t some boring perfect character; she has her share of flaws and issues to work through. Why is this important? It adds layers to her and helps us get invested.

Look, I enjoy badass women in fiction. Let’s take Buffy as a prime example: She fights vampires. But she’s finely layered, within her fighting spirit there’s a vulnerability to her. She’s a fascinating character who’s not a teenage girl for the sake of being a teenage girl. Like Katniss, she’s a teenage girl because it makes for an interesting character.

Black Widow was a cool supporting-character in Iron Man 2, but it was in The Avengers when we really saw just how friggin’ awesome she was. She doesn’t have superpowers or a suit of armor, but she still fights bad guys and holds her own. Furthermore, rather than awkwardly trying to avoid it, The Avengers has Black Widow using others’ perception of her as a woman to her advantage. She keeps pace with the likes of The Hulk and Captain America, all the while being absolutely vital to the plot. And not someone else’s plot or development, The Plot and her own arc. Ever notice that after The Avengers people referred to her as Black Widow rather than as Scarlett Johansson? The character is more interesting than the woman playing her.

I want Marvel to take the gamble and dare to feature Black Widow in her own solo film (fine, have Hawkeye as a deuteragonist). Not just because she’s a woman — that’s a lame and patronizing reason — but because she’s a layered, complex superhero who deserves to have a story written about her.

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Becoming Iron Man

I hate spoilers. I really do; I swore off social media for the two days in between the Lost finale and when I could watch it. That said, this post deals with an aspect of the ending of Iron Man 3. It’s not one of the huge twists, but it’s a little surprise. It’s been a week since it came out so I feel alright writing about it.

S’yeah. Spoilers.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Well, first spoiler, Tony survives. But the main one I’ll be addressing is that he decides to get the shrapnel out of his chest once and for all, negating his need for an Arc Reactor. This takes place in the resolution, after the climatic battle with The Mandarin. Although it seems to come almost out of left field, Tony getting ‘healed’ is the culmination of his growth over the series.

But hang on, if getting the shrapnel out was that easy, why didn’t he just get it out at the end of the first film? Because he chose not to. See, the cave in Afghanistan was Tony’s rebirth. In it he was forced to come face to face with his wrongs; namely that the weapons he created were being used to fight those he made the weapons for. It was during this time that Yensin, a fellow captive in the cave, implanted Tony with an electromagnet to keep the shrapnel at bay as he lacked the resources to perform adequate surgery.  Tony then created the original Arc Reactor to power the magnet and the first Iron Man suit. This was his rebirth, from that moment on Tony was Iron Man. When he returns home he builds a new Arc Reactor rather than finding a topnotch cardiologist to remove the shrapnel. Why? Because this is who he is.

The mentality persists into the second film. Despite the palladium in his chest slowly killing him, removing the shrapnel and negating the need for the Arc Reactor isn’t an option. Why? Because it’s part of him, as he says “the suit and I are one.” He’s Iron Man, and so he has to live with it. Does Tony want to die? No. But Tony can’t go back to his life before the cave; Tony’s the atoner. He acts in the hope that Iron Man might somehow set right Tony Stark’s wrongs. To remove the shrapnel and the Arc Reactor would be, in his mind, to renege on what he promised himself to do when he left the cave. It’s not just part of him, it is him.

Iron Man 3 tackles this idea; who is Tony Stark and who is Iron Man? If his armor doesn’t work and he’s left without it, is he still a superhero? Tony has to work through these questions in the movie, he has to find a real answer to Captain America’s challenge in The Avengers: “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?”

Tony has to learn to be Iron Man without the Iron Man armor. He spends much of the second act without his armor or the resources to build one. Back to basics, Tony is once again in the cave from the first film. Though in the first film he emerges from the cave clad in the Iron Man armor, in Iron Man 3 he emerges from the cave without a new suit of armor, just a few gadgets (he gets the Mk 42 back later). But the transformation is done, Tony no longer relies on the suit to be a hero.

Iron Man 3 is based on the Extremis comic-arc which concludes with Tony injecting himself with a modified version of the Extremis virus, which basically allows him to control the armor with his thoughts. In his words, it’s so he can become Iron Man inside and out. Though Tony doesn’t go through the same process in the film, the end result is figuratively the same. Whereas in Extremis Tony essentially merges with his suit, in Iron Man 3 Tony learns that he doesn’t need a suit to be Iron Man, that even without it he can still be the hero he became.

