Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Marvel Rehabilitation

DC Comics had stolen a march, we weren't in the Golden Age any more and superheroes and comic books had grown and evolved into motion pictures.  Marvel fitfully competed with DC's own fitful efforts.  Licensing deals came and went and whilst X-Men scored big The Incredible Hulk was soon to have a reboot of a reboot. It was all a bit haphazard until a shuffling of management and the ascension of Kevin Feige.  Feige was to put a coherence to the making of Marvel films and forge the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The billion dollar juggernaut would awaken Disney whilst making DC look slightly impotent as they held Christopher Nolan forward as their one shining light.  It's not just the Easter eggs that make Marvel films work.  And to think Iron Man had been stuck in the very definition of development Hell for nearly 20 years.  Marvel just needed something, a little spark.

But how does he pee?

The spark was Robert Downey Jr.  The very definition of perfect casting as Tony Stark.  Stark and Downey Jr are immensely similar.  Essentially, both are brash Bruce Waynes, playboy arseholes with a twinkle in the eye that makes them forgivable and likable.  It's not even Downey Jr's impeccable facial hair that makes Iron Man a good movie.  It's paced perfectly, not too CGI dependant given the circumstances and the casting is spot on.  A relatively lame ending is handled well and pitched just about right by director Jon Favreau.

Iron Man always struck me as a Batman rip off without the emotional issues but the filmmakers have managed to distinguish the two.  Jarvis abandons human form to become a docile Terminator and Stark's relationship with Rhodes is brought in as a central theme.  The corporate giant isn't a Waynesque loner twisted by rage but a sociable, champagne swigging capitalist; Eisenhower's military-industrial complex in human form.  Stark's inherited genius and resourcefulness see him design a life saving exoskeleton which makes him Iron Man.  Seemingly at a loss for anything better to do Stark uses his alter ego to promote peace much to the chagrin of his business partner , Obadiah Stane.  It's amazing that a near death experience can cause an egotistic prick to abandon chasing profits to go off and do some manufacturing in his home workshop.  It's elements like this that make Stark a little unrelateable; he has everything at his disposal and the inexplicably named Pepper Potts will tidy up any mess he makes.  Iron Man rattles along enjoyably enough as Stark attempts to reconcile his friends with his new metallic persona whilst the background rumbles with Stane's Machiavellian jealousy.  Naturally enough it all comes to a head with two iron men battling each other.  It's the gentle introduction of Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. that make Iron Man less than formulaic. 

Now Stark isn't just at odds with himself and his former business partner but the quintessential Man In Black from the Government looms over him.  The explosion of popularity for S.H.I.E.L.D. has spun off across the Marvel universe and a lot of this is down to typecasting.  Clark Gregg is always a face of Government, neatly suited and booted in The West Wing or as a policeman in CSI amongst other things.  We have to wait for a hideously tacked on post credits scene to see just who Coulson works for, a scene which paves the way for all following movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man is used as an introductory tool, a foundation and a marker for what Feige wants from his comic book properties.  For years DC had the market cornered  with the exception of Marvel's interloping X Men but now there can only be one outcome: an Avengers film.  The only problem is how to introduce so many characters of a team without confusing an audience.  Marvel's solution was simple: give them all a standalone feature before bringing together a super team.  Iron Man is merely the first square.  Marvel passes go and collects considerably more than $200.

Iron Man was clearly produced with the intention to spawn a legacy of sequels and whilst Jeff Bridges is great you feel Downey Jr needs a villain for his quips to bounce off, someone like, say Sam Rockwell.  But he'll have to wait as Marvel are getting the green paint out again on Photoshop.

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