Its not the Bat costume… its the self-assembly kits.

IM3Its a guy (or lady) who dresses up in a funny costume and solves societies problems not by tackling world hunger, social inequality or even corrupt politicians, but rather by beating bad guys up. Of course modern films make it look very realistic and grounded in reality, but superhero films are inherently, well, silly; childhood daydreams and fantasies brought to $120 million+ life. A billionaire dresses like a bat and beats up poor people who have been forced/compelled by circumstance to turn to crime, or genuine certifiable nutters who dress up like penguins or scarecrows or clowns and try to have a good time by being both mad and bad. Daft, but the films are made with such sincerity and sophistication we just seem to accept them and they are often received with such praise and huge box-office.  It just makes it difficult really to criticise them.

My question is this: Where to draw the line with superhero films? There is a line, surely. Come on,admit it, its there somewhere. Even the most hardcore Marvel/DC fan knows what I’m on about. I mean, ignoring the inherent daftness of radioactive spiders or Norse gods or big green men with anger issues, where exactly does one draw the line and say, “beyond this point this film must not cross, otherwise I’m standing up and screaming NO! NO! NO! at the screen”. There has to be some point at which the natural laws of credibility finally snap.

For me its IRON MAN 3 and the flying suit parts that reassemble all by themselves, parts that fly 842 miles at one point, if my incredulous ears got it right, to save the day. Did the parts ‘see’ where they were going/turn round street corners/fly around unwitting pedestrians/cars/buildings as they sped to their owners aid? Parts that leap onto the hero and snap into place without quickly crunching bones or breaking spines. Why, after seeing everything else in that movie, it was the self-assembly Iron Man kit that delivers Anytime Anyplace Anywhere that finally crossed the line I don’t know. But it did. I could even accept him collecting all those unfortunates who fell out of Air Force One at thousands of feet, or those On Demand Auto-Iron Men that make our hero Tony Stark redundant, or those glow in the dark super-villains with an unfortunate habit of exploding taking buildings out in an instant. But those flying self-assembly Iron Suit bits… just, well…

Thor 2: The Dark World (2013)

thor2This was a great superhero film- indeed I do believe this must be one of the very best superhero films that I’ve ever seen.  How weird is that? Somehow I didn’t see a film as good as that coming, but here it is.

Certainly its better than the first Thor movie, taking everything to the next level. Its confident, its bold, its fun, it’s superbly paced and it doesn’t take itself at all too seriously. Its a ‘proper’ superhero movie; while I appreciate the realistic/moody Batman films they aren’t by any means honest to the original comics. Thor, though, at least feels like a ‘sixties comic book brought to cinematic life, in that respect more authentic than, say, Man of Steel, which was so far up its own self-important arse that it beggared belief. Thor 2 is a far better movie. The cast in particular is note-perfect; they look amazingly relaxed in their roles, particularly Hemsworth and Hiddleton. They simply are Thor and Loki. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent. Its amazing how well the whole film just works.

But the funny thing is, what I kept on thinking of whilst watching Thor 2 was, of all things,  Star Wars. It was just the sense of ease and confidence that the film has, and how the Dark Elves that feature as the villains were a great analogue for how the Sith could look like in a future Star Wars movie. And the architecture of Asgard, the ship designs, even the sound effects… Frankly, the whole look and feel and sound of Thor 2, it somehow felt like a Star Wars movie, at least the nearest thing since the John Carter movie. As a huge Star Wars fan (well, of the Original Trilogy anyway) this meant the film was right up my alley, offering tantalising glimpses of what we may be in for in Christmas 2015 if Disney gets it right.

These superhero films seem to dominate modern cinema nowadays and its easy to forget how difficult they are to make. Actors might find it hard not to feel silly in a costume, and the stunts and effects work needed to match the simplest brush-strokes of a comic-book artist in a single panel don’t come cheap. But when it works, as it does here, it looks and feels like the easiest thing in all the world. I thought The Avengers and Iron Man would take some beating, but here we are. I think its that good.

This disc even features the best of the Marvel One Shot’s– Ben Kinglsey’s thespian arch-villain Trevor Slattery from Iron Man 3 returns in All Hail the King, which is such a scream from start to finish its almost worth the price of the disc alone, and nearly had me hunting down a copy of Iron Man 3 to watch him again.

Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer: Iron Man 3 Reaches the All-Time Top Five.

iron3Well, there’s no accounting for taste.

According to Box Office Mojo, the online tracker of film box-office takings, summer super-hero film  Iron Man 3 has become the fifth top-grossing film of all time,  having now made $1.14 billion worldwide, surpassing the takings of previous fifth place movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Well, its certainly true that one shouldn’t confuse financial success with quality, as that Transformers film’s success proves, but I must confess I was frankly gob-smacked at this news regards Iron Man 3.  I thought it was an ‘okay’ movie but in no way did I ever suspect it would prove to be the hit it apparently is.

I guess if nothing else it should make Robert Downey Jr’s negotiations regards Iron Man 4 something of a headache for the notoriously level-headed and cost-concious Marvel Studios executives.