So Tony finally gets the shrapnel out his chest because his identity as Iron Man is no longer reliant on his injury. He’s gone past that; now he knows that if you strip everything away, Tony Stark still is Iron Man.

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Where It Needs To Go

So here’s the deal you make when you tell a story. Actions have consequences. I don’t mean of the physical variety (you destroy a support, the roof caves in), no, I mean emotional consequences. Sometimes you have to deal with those.

Well, sometimes you don’t. Look at romances like Star Wars or other more light hearted fare. Han gets frozen in carbonite, Leia’s planet gets destroyed, and Luke blows up the Death Star and everyone on it. But the movies opted not to deal with emotional repercussions, and it’s fine since it didn’t keep with the theme. The Star Wars movies are inherently fun and relatively light hearted, angst and baggage need not apply.

It’s hard, though, to get in to it. Exploring emotional trauma is difficult. It’s easier to go the route of “good guys win, everything’s great now!” Of course, if the good guys don’t win, hey, half the work’s done.

More or less, anyway. Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds fought for the Independents who were soundly defeated in the Unification War. It left him with a great loss of faith and a desire to be unfeeling. Everything that happened haunts him throughout the TV show and into the film. He doesn’t want to get close to people, but he won’t let anyone harm his crew. Mal isn’t the Mal we see in flashbacks, the loss cut deeply into him and shook him to the core. It’s all hallmarks of him being haunted by the events prior.

Which, finally, brings me to Iron Man 3. As a series, the films have done a good job of dealing with emotional consequences. Iron Man 2 serves up the question of what would Tony do if the thing keeping him alive started to kill him? The answer was a reckless lust for life which we see play out and, at times, leave him a hungover wreck. That movie dealt all that, letting us move past that and into The Avengers where Tony decided to be truly selfless, a massive leap forward in his character.

So what now? So where does Iron Man 3 go with a Tony Stark who’s not a selfish playboy? With the Avengers he helped saved the world, so the next story would be Tony saving the world again, right? No. Iron Man 3 asks how can Tony come back from what happened in New York. This is where the story needed to go. Not doing so would be a disservice to the character. It had to explore what a character like Tony would do in light of acting completely out of character and volunteering his life. What are the ramifications? We find out that he’s not okay. He’s broken, he’s been awake for days on ends building suit after suit, keeping himself occupied while trying to protect himself – and those he loves. The man feels vulnerable, he’s just a man in an iron suit in a world where there are supersoldiers, aliens, ‘gods’, and a Hulk. Without the Iron Man armor, Tony realizes he’s just Tony. He suffers an anxiety attack at the mention of New York and can’t sign a little girl’s drawing of him saving the day without scribbling a speech bubble above Iron Man saying “Erin help me”. These aren’t spoilers, by the way, this is where we meet Tony as the film begins. This has become his normal. We get to see him fight out of it.

This is what makes Tony’s character so interesting. He’s haunted by his past. The whole reason he’s Iron Man is because he’s seeking redemption for the harm he caused. Tony isn’t a cut and dry character. He’s vulnerable, far from the ‘invincible’ used to describe his armor. Iron Man 3 dares to peel back the armor and get at the man inside. We’ve established the superhero, we’ve sent him to hell and back, now let’s watch him try and stand. It’s a daring move, one that can go the path of creating a character too caught up in his own angst or one that has barely enough. Yet Iron Man 3 nails it.

I love Iron Man. He’s been one of my favorite superheroes since I was a small kid. Why? I remember explaining it once when I was around 7 or 8; because underneath all that armor, Tony’s just a regular guy. Iron Man 3 delves into that and it’s all the better for it. Go see it; it might be my favorite not-The-Avengers Marvel movie yet.

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I Got You

Did you see that new Iron Man 3 tv spot that dropped earlier this week? You should. Because this blog post is about it. If you haven’t seen it watch it here.

See that bit at the end? When Pepper has the suit on and saves Tony? That’s crucial. You see, Tony Stark saves people. He’s a hero. That’s his job. But sometimes even the savior needs saving.

Y’know what makes Tony Stark so special as a hero? He’s incredible vulnerable. He doesn’t have super-strength or a healing factor or amazing reflexes. Heck the guy has heart disease! It’s much of the rationale behind the armor (and apparently the plot of the third movie), he needs to protect himself from threats bigger than himself.

