Thursday, March 20, 2008

Putting All The Elements In Iron Man

Jon Favreau appears in some of the most interesting places. I first remember seeing him as the heart broken pal of Vince Vahn in the quotable and cool film, Swingers. Then he showed up as host of a roundtable dinner and a movie show on cable television when cable television was still a distinct entity from other kind of television. (Remember that?) He had a gig as Monica’s ultra-wealthy boyfriend on Friends. Now he’s in the director’s chair in the much-anticipated Iron Man movie staring another guy who gets around Robert Downey Jr. (albeit in all the wrong ways, e.g. criminal court, jail, rehab, etc.)

The teaser trailer I spied last year was very promising. The effects were already looking pretty finalized; the cobbled together Iron Man costume that Downey makes initially is fantastically Steam Punkish looking (and a throw back to the original Iron Man in the comics). Downey has the role of arrogant, then redemptive Tony Stark down pat. And from the snippets I saw he pulls off blending a Tony Stark full off faux-melodrama and snarky comedy. I actually laughed at Robert Downey Jr. and not because he showed up before the judge in an orange jumpsuit the morning after getting busted for drugs. (Not that there’s anything at all funny about doing drugs. There is nothing funny about illegal drugs and going to jail—nothing! He. He.)

I worried about Downey in the same way I worried about Michael Keaton playing Batman but Downey seems to be wearing the characterization of wealthy arrogance like, well, it’s his own. But the new trailer gives us a peek into Tony Stark’s personality post-epiphany and he’s very convincing—I guess serving jail time will do that to a guy. Robert Downey Jr. just may nap a place in the pantheon of actors who brilliantly models a formerly 2D comic character into his own multi-dimensional role. Confidence is high.

To make Robert Downey Jr.’s real redemption happen on screen (who I believe appeared briefly on Ally McBeal some years back before a return trip to the slammer) director Favreau must have either A) Given him some great direction or B) Let Downey go at it whole hog, which again is probably great direction.

Generally I hate comic book movies because we fans have to suffer through the origin story which is either presented in a ridiculously simplistic fashion to get it out of the way quick or done to try to play off ultimate drama, which aggravates us because its blasphemy. Walking the fine line of an origin story is extremely difficult, especially for a well-known character like say, Spiderman and Superman—both of which were done brilliantly combining both elements I presented above and making it work. My personal opinion is that Batman (Tim Burton version) and Batman Begins (staring Mr. Moody himself Christian Bale) both equally handled that character’s origins, though many debate me on the former. Marvel has had a run of bad luck amid their successes. Fantastic Four (both movies) missed the mark entirely making it much too family friendly and the Hulk, Ghost Rider and Spiderman 3 all went horribly wrong. X-Men got it right, if only because there was no need for any origin stories and because of Bryan Singer’s genius at handling characterization, which you can also say for his Superman Returns.

In an interview I swiped off the net somewhere but neglected to reference in my notes Favreau was asked about the budget of the movie. His answer was, “I feel like there's never enough money no matter how much money you have…” You know, this guys a good director and all but I have to admit that he may have taken that answer from me. I mean anyone who’s anyone knows I’ve been saying that for years.

He went on to say that the reason is that “because you're always trying to put more on the screen than you've got.” As opposed to George Lucas, who has so much that he puts everything on the screen. I think the point here is that it’s good to have a budget and work within the scope that you are given. In general movies that start blowing budgets out of control tend to be overwrought, embellished garbage instead of scrappy, full-of-hear films. Of course we’re talking about relativity here. (Not the Einstein type of Relativity which I generally capitalize, it’s the Ben Bernanke type of relativity, like when the head of the Federal Reserve says that he’s using billions of tax payer dollars to increase liquidity in the financial markets like it’s no big deal—that kind of relativity.) Lord of the Rings costs mega bucks but looked scrappy and cool, whereas The Phantom Menace was just the Hollywood version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon—it looks nice on the outside but has no substance, all fluff.

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