The Man in the Iron ManComplications Ensue
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Watched IRON MAN last night with Hunter. I was very happy with it. Together with BATMAN BEGINS, I'm hoping we're seeing a trend. Both movies put the character first. BATMAN BEGINS really delved into the drama of Batman. What kind of man dresses up in a batsuit and fights crime? Why would any sane person do such a thing? It wasn't just explaining the technology, though that was neat. It was the man Bruce Wayne, and who he would have to be, and what his personal journey would be.

Everyone has written about Robert Downey, Jr.'s great performance in IRON MAN. Maybe it's just because Downey has put himself through the mill that he projects so much about Tony Stark beyond what he merely says. We don't doubt that some woman hurt him once; he's not a playboy out of fun but because that's how he can relate to the world. His eyes say a lot.

But the script came first, and Downey had a great script to work with. Who is Tony Stark? What are his personal problems? He's kind of Asperger-y, isn't he? Doesn't have a lot of friends, can't tell when someone's not on his side, relates best to machines.

Both movies are portraits of men. Sure, neither is CITIZEN KANE. But CITIZEN KANE isn't CITIZEN KANE either, really, when you actually watch it as opposed to read about it. They're all Hollywood movies.

I'm up for a gig about a guy on the run from Mounties out in the woods. And what I told the producers was that I didn't want to make the guy your standard hero who is wrongly accused of a crime and has to run. I'd want to delve into who this character would be. The kind of guy who runs into the woods to evade cops is not your ordinary guy. The guy who can survive on his own in the woods is not someone who has much use for people. He probably makes bad decisions in social crises. He probably is someone you wouldn't want to have over to dinner. We might sympathize with him in the movie, but only the way you'd sympathize with a bear. You wouldn't want to have a bear over to dinner either.

Meanwhile, David Denby says the new Indiana Jones movies isn't that good, and if you read between the lines, the failing of the movie is the main character. Who is Indy really? What sort of man risks his life to chase after figurines? What drives him? What does he long for? I have an impression from the review that the screenwriter worked from the outside in, and that's fine, but he didn't get that far in, and wound up substituting "Harrison Ford will make something of this" for finding real dramatic meat.

The older I get the more my writing is about the characters. I wrote pretty good action sequences fifteen years ago; that always came easy. But the characters were not as rich as I try to make them now. I think a truly satisfying movie always has to be about a main character (or, rarely, in an ensemble movie, a small group) with a problem. You probably get the idea of the problem first; story comes first. But then, really delve into who the main character would be in this story. What kind of a person is he or she? What is he or she going through? What is it like to be him or her in these circumstances? That, I think, is how you turn a cartoon into a pretty darn good movie.

I didn't see the latest SUPERMAN movie, by the way. I doubt DC would let you do it, but there would be a pretty interesting movie if you got inside Superman's head. Raised by ordinary folks in Kansas, endowed with near-godlike powers, knowing you are the last scion of a planet and race that no longer exist ... that could make a guy a little weird. Certainly weirder than Christopher Reeve's Supes. There's a very dark Superman graphic novel in which the caped guy essentially becomes ruler of the world, with some unfortunate consequences for the rest of us. That's the kind of movie I'd like to see more of.

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One of the reasons that Batman and Ironman both focus on this is that both are regular humans who gained their super powers through mechanical means. As opposed to being an alien (Superman), gaining their powers against their will (Spiderman), or being born with mutations (X-Men).

This is not to say that those other films didn't effectively explore character as well. I think that the Spiderman films to a lesser degree, and the X-Men films moreso, delved into the characters. But it is simply that when a person chooses to become a superhero, they will necessarily be of a different ilk than someone who becomes a superhero as a result of circumstances beyond their control.

By Blogger Fun Joel, at 1:15 PM  

You know about Eric Rudolph? Christian terrorist, he hid out in Appalachian mountains from 1998-2003. As a protest his brother videoed himself cutting his arm off with the power saw and sent it to the FBI. So you cant question their weird sincerity. Survival stories are some of my favorites, except they must be very difficult, because I don't see many that I like. You tread a fine line with that much simplicity of motive perhaps. Like I found Gerry to be dreary although well made. For years the Naked Prey was my favorite film. So smart.
I have yet to see a comic book movie that was involving. The newer batman I kind of half-remember as being okay. But compare Christian Bale in that to his character in Rescue Dawn. In Rescue Dawn you fear for him that he will have to kill three guys by himself. It's memorable. Batman does that before breakfast without a second thought. Their invincibility is what makes them boring.

By Blogger wren, at 1:34 PM  

That's basically my problem with Heroes, where almost all the characters are good and noble, but basically just stand around whining about having powers. As if! How are most of the main characters not seduced by the power they acquire? It's an unrealistic viewpoint of human nature, and it makes the characters shallow.

And of course, when a character is evil, like Sylar, there's no gradient, he's CUTTING OUT PEOPLE'S BRAINS and trying to take over the world. They don't necessarily need more bad guys, I think they just need more internal moral conflict.

By Blogger Trevor Finn, at 5:01 PM  

Personally, I found the stories of Iron Man and Batman Begins almost too structurally similarly. Maybe it's just because the big bad was a little too similar.

I think, for the Superman comic you're referring to, is Red Son. Very interesting.

And no, Superman Returns or whatever it was did not delve into the character very satisfactorily. The story before the movie started, where he tried to find Krypton, would most certainly have been A LOT more interesting than the sub-par yet fun movie they released.

Regarding the new Indy movie, I think one issue is that the viewers have become less naive about movies and have risen their expectations of movies. Not a bad thing, but as we saw with the Star Wars prequels, it's hard to meet the audience's expectations when it comes to a "sanctified" movie franchise.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 6:10 PM  

Remaking 'First Blood'?

By Blogger Sous Chef Gerard, at 6:52 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:37 AM  

Superman's big problem is that he's so powerful, it's almost impossible to "plausibly" present him with a worthy antagonist. (I've got a great one in mind, but I ain't saying.) The last film was almost beat for beat identical to the first Christopher Reeve film.

By Blogger David, at 5:22 PM  

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