Monday, September 08, 2008

I'm Thinking: Iron Man and Dark Knight and Joss Whedon

I'm really looking forward to seeing both Iron Man and The Dark Knight on dvd, and, in fact, I think I'll show them in my Cinema and Screenwriting class later this year because I'm the teacher and I say we're going to have a short superhero cinema unit in January. So there! But, honestly, I came out of The Dark Knight completely stunned by the brilliance of Heath Ledger's performance but with mixed feelings about the rest of the movie. On the other hand, I thought Iron Man was almost-pitch perfect from beginning to end. Nothing in that movie was as fascinating as Ledger's Joker, but it also wasn't as wildly inconsistent. Iron Man was a sleek, fun, thrilling exploration of that character's world, done better than any comic book incarnation of the character ever.

Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight, as excellent as it was, still had Christian Bale's terrible bat-voice (at least have a character in the movie comment upon how ridiculous he sounds, or something!), Nicky Katt (who I love, but who had a scene that was tonally out-of-place), and a lot of speechifyin' about justice.

Iron Man had evil Jeff Bridges in a giant suit of robot armor.

So, I'm tending to lean toward Iron Man as my favorite superhero movie, but that's why I'm looking forward to the dvd releases, because I want to watch them both again.

You know what, though? Even though they are surely the two best superhero movies ever made, no matter how you rank them (and I know everyone else in the world has TDK as number one, but maybe you will rethink that after the dvd releases. Or maybe I'm 100% completely and utterly wrong), I am kind of obsessed with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog these days, and now that I've downloaded the soundtrack and have been listening to it as I drive to work, I don't know what to think anymore.

My live-action superhero judgment has gone haywire.

Seriously, though. I love Dr. Horrible so, so much. I'm not a big Joss Whedon guy, although I like Firefly quite a bit. But Dr. Horrible is the best thing he's ever done. I'd rank it as my favorite movie of the year, if it were a movie. So take that, Iron Man and Dark Knight!


Dean Trippe said...

I think the common ground of these being two of the best superhero movies ever should be noted by all, but I'm definitely in the TDK camp for top dog. I saw that movie four times in theaters, twice on IMAX. I think that Iron Man had a better final cut, but that Dark Knight covered things that matter FAR more to me. Plus, Batman's just a better story than Iron Man.

I think it's easier to sell a playboy hero who really IS a playboy, but Batman saving the Joker at the end beats the flipping SNOT out of Tony Stark killing terrorists with flame-throwers, imo.

Still, I will watch both, many, many times on DVD. :)

Ranald said...

The main problem with Iron Man as a film comes in the final act - the fight with Jeff Bridges is a dull anticlimax with no real stakes or drama, just CGI robots bouncing off each other for 10 minutes. It's still a good popcorn movie, but Dark Knight has it over Iron Man in quality of performances, visual style (IM is sleek but not terribly interesting to look at), thematic depth, characterisation *and* action movie thrills - the car chase in Dark Knight is fantastic.

Marc Caputo said...

Then, Tim, which of the two - Buffy or Angel - does Whedon fail for you?

I started as a Buffy fan (S3 - the latest good place to start), but came to hate S6 and S7 was redeemed by some small things but largely by Nathan Fillion (Firefly and Dr. Horrible).

To me, Angel works better season for season. Still, looking forward to Dollhouse.

BTW, are you watching Abrams' Fringe tomorrow? Isn't it funny how when LOST started, it was "Abrams' LOST" and now it's more "Cuse and Lindelof's LOST"?

Timothy Callahan said...

I've only seen the first four seasons of Buffy and the first season of Angel. And I guess I'll watch the rest eventually--they're sitting on my wife's dvd shelf (which pales in comparison to my mighty dvd wing-o-the-house). But, really, I'm not a Buffy OR an Angel guy.

Matthew E said...

they are surely the two best superhero movies ever made, no matter how you rank them

This is a very strong statement. I know they're both (as Dean said) among the best, although I haven't seen Iron Man yet, but...