He hides this vulnerability, though, wrapping it up with sarcasm and glibness. He doesn’t want others to worry. We see this in Iron Man 2 when Tony’s arc reactor takes a turn for the worst. He draws into himself and lives recklessly until he finally pulls himself together and beats it. Yet through it all he doesn’t tell Pepper, the person closest to him, about it. He doesn’t want anyone else to worry over him or freak out. It’s his mix of pride and stubbornness that makes him want to do it on his own.

It’s a thread that weaves its way through all his movies. One of the most crucial moments in Iron Man comes near the climax, after Obadiah Stane takes Tony’s arc reactor. The man struggles to get to his garage where his other arc reactor is, but falls just short of it. Then Dummy, the robot who Tony’s been ragging on, picking on, and calling useless for entire movie, hands him the old arc reactor. Tony acknowledges it with a simple “good boy”. You have to realize that this is Tony admitting he can’t always do it himself. Later on in the climax he asks Rhodey to keep the skies clear and Pepper to help him finish off Stane. In 2 and The Avengers he does the same thing, trying his best to do it all alone. There’s a moment during the final battle of The Avengers when Tony defers to Captain America for strategy during the climax. This again shows his growth in the team, he knows he can’t do everything by himself. It gets mirrored again when Hulk catches him: he was saved.

All this has to do with that moment in the trailer where a suited up Pepper protects Tony from the falling debris. In that moment he’s being taken care of, he’s being saved by the person he usually saves.

There’s even more to it though. Presumably Tony orders the suit to go after Pepper (I say presumably because in that teaser Tony ordering the armor to fly is from a different scene) as the mansion’s crumbling around them. He does this at his own expense, he has the suit protect her not him. Tony’s no longer the selfish git he used to be. Remember in The Avengers when he’s arguing with Captain America? Steve calls him out on being self-serving, on always trying to find a way out. That moment of him opting to just save Pepper as opposed to suiting up himself and fighting out shows just how far he’s come.

“I got you,” Pepper tells Tony upon saving him. It’s a weird turn for him, but not unwelcome. Tony, who’s usually sticking it out alone, now has someone saving him. He’s not alone anymore. In another trailer we see him and Rhodey getting ready for what I’m going to assume is the final battle. He’s grown out of his prideful independence and learned to rely on others.

But he still protects them. “I got you first,” after all.

 

By the way, Iron Man 3 comes out in 33 days. This won’t be the last post on Iron Man 3. My apologies. Actually, no, I don’t apologize.

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Instant Tension: Just Add Guns!

Say three guys are discussing the proper pronunciation of the word milk. Then the argument heats up and they start yelling. Things are starting to get a little intense Now one of them pulls a gun on the others. Things just got real, man! Then the other guys pull out their guns! Just like that the tension in the story jumps through the roof and the argument about elocution is forgotten in favor of will these friends kill themselves over it.

Most stories (and hilarious Julian Smith videos) need tension to move them along or they’ll wind up boring. So the story needs a crisis, a threat or something. One of the easiest ways to do this is to add a gun. Instantly someone’s life is on the line! Drama! Suspense! Tension!

This can be done right, of course. Look at Lost, especially in the earlier seasons when there were only a handful of guns. We got great drama from the fight for possession to their occasional use and threatening. The conservation of guns allows the actual use of them to provide great tension. Guns mean that life was seriously at stake and there were consequences. But the show didn’t always need guns. “The Constant”, arguably the best episode, is a terrific, tense episode that doesn’t have anyone firing a gun.

Some stories require guns. Video games like Uncharted or Mass Effect are about guys with guns saving the day. Chuck is about spies doing spyish work with guns. Take away James Bond’s gun and we get, well, not James Bond. You can’t rave against guns in these stories since they’re essential to the plot.

But let’s take out guns. Can a story keep that level of tension without a firearm?

Ender’s Game is a magnificent book, that should go without saying. One of the things that makes it so good is the state of constant excitement and tension. And besides the practice ones used in the Battle Room, there aren’t any guns. Rather, the tension comes from our wondering how Ender’s going to carry on.

The larger narrative external to the central one in Ender’s Game is a war between mankind and the alien buggers. But the one we follow is Ender’s personal struggle as he’s thrust into a new environment where he must use his wits to get ahead. We’re invested in the kid’s struggle, we want to see how far he can be pushed and how he’ll continue to think his way out. There are the occasional life-or-death moments, but for the most part the tension is intellectual.

