Periscope Depth

he was turned to steel in the great magnetic field

This week’s media blow incorporates the latest in Stark repulsor technology.

Iron Man: Dude. Iron Man. Dude. Iron Man.

Dude.

Jon Favreau directed perhaps the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen (short of The Incredibles). I suspect he pulled this off because he made a priority of making a good movie first, and a superhero movie second. Favreau wandered through the same minefield that every superhero movie does but emerged unscathed. Let’s take a look:

Tedious Origin Story: Robert Downey Jr, as playboy millionaire Tony Stark, spends the first half of the movie inventing his suit, testing its powers and reveling in his new identity. Why does this work, when it failed for other movies? Because Tony Stark makes Iron Man. He didn’t wake up one morning with super-strength and wall-stickiness. He didn’t get struck by lightning after being dosed by chemicals. The process of experimentation and forging invests us more than following the blithe adventures of a lucky idiot.

Wacky Villains: When you adapt a comic book to the big screen, you realize that guys in blue tights or villains in green and yellow costumes look ridiculous in the real world. Seriously. They look like cartoons. No one would take them seriously. Favreau avoids this by retaining the same names and general ideas, but completely revamping them for a modern story. I won’t spoil the connections for comic book purists – just pay close attention to what people say.

I … Will Avenge … You: As fun as Spider-Man was, I had a hard time with a movie where everyone took everything they said so seriously. Tobey Maguire couldn’t tell someone he needed milk from the store without a wistful look in his eyes and stern resolution in his jawline. But Downey, Terence Howard and Jeff Bridges talk just like regular people talk. They talk over each other, sometimes. They throw off-hand remarks. They’re regular people who just happen to have access to incredible weaponry.

Well, My Work Here Is Done: I never realized how weak the traditional superhero origin story sounded until walking out of Iron Man. Okay, I have super powers. I’m going to put on a costume to avenge my parents’ / family’s / neighbor’s death. Having finished that, rather than return to a normal life, I’ll keep doing this, going after lower and lower stakes until I die or get tired of it. Stark’s purpose in becoming Iron Man doesn’t stop after the first film’s villain buys it, though. He has a clear goal in mind: ridding the world of the weaponry his company created. That goal may expand (it’ll probably have to, to keep the franchise going), but at least he starts with a logical reason for superheroics.

Flip the Script: In addition to surviving and improving on all the standard superhero movie tropes, Iron Man flips several on its head. These will not only entertain your average comic book fan, but will keep the casual moviegoer from rolling their eyes at the awkward suspension of disbelief.

I recommend this film without qualification.

I may discuss some spoilers in the comments, so tread with care.

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