Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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The Good Dr.’s Reasons Why Not: Iron Man

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 25, 2008

“The truth is…”

First, let me square with you guys here: 24 hours ago, I didn’t know a single fucking thing about Iron Man at all outside of what I saw in the previews for this movie. In general, I don’t know squat about anything comics-related outside of ways they might be represented in other mediums–in other words, unless they made a movie or TV show about it, comics are up there with geography, carpentry and love in terms of the subjects on which I feel the least qualified to express opinions. So all I had to go on going into Iron Man was the Black Sabbath song, the Ghostface Killah alias (which is actually “Tony StarkS,” which confused me greatly for the first half-hour of the movie) and the fact that Robert Downey Jr. looked like kind of a dick in the movie. Who he was, how he got there, what he can do and what he actually does–all mysteries to me.

So bear this in mind when I discuss why Iron Man, and its plot, specifically, left me so flustered and unsatisfied. And also bear in mind that I would hardly say this movie is a complete waste of time–though given the fact that I go to the movies like a half-dozen times a year, and that I had the choice to see Street Kings were I so inclined, it probably wasn’t the best choice. But the performance of Robert Downey Jr. alone (in the part he was born to play, but honestly, which of them isn’t?) alone made it worthwhile, plus a couple decent action sequences and YouTube-worthy moments of ridiculousness helped out a little, so I’m not complaining too much. But the reviews and fan reaction of this movie seemed to place it as being on the level of the still-peerless Batman Begins, and to quote the man himself: I respectfully disagree.

Now, the obvious argument against my following points (aside from pointing out all my misrememberances and factual errors, anyway) will be that arguing about a lack of realism in a comic book adaptation is roughly analogous to arguing about a lack of suspense in Andy Warhol’s Sleep. Fair enough, but Iron Man seemed to me an attempt at the mold established by Batman Begins (which, rightfully or no, will be the movie I compare all comic-book adaptations to from now until the unlikely event that a better one comes along), in which a sort of “well…what would it look and sound like what if this ridiculous stuff actually happened in the real world?” attitude replaces the usual alternate-universe vibe of most superhero movies past. And to fit this new ideal, in my eyes at least, maybe you can stretch credulity a little, but you have to be essentially logical. And not too much of this movie felt logical to me.

Most of the problems for me started when Robert Downey Jr. was captured by The Ten Rings, or whoever those dudes were. Before that, it’s just Robert Downey Jr. being an alocohol-guzzling playboy with a flexible conscience and a limitless budget, which could have made up the whole two hours for all I cared, since the man is so compulsively watchable. But let’s break this plot development down for just a few seconds. These guys take out a couple of military Humvees, occupied by soldiers that likely know their stuff, without Stark suffering fatal injuries. So they’re clearly at least fairly competent, decent-planning individuals. And yet, while imprisoning the man:

  • They let Tony canoodle the entire time with an English-speaking sympathist, who also happens to be a brilliant doctor and presumably an OK scientist. What, no second cell in their entire mountain bunker?
  • They put a couple cameras in Tony’s workspace / holding area for peace of mind, and leave it at that, not wanting to waste manhours on in-guard cells. Never mind that they’ve just supposedly given the scientific genius all the tools he needs to create some megasuperweapon, I guess they figure a bit of blind-spot prone surveillance in a room that, given the response time to the first guards Tony and helper kill, is probably about a half-mile away from their hub, ought to do the trick.
  • Clearly the leader dude can speak English, but in the meantime, isn’t there one other guy in all the Ten Rings that he can deputize to hang around negotiations with Tony and helper to make sure that they aren’t plotting in English the entire time right under their nose? I don’t even let my best friends talk in mutually-spoken foreign languages at my house just in case they’re gossiping or plotting a fast one on me or something, but this guy’s willing to let two geniuses chatter the day away unmonitored?
  • The last part, and by far the most ridiculous part–the Ten Rings leader guy (yeah I know I’m sure he’s big, but I don’t remember his name, and I don’t plan on retaining the info long enough for it to be worth learning it) comes into Tony’s cell as he and helper (same deal) are almost done building the proto-Iron Man suit, sees that not only are they obviously not building anything resembling a missile, but in fact are building some sort of metal super-suit (he even finds the blueprints for the fucking thing, jeez). And what does he do? He gives them just one more day. He doesn’t ask about the supersuit, he doesn’t confiscate any of the pieces, and you better believe he doesn’t assign a guard to keep an eye on any new developments. He doesn’t even kick ’em in the nuts or something to show what a fear-worthy badass he is. The cherry on top: He even hits them with one of those “Do you think I’m stupid?” type supervillain brags when explaining how brilliant he was to figure out that gosh darn it, the two probably weren’t trying their hardest to build a supermissile for their captors.

Sorry, I refuse to believe that there are any terrorist cells out there that are quite that amateurish–Commando-era Arnie would’ve quashed the whole thing in about 40 seconds, tops. From there, the movie gets a little smoother–though it’s never as much fun as it is in that first half-hour, and all the bantering with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, who doesn’t do a bad job but isn’t given much but “Oh Robert Downey Jr.” type swoons to do) feels pretty forced most of the time. But just before the movie’s climax, we get to another pair of plot holes that bother me just as much.

OK, so we get to the scene where Gwenyth Paltrow finds out what a badass Obediah Stane (Jeff Bridges, who actually is a pretty rockin’ badass in the movie) is, hacking into his computer on minimal instructions from ol’ Irony (glad to know that hack0rz skillz is on the list of employee requirements for personal assistant positions these days, by the way). Despite like the least smooth playing-it-cool ever from Pepper, the brilliant but apparently extremely psychologically imperceptive Obediah lets her get away from his clutches before realizing that she knows about his badness.

Now, at this point, it would be safe to assume that the next destination of each would be to pay Tony a visit–Pepper wanting to warn him about Obediah’s nefarious deeds and Obediah wanting to kill him before Pepper can warn him, and before he can suit up and take down Obediah on his own. But first, Obediah goes back to his lab to check on his super-extremo-Iron-Man project and go into a hissy fit at his assistants for not having figured out the secret to making the suit run yet. And yet, despite this detour–which depending on traffic, could’ve taken hours–he STILL beats Pepper to the punch, who must have taken forever debriefing the SHIELD dudes before remembering “oh shit, this might mean Tony is in danger too” and giving him a panicked phonecall to make sure he’s OK, by which point Obediah has settled up next to the Ironist with his nifty but far too short-term paralysis dealie. And this woman still has a job at the end of the movie??!?! Unbelievable.

I don’t mean to give the movie too much shit–it does do some things right, has the correct spirit a lot of the time and paves the groundwork for what could possibly be some superior sequels. But the movie’s real problem, of course, is that the action isn’t good enough, and Downey doesn’t stay charming enough, for me to turn my brain off to all this shit. By the time the movie got to its exceedingly predictable four-word concluding statement, and its accompanying titular soundtrack, I was already thinking ahead to how much better The Dark Knight was probably going to be. The sight of a beyond-the-grave Heath Ledger giving it the business in creepily appropriate The Crow makeup should go a long way towards covering for any potential plot gaps in that one anyway.

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