Monday, July 28 2008

Super Movie Review!

It's very rare that I get to see movies in the theater; I think the last time was several years ago.  It costs about as much to buy the DVD for a movie when it comes out as it does for two people to actually go to the theater, and that's before time and food are taken into consideration.  However, I did break down and see both Iron Man and The Dark Knight in theaters over the past three weeks.  The experience was culturally interesting, for both the content of the films and the overall experience, although both movies were good enough that I almost couldn't think about it while the movies were in progress.

Here are some of my thoughts (non-spoilers above the break and spoilers after the break):

They've really stepped up advertising before the films begin.  When I last saw films in theaters, there was a slide show of local advertising before the trailers while the house lights were up and people were coming in.  Now, they've added full video ads, most for TV shows I have no intention of watching.  No spectacular trailers, but I could feel the sanctimonious schlock pouring from the Day the Earth Stood Still trailer, and from the trailers the new Mummy sequel felt a lot more pulpy (in a good way) than the new Indiana Jones sequel.

Both movies were good, and I heartily recommend them to any sci-fi / anime geek.  The Dark Knight was dark, scary, emotional, suspenseful and not at all scholcky.  Iron Man was a more stereotypical action film, but it was complete and the special effects were both fun and imaginative, something that seems hard to accomplish these days, and it was nice to see someone do power armor right (It made up for the awful Starship Troopers movie.  I paid for powered armor, you bastards!).  That's about all I can say without risking spoilers.  All spoilers below the fold.
I've never been a devoted fan of comic book super heroes, but both Batman and Iron Man have been at the top of my list, because both are examples of men going out and pulling themselves to the level of superheroes by their own efforts.  It's interesting that the differences should be so... stark.  Batman is Batman, "Bruce Wayne" is just the disguise.  On the other hand, "Iron Man" has no presence whatsoever; even wearing the armor, Tony Stark shines through from within.  Bruce Wayne poses as the billionaire playboy, while Tony Stark is the billionaire playboy.  Batman is the product of "market research" into how to scare the criminals of Gotham, while the Iron Man suit is fundamentally a hobby project, colored red because it looked cool on one of Tony Stark's sports cars.

Iron Man
: It's damn good for a superhero origin story.  The characters, besides Tony Stark himself, aren't too deep, and the villain is a paper thin cutout placeholder for a real villain. A story has to have a villain, so they included one, but the meat of the story is Tony Stark's journey from playboy billionaire to playboy billionaire with powered armor.  Robert Downey Jr., playing Tony Stark, does a good job of passing himself off as the bastard child of Howard Hughes and Robert Heinlein, and the fact that they can make the engineering the most fun part of the movie is a real achievement.  That's what Stark is, first and foremost, an engineer.  (Okay, he's an engineer second, playboy first.)

The product placement was distracting at times, especially the cars.  I thought I was in for a treat when I saw the brief flash of a Burger King bag early on and thought, okay, that's tasteful, a brief suggestion that this is the real world but not such that it's obviously product placement (except that just about any real-world product on screen these days is product placement).  But, no, they go and ladle it on thick once or twice.  Obnoxious product placement is a sure way to distract me from the movie, but at least I can say that I've seen significantly worse.

Another problem with this movie was that it was a nice and self contained origin story, but with the good part (the origin of the suit) out of the way, the story tapers off to knocking down the cutout villain, and I don't see how an interesting sequel is possible.  I see how they can make a sequel;  they can make a sequel to anything.  I just don't see how they can make it interesting.  With good anime series, once you've reached the end of the season, there's a conclusion and the story is done.  My impression was that Iron Man was done.  The conclusion, Tony Stark admitting to the press that he is the Iron Man, however, goes down as one of the greatest WTF moments in storytelling.  The hero isn't supposed to give up his secret identity on national TV; good thing he was committing acts of war against Absurdistan and not playing LA vigilante.

The Dark Knight:  Batman is almost an afterthought in this movie, as Heath Ledger steals the show as the Joker.  Batman himself seems flat and lifeless, and his hoarse Batman voice is grating.  The Joker, however, is a truly diabolical psychopath, and he drives the story by himself, dragging everyone along with his descent into the abyss of madness.  The action was surprisingly boring, as it was generally impossible to make out what was going on (though the armored car fight was pretty well done, and the opening bank robbery was great).  It was the psychological parts, the interrogation, the rescue, the ferry, and the final standoff, where the movie delivered.

The plus side, no product placement (aside from perhaps the Lambourghini, though I don't see why you need product placement for that).  I suspect there may have been a cell phone placement, but I didn't notice it in the film itself.  The movie was, however, definitely too long, and it still looks like some important explanation was cut.  Gotham General Hospital looked like it serves a city of 40,000, not a city of 4,000,000.  The Gotham police department looks like it needs more paranoia amongst its cops and the phone number for the local FBI office.

The series leaves emotional room for a sequel, where Batman has to redeem himself in the eyes of Gotham, but I don't think any of his remaining villains have the gravitas to pull off what a sequel needs, which is another threat to the whole city.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 22 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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Regards Iron Man sequel,

The new Batman movies have been superb...I agree this Joker will be a very tough act to follow.

Posted by: Brickmuppet at Aug 12 05 59 (9ha+4)

2 Yeah, I caught the bit after the closing credits, but it doesn't change my belief that they probably can't make a good follow-up.  Although I like Marvel's success at self-production, I think their potential follow-up is a disaster waiting to happen.  Any superhero movie with more than one hero is tricky at best, impossible at worst.  The more heroes you have, the more of the plot you have to devote to giving each of your characters / actors screen time, and the less to actual plot.  And that's before you add in the villain; you either get a munchkin uber-villain that requires all the characters working together to thwart, which is cliche and silly, or you get one villain per hero, which both increases the cast-plot problem and is also cliche and silly.

Posted by: Civilis at Aug 12 20 13 (wdUp+)

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