Sometimes the thing at stake isn’t the character’s life but humanity. Silver Linings Playbook uses this sort of tension. Pat, Tiffany, and the other characters’ lives are never at the risk of ending, but rather we’re wondering if their lives will continue. As we watch Pat over the course of the movie we’re cheering for him, hoping that he’ll be able to get past his inner demons and come out on top. In a story like this we don’t need the external threat of death to spur things along. Sometimes the internal conflict is more than enough.

Other times a blend makes things work. Iron Man 2 has a few external conflicts in it (Monaco and the climax), but the central plot centers around Tony Stark’s struggle with his humanity and the consequences of doing the superhero schtick. The tension is a lot like that in Silver Linings Playbook: Will Tony be able to fix himself? It’s a blend that works.

Look, stories need tension, that’s just a fact of life. The question is always how to go about with that tension. Internal, external, guns waving around everywhere; the key thing, of course, is to do it well.

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Red Pills

So y’know how there’ll be this story but there’s this one break from reality? The one thing that makes this world just a little different from the normal one?  It’s pretty much the foundation of the story; the one pill that the audience has to swallow to make the whole story digestible.

If we can believe that ‘reality’ is really just a virtual construct and the real real world is a dystopian post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by machines, The Matrix makes perfect sense. Since the world is virtual, running on walls and dodging bullets seems natural. Like Neo, we’ve gotta swallow that red pill and enter this world.

Or Harry Potter where  there’s a secret society of wizards and witches and other magical people living right under our Muggle noses. If we can believe that, then the Ministry of Magic, Centaurs, and all the rest fit right in.

An audience’s willing suspension of disbelief is vital to a story. If they don’t buy it, they won’t invest. A lack of investment means they won’t care about it. And that’s terrible.

So how do audiences swallow this pill?

Well, a little bit of grounding helps a lot. Iron Man establishes Tony Stark as being a genius within the first fifteen-odd minutes of the film. With that in mind, it’s not hard to believe that he could build an Arc Reactor and a suit of powered armor in a cave with a box of scraps. It’s been established that he’s outrageously intelligent, so we buy it. When we see his garage/workshop we see that he has a couple of robot assistants with a limited amount of AI. Though this (and Jarvis, and his holographic workspace) is well beyond 2008 technology, we accept it because not only of how intelligent Tony is, but with the lack of focus he gives it. It’s simply there, it’s part of his world. Since it’s normal for him, it’s normal for us.

There is a limit, of course. In Iron Man 2 they filmed a scene where the Tony and Pepper’s jet flew in the upper atmosphere, where gravity no longer affected them. It’s no big deal for them. Ultimately, Jon Favreau and crew chose to cut the scene as it wound up being just too much. Introducing the idea of a jet essentially going into space would have been one piece of tech too much in a movie with AI and powered armor. It would have shattered the suspension of disbelief. There’s a limit to how much you can give the audience.

The Mass Effect games’ fantastic technology is all explained by the titular mass effect. It’s a fairly basic concept (currents applied to the mysterious Element Zero will either increase or decrease an object’s mass) that allows for faster than light travel, artificial gravity, and all that. Add some mysterious ancient technology and bam! Humanity joins the galactic community and gets caught up to speed with the other races.

It’s not another world (like Star Wars) or flung way in the future (Halo, Firefly, or Star Trek), but it’s believable because of the simple technological conceit they present. Furthermore, the idea of mass effects is not only exhaustively fleshed out in the game’s databank (encyclopedia) but is internally consistent. It has its limits: mass effect fields can do a lot but they aren’t magic. All this keeps it believable.

So we have movies with basic conceits: cursed treasure exists in Pirates of the Caribbean, the zombie apocalypse finally happened in Zombieland, Back to the Future asks you to believe that if you hit 88 miles per hour you will see some serious …stuff, in Up we believe a house can fly. It’s that doorway into the world.

Of course, like all things, it’s not set in stone. Sometimes you can just say the Earth was demolished for a hyperspace bypass and if you make it fun enough we’ll play along. Because sometimes the only rules you really need is the rule of of fun; so you can have Scott Pilgrim do battle with the psychic-powered vegan or Westley and Buttercup fight a Rodent of Unusual Size. These movies are fun, serious logic need not apply.

Unless, y’know, you break one of the rules you’ve already set up in your world. Then bam goes our suspension of disbelief.

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