Spider-Man II?
maybe X2?
The Incredibles?
(deep breath, because I know nobody's going to go along with me on this one) Unbreakable?

Marc Caputo said...

Matthew: I'll take your back on Unbreakable. Also, Iron Man WAS awesome, but X2 still trumps most.

As an old man, myself, I still give it up for Superman: the Movie and Superman II (either cut - although the Donner one needs to be watched more)

Timothy Callahan said...

Having just seen Unbreakable and X2 recently, I will say that they have fallen DRAMATICALLY from my grace.

They aren't nearly as good as I had remembered.

Iron Man and Dark Knight are easily #1 and #2 all time. They are a tier above everything else, although The Incredibles would be close.

Marc Caputo said...

Damnit, Callahan! Now I have to watch them all again!

This work thing is REAALLLLY getting in the way of my fun.

Mark said...

I'd definitely put Spider Man II (and maybe even the old Superman movies) over Dark Knight. I had a great time at TDK, but the more I thought about it, the final third of the movie was a mess. I think this one's going to have the same fate as X2 and Unbreakable (which I agree with you about; they haven't aged well).

suedenim said...

I tend to agree with Matthew E. In particular, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles are hard to top. The Incredibles is sort of a thing unto itself, not entirely in the genre of "superhero movie," perhaps. Spider-Man 2, I think, is the best at capturing the essence of its source material ever. The look, the heightened melodrama, the humor... it's all straight out of Lee, Ditko, and Romita's work.

I loved Iron Man, though, and am not as high on Nolan's Batman movies as many. I also look forward to re-examining them on DVD....

Kris Krause said...

Iron Man was really weak in the villain department. Obadiah Stane was nothing more than a stereotypical evil businessman who happened to get a giant, metal suit of armor for the last fight scene. More should have been done with him because I felt like his scenes were filler in between the funny lines from Stark and the subdued romance between Stark and Potts. It was a very good movie, but it comes in at number 3 for me, behind both of Nolan's Batman movies.

Here's one where I'm almost always in the minority and I can't figure out why; what's with all the love for Spider-Man II? The melodrama was on overdrive, the characterizations were off for Spider-Man (where was his sense of humor?) and Mary Jane (isn't she supposed to be a sexy, confident supermodel?), that train scene after the fight is beyond cheesy, and I was bored to tears in the theater. Every time I've tried to watch it again either on TV or borrowing someone else's DVD I invariably fall asleep. The first Spider-Man was okay and I forgave the melodrama for it being the origin story, but the second one took everything I didn't like about the first and turned up the volume.

Vanja said...

I think that the two villains in the movie maybe made the Dark Knight feel a bit crowded. Two Face had way too much of the screen time, and it's no accident that he get to come out as Batman in front of the newspapers, he kidnapped Bruce's movie:)

Dark Knight really made me see how uneven the Bat books have been since Batman Year One. Even with all of the limitations of a big Hollywood production, the Hollywood guys outdid everything DC did with the character in the last twenty years, in my opinion! I don't want to see any of that continuity come up for adaptation in the movie, not Bane and not the quake, Bruce Wayne murderer or anything.

On the other hand, Iron Man really worked brilliantly, it didn't aspire to be as complex as Dark Knight but Robert Downey jr. just made the movie a great experience.

Mark said...

Don't forget, there were THREE villains at the end of Dark Knight (including Moroni, who got totally forgotten). The whole Two-Face resolution felt completely rushed; he should've been pushed to a third movie or had this movie run longer (excise that whole pointless escapade in China, or the needless minutes it took to eject that motorcycle toy from the batmobile).

Vanja said...

It's interesting how some people thought it was a real let down that the more super-hero aspects of Batman were turned down. I heard a couple of complaints that it was a crime drama disguised as a superhero movie - but isn't that what Batman should be when it's firing on all its cylinders.