But what is it about Iron Man? I remember feeling rather ‘meh’ several years ago when the first film was announced, as I had thought the character rather low-tier/ second-rate Marvel, but I was proven wrong back then and look to be continually so-proven today. The public sure loves the metal hero, or at least Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic, stylish performance (really, though, considering his other movie performances, is Downey ever playing a character or just himself? Is his Tony Stark a great leap from his Sherlock Holmes?). To what then do we account for the huge success of the film, and indeed the character/Downey’s presence towards the success of the Avengers movie, which is even higher up in third place on the all-time list?

The public certainly doesn’t seem to be tiring of super-hero movies, which no doubt has Warner Bros drooling at the prospects of its imminent Man of Steel movie. Personally while I enjoy the movies I’m beginning to think Marvel Studios is becoming some kind of monster devouring critics and box-office records in its path. Where will it all end?

This does bring to mind something I saw on BBC News a few weeks ago. It was an item raising the perceived low-importance of female characters in current films, poor roles for actresses and the perhaps continuing male-dominance of the film industry, particularly in America.  One of the women interviewed was a UK producer, I forget her name but she did state that it all may be symptomatic of the way Hollywood makes movies now, particularly its blockbusters. Her point was that as Hollywood is aiming its films at an ever-more international market (I believe the Chinese print of Iron Man 3 actually has a few scenes/shots unique to that territory), its easier to ‘sell/translate’ these films to foreign markets by minimising dialogue and simplifying plot-lines, and emphasising the visuals. An action sequence translates into any language and can be understood by anybody on the planet, as opposed to a dialogue-heavy, twisting plot that might be culturally unique or have elements at odds with certain beliefs/cultures. So women play a minor role in blockbuster films which instead of characterisation extol action and visual spectacle.  Likewise we get stupid films like Star Trek Into Darkness (currently $258 million worldwide after about two weeks) that is littered with crowd-pleasing vacuous ‘wow’ moments that sell just as easily to a kid in California as to a kid in Shanghai or Sydney.  Let’s have a shot of the Enterprise-in-hiding raising itself out of the ocean in a huge fx shot to wow the cinema-goers who won’t think about how more secret and low-key it would have been just to keep the damn ship out of sight in orbit.

I guess what this means is that I’m going to be even more annoyed by crass stupidity in script-writing in future, as the box-office takings of these films seem to prove it actually works. Hollywood is more about making money than making great films after-all (its nice when both happen together but that seems to be a rarity). Films apparently don’t have to really make sense as much as they need to be making money. Nothing new I know, but as bigger budgets infer bigger financial risk, studios will increasingly play it safe in a need to sell their product to ever-more international markets. Which is a bit of an ominous prospect for me at least, because that seems to translate as Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

iron3Iron Man 3 is certainly  a welcome improvement on the ill-judged Iron Man 2. Unfortunately it suffers the hardship of following on from the superlative Avengers movie (a problem also shared by the impending Captain America and Thor sequels). There is just no way it could live up to that movies huge epic scale, and for the most part, it doesn’t seem as if it even wants to. It just follows its own path, albeit with some welcome consideration of the impact that the events of the Avengers movie would have on the characters, particularly Iron Man himself, who glimpsed  things through the wormhole that have left a mark on his once overconfident psyche. It may be somewhat superficial in execution but its surprising nonetheless. Just a pity it involves an irritating and needless child sidekick for some of the movie.

In this film,  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) stays out of the Iron Man suit for a lot of the time, even for many of the action sequences, and I can understand the logic behind it. Its a problem many of these comicbook films suffer from- why spend millions for a ‘star’ actor only to hide them behind a mask for most of the time? Indeed, it could be anyone once the mask is on. There is also the dramatic element of seeing the hero’s face/eyes etc and emphasising with the character, rather than the distancing (albeit iconic), features of a mask.  As a dramatic device I can appreciate its value, but it is something that irritated me endlessly with the Spiderman movies- in every film’s grande finale he seems to spend most of the time without the mask even on.

In the case of Iron Man3, it can be argued that over three movies prior, we’ve seen everything there is to see regards Iron Man suited up in action. We know what he can do. Having the character out of the suit and in jeopardy can only increase the tension (and get the studio more quality time ‘seeing’ the expensive actor rather than his cgi double, so everyone wins).

Unfortunately by the film’s end it falls into the same old trap as many other blockbusters, resorting to the eye-candy of OTT cgi and explosions and shouting etc. We still get to see Downey Jr out of his suit but instead replace him with forty-plus automated Iron Men battling an army of superhumans that glow in the dark.  It sums up all the current thinking in Hollywood and these epic sequels (what’s more exciting than a cityblock being totalled? Lets see a city destroyed! (Transformers 3), or in this case,  what’s more exciting than one Iron Man? Lets have forty!). Its supposed to be exciting but it really serves to undermine the dramatic tension and betrays a lack of imagination and ambition. I couldn’t care less about the cgi cartoon uber-violence. The real dramatics are of Stark and the villain rival Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) battling, even though even that is somewhat undone by the cgi effects. And in a curious similarity to events in Star Trek Into Darkness, even death no longer means anything when you have Magic Blood.  Hell, seems anyone can be a super-hero these days. Maybe Paltrow will get her own Super Pepper spin-off movie.