Tag Archives: Iron Man 2

Bad Taste

I really like Iron Man 2. This is not a popular opinion; the movie is usually listed near the bottom of MCU movie rankings, especially when held up against its predecessor.

But I really like it all the same. I suppose there’s no accounting for bad taste.

Perhaps there’s some explanation for my deep affection for this much-maligned movie when the context with which I first saw the film is taken into account. The summer of 2010 saw my heart acting up with the symptoms of something potentially dire, but without any clear cause. This period of uncertainty was less than fun, to put it mildly, so a movie where the protagonist was dealing with his own chest-related issues struck a very personal cord. I’m fully aware of the film’s flaws, but my opinions of Iron Man 2 will forever be tied up with the circumstances when I first saw it.

I go on and on on this blog about how art is a two-way street, about how the viewer/reader/player affects the work almost as much as the creator. What one brings to the table inherently changes the final effect of the piece. My own medical issues, for example, have had drastic effects on my opinion of Iron Man 2.

In light of that, it’s hard to really provide a framework with which to declare a movie the best. Something I love may not work for you, and vice versa. I found Never Let Me Go to be profoundly moving, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who’d call it melodramatic schlock, just as there are people who loved 50/50 while I found it somewhat hollow. I still love (500) Days Of Summer, but what I like about has changed as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser).

Take the ending to The Last of Us. Without getting too much into it (because even six years on, talking about the ending still feels taboo), Joel has decided that there’s something that Ellie shouldn’t do and he’s going to do whatever it takes to ensure no harm befalls the teenage girl who’s become like a daughter to him. It’s a rampage, against a faction we’d been led to believe were heroic, culminating in the player – as Joel – shooting an unarmed man. Naturally, its response has proven it divisive. In the ensuing discussion, however, it became clear that players who had children of their own were more likely to sympathize with Joel’s choice than non-parents. The player’s own personal life informs their response to the narrative.

So is it a bad ending? I certainly read some criticisms of it, just as I read praises. While I’d say that it is empirically good, I do have to wonder if describing something empirically is even possible. There’s little doubt that it’s well-crafted and, I’d say, well-earned. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it; and it doesn’t matter how good it is, if you don’t like it you don’t like it.

As I said, there’s no accounting for bad taste.

I think we’re too hard on people who like stuff that’s not considered good, that there are too many pleasures we consider guilty. I’m sure we’ve all stories in one form or another that seem childish or shallow now, but once upon a time meant the world to you. I will forever have a soft spot for Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky” and John Betjemen’s “False Security” since they were among my introduction to poetry, and two I took a real shine to years and years ago. Henry V is my favorite Shakespeare play, not because of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech or really any merit of itself, but because it was the first of his plays that I really dig into sixteen-odd years ago. Pretentious as it is, I want to say that Ulysses by James Joyce is my favorite book, not out of an adoration for obtuse literature, but from the delight of classes spent examining the book and finding meaning and, with all of that, falling in love with the work. I’m sure had I read it under other circumstances I would have dismissed it as being overwrought nonsense.

Secondhand Lions has a middling score on Rotten Tomatoes, but I absolutely love the movie all the same. I know that Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is far from a really great game, but it’s an absolute delight to play on the weekend with your brother and a couple beers. I don’t care what you think, Toto’s “Africa” is an absolutely stellar piece of music.

Maybe I’m too hard on people. I think Batman v Superman is an absolute mess, but y’know what, if you like it, good for you. We can talk until the sky falls about what’s a good piece of art and what’s not, but I think we’re kinda missing the forest for the trees. So long as the story made you feel something and isn’t hurting anyone else, where’s the harm in liking it? I enjoy watching bad movies, I love playing excellent games, and I’ll gladly go to bat for Iron Man 2.

After all, there really is no accounting for bad taste.

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Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel’s my favorite superhero. Well, most of the time; every now and then Iron Man noses his back to first place. But that’s beside the point.

Carol Danvers first showed up on my radar in 2013’s Infinity event where she was one of the Avengers fighting bad guys in space. It all culminates with, of course, the Avengers back on Earth fighting Thanos. Captain Marvel’s one of the hardest hitters, and it’s positively epic to see her, Thor, and Hulk throwing down with Thanos. I promptly got a hold of all of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run and the rest is history.

It stands to reason that I was super psyched when they announced Captain Marvel would be getting a movie of her own. And that movie finally came out last week and folks, let me tell you, Captain Marvel is a wonderful joy of a movie.

Part of what makes Captain Marvel work is how well the filmmakers nailed Carol’s character. Carol’s brash and headstrong, the sort who’ll jump first and think later. She’s also a very warm person, someone who frequently tries to do what’s right. And she’s super powerful, what with the flight, super-strength, and ability to shoot photon-blasts.

Her super-powered nature gives her the same issue as writing Superman: How do you make a foe for someone who’s essentially invincible? Now, Carol has her limits, sure, but the real hook to her character comes from her flaws.

Carol is someone who likes to solve problems by punching things. The natural way to give her pause is to provide her with an opponent who can’t be defeated by just punching things. The Skrulls of the movie are shapeshifters, able to assume the guise of a friend or enemy. Since it’s hard to know who’s really the enemy, fighting isn’t the solution. Instead, Carol sets out to find out why the Skrulls are here of all places, a question that, curiously, seems to be deeply entwined with Carol herself.

It’s hard for me to really hash out just how a lot of this works without getting into the plot and spoilers, which, given how new the movie is, I’d rather avoid. So things might get vague here, my apologies. Suffice to say, this movie doesn’t really have a big bad the way that basically every other Marvel movie does. Sure, there are villains, but there isn’t someone who Carol has to punch into submission to win.

The goal of most arcs is to self-actualize, that is to realize one’s potential. In action-y movies that’s usually beating the bad guy, whose role is to be the shadow of the hero, the question of what they could have been were things different. Tony Stark goes up against Obadiah Stane, a someone who would use Stark’s technology for militarization and power. Captain America fights Red Skull, the result of the super-soldier serum used on the wrong person. Their stories are about getting to the point where they can beat that person. In doing so, the hero proves they aren’t like the villain.

Self-actualization can also come from a more quiet place, one that’s often the mark of internal conflicts. Iron Man 2 sees a Tony Stark who struggles with himself and his own mortality. Though Vanko’s the villain, Tony’s primary conflict is with himself and his self-destructive behavior. It’s only when he overcomes that that he’s able to build the Mark VI and fight the bad guy.

Carol’s arc is similar; as an amnesiac who’s known only her life on Hala as part of the Kree Starforce, Earth holds mysteries for her to uncover. She’s trying to figure out why this place is important to her and, with it, who she is. Her fight is with herself, who she thinks she is, who people say she is, and who she really is. She has to first reconcile all that before she can properly fight the bad guys.

Captain Marvel throws all this at our hero, with enough turns to keep her on an off-foot throughout the film. Her awesome powers are balanced with her very real flaws, and the movie successfully translates that character I love from the comics to the screen. Here’s a movie that makes the most powerful badass in the MCU still interesting and flawed without compromising her character. Cheers to that, go see it.

And I cannot wait to watch Captain Marvel throw down with Thanos.

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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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