The same people complained about Batman not being the center of every scene's attention, but I'm fine with that. We've all seen a lot of Batman, through multiple animated series and movie versions so that making a conscious decision to let Batman react to other characters this time around is anything but bad.

DC and Warner Brothers should be applauded for the way they've been able to save the seemingly irreversible damage the license suffered after the campy 1960s TV series.

James said...

I think Unbreakable is a great movie and investigation of superheroes, but lacks the visceral thrills one expects from a Great Superhero Movie.

Incredibles is surprisingly adult and there's some wonderful aesthetics under all the dull Pixarification, but philosophically it's horrifying.

X-Men 2 gets by on its (admittedly awesome) fanboy moments - Wolverine cutting loose, Colossus' cameo etc. - but fails to properly cohere as a movie. I prefer the first one.

There was a brilliantly damning quote about Spider-Man 2; something about it being a relationship movie with no recognisably human characters or dialogue. Damn I wish I could find that. But yeah, fighting Doc Ock on the train is awesome, much of the rest isn't, particularly.

So yes, Dark Knight and Iron Man are the top dogs, no question. And Batman edges it out, for me. Love that Joker.

Greg said...

Another vote for Unbreakable. It's not a "superhero" movie like we think it should be, but it examines the phenomenon better than The Dark Knight does. And I liked The Dark Knight a lot.

Timothy Callahan said...

Re: Incredibles

"but philosophically it's horrifying."

I've heard this complaint before and I don't understand it. The philosophy of the movie seems to be that you shouldn't pretend to be anything less than you are. Don't hold yourself back just because you can do things other can't.

I don't see anything horrifying about that. The movie isn't saying that Syndrome is evil because he lacks innate abilities, it's saying that he's misusing his abilities and not living up to his full potential because he's obsessed with trying to be someone else.

Explain the horror to me.

Matthew E said...

I don't think the philosophy in The Incredibles is horrifying, exactly, but there are problems with it, as I touched on here. Or maybe James had this kind of thing in mind.

Timothy Callahan said...

Yeah, I pretty much completely disagree with that interpretation, though. It oversimplifies the characters to fit a prescribed thesis. And you might as well do the same for every superhero movie.

The philosophy of all three Spider-Man movies: Women must be saved by men.

All Batman movies: Physical attractiveness is good, while deformity is evil.

Or, all Batman movies: The super-wealthy can maintain their power by punching the disenfranchised in the teeth.

Those underlying philosophies are far more horrifying than saying that someone with an innate talent should use it.

(And, of course, they are all inaccurate because of their oversimplification.)

James said...

"The philosophy of all three Spider-Man movies: Women must be saved by men."
Well, sure, that's not their only philosophy...

"Horrifying" was blog-comment hyperbole, but I like your post on it there, Matthew E. The parallels to an economic hierarchy struck me just after I commented yesterday.

I don't think its over-simplification to read that Syndrome's villainy is a result of his (inauthentic, not innate) attempts at self-improvement. It's been a while since I've seen it, but it feels like you have to work more to see him as "misusing his abilities and not living up to his full potential" - I never got the impression that he could have been anything other than the villain. We're explicitly told in the movie that not everyone is special, so even if Syndrome could have used his abilities to better himself in a non-evil fashion (still don't buy it), it's notable that the Horror Scenario of his Evil Scheme is to make "everyone Super... so no one will be."

James Arlemagne said...

Unbreakable is the best of the Shyamalan franchise. Regardless of it feeling like it belongs in the comic genre for story, it is a far cry from a great superhero movie.

Iron Man I believe had the crispness to be the best superhero film thus far, I give it an A-.

The Christian Bale batman films I like the most from that series. Long, good performances, stunning in areas, but lacking the comic feel. It has comic style elements and deserves high marks. I loved it and yet it was not the superhero film Iron Man was.

Regardless of preference, growing up more with X-Men and Spider-Man myself - those films were clearly inferior in MOST ways.

It was refreshing to see the box office response for comic films. I thought you had to make films like spider-man with the feel of Titanic to rake in money these days.