Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rickey Reviews This “Iron Mensch” Movie That The Kids Seem Rather Keen On…

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but after viewing it, we really don’t see what all the fuss is about with this “Iron Mensch” movie. It’s not a particularly bad film; it’s merely the latest cinematic example of garden-variety pop heroism and wish-fulfillment. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen a million comic book superhero origin movies by now and are fed up with that “going through the motions” feeling we get from them. Maybe we’re not convinced that John Favreau, director of cinematic tour de forces such as “Elf” and “Zathura” is capable of making a decent movie. Or maybe it’s because we don’t like sitting in a movie theater next to 13 year olds greedily gobbling down popcorn as they watch a parable of American military might. Yeah, it’s probably that last one, because when you get right down to it, the whole movie is essentially one big “Why We Fight” propaganda ad. Rickey’s big issue with “Iron Man” is its cavalier attitude that brown people in the Middle East are dying, godamnit, and only a billionaire playboy wearing a red and gold metal suit can save ‘em.

For those not in the know, the story to “Iron Man” is more or less a dumbed down version of the Greek Daedalus myth. The screenplay, written without a trace of irony, breaks down thusly:

* Bajillionaire military-arms developer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) is abducted by nefarious cave dwelling terrorists during a tour of Afghanistan.

* He gets a car battery wired to his chest to keep him alive.

* He engineers his escape from a POW camp, declares that he's had an epiphany and that this shit with the quadriplegic Afghani kids has got to stop.

* He builds a snazzy a metal suit to better assuage his bleeding conscience. A hero is forged.

* Bombastic CGI heroics ensue.

* Hero defeats an evil bald Jeff Lebowski (don't ask) hero saves world, room is left open for a sequel.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s perfectly passable summer popcorn fare, but the main character’s socio-political moral awakening rubbed Rickey the wrong way. It’s too facile, and it smacks of typical Hollywood liberal guilt. At this point, aren’t we past just feeling guilty about the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into over in the Middle East? Where’s the interminable rage that is so sorely needed in our culture? Where’s the outcry? The best Hollywood can muster is some half-assed insipid guilt in between shilling for fast-food franchises and sugar water retailers? And what’s worse, when the movie isn’t busy exhibiting flaccid liberal guilt, it’s hard at work perpetuating tumescent fantasies of American military intervention.

In the movie’s pivotal moment, Robert Downey Jr. watches television footage of an Afghani village being plundered and pillaged and he gets mad, proceeds to hop into his newly built metal suit and unleash an epic beat down on those ruthless cave dwelling terrorists. And Rickey can tell you that he felt pretty damned uncomfortable when this scene rolled in the theater and the audience started whooping, clapping and applauding. First off, it’s offensive that dying Afghani villagers are used as a plot device for a comic book hero’s awakening. But there’s something deeper at work here as well. The scene tries to comfort the audience by confirming to us, yes, Americans have a conscience and care about global travesties (when in reality, most of us can’t find Afghanistan on a map) and when jabbering brown villagers somewhere in the Middle East start dying, it’s time for some paternalistic intervention on our part, aided by shiny metallic objects of war. Shock and awe, baby. Does this sound woefully familiar to anyone? Fuck NATO, Iron Man’s on the job!

Yes, the movie does make a point of lambasting Tony Stark’s Halliburton styled defense contracting company for selling weapons to terrorists, but it’s a shockingly facile and shallow view of things. Look, it would be terrific if Halliburton was doing something as brazen and devilish as selling arms to terrorists—we could bust ‘em in a second. In reality, life isn’t that simple and the influence of companies such as Halliburton on the current geopolitical climes are a lot more subtle and nefarious than that. Furthermore, any qualms the movie tries to invoke about the dangers of modern warfare technology are completely overridden by it’s reliance on snazzy fighter jets swooping around and bombastic named missiles exploding in massive pyrotechnic displays. But sure, if John Favreau, the staggeringly brilliant actor from “Swingers,” wants to try to toss in an ill-conceived critique of the U.S. Military Industrial Complex, in his movie, then he can go for it. But don’t be fooled: “Dr. Strangelove” this movie is most certainly not.

A lot of folks like to complain about how the recent comic book film adaptations of Hulk, Superman, and Batman are too brooding for their tastes, but you know what? We’ll take those dark & introspective interpretations any day of the week over the glib rah-rah pro-America attitude depicted in Iron Man. At least they attempt to elevate the material a tad and infuse it with a bit of Freudian self doubt and gravitas while “Iron Man,” in comparison, is depressingly anti-intellectual. The political commentary in “Iron Man” is a total mess and the action set pieces aren’t nearly as thrilling as Rickey would’ve liked them to be. For a blockbuster that cost more than $150 million to make, that’s pretty disappointing. If you’re going to spend an amount greater than what will be donated to the relief effort over in Myanmar (now there’s a job for Iron Man!) you better damn well make yourselves an incredible movie. This is not that movie.

Rickey’s verdict: save your $10 for the new Indy flick. Sure, it’ll contain xenophobic depictions of an indigenous dark-skinned civilization, but hey, at least it’ll be intentional.

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Mark said...

I would say the surprise is that any of these superhero films are decent. Batman Begins and Spiderman (not the most recent edition) were actually good.

I'm happy for Favreau that hasn't directed another Zathura, though.

Toasty Joe said...

Interesting take. Was was Ricky's take on "V for Vendetta," which, as I understand it, espoused more of a left-wing worldview? Of course, I've seen neither film, so I cannot comment intelligently (not that that's stopped me before).

leigh said...

i thought rickey was a democrat.

Adam said...

This is basically Top Gun with a flying guy (instead of a guy who flys a plane). Cocky guy learns valuable life-lessons, blows shit up as a result.

But Rickey, it was entertaining, no?

maybe i can help... said...

Forgive the long post, but I am an ex-film school geek, and current movie freak. Plus, at this point in the season I find this more interesting than arguing about whether Willie should be fired.

All superhero movies are popcorn flicks and should be taken as such. From Superman fighting for "Truth, justice and the American way", to Spiderman holding his pose on a flagpole with the American flag flapping in the breeze, the comic book hero was an American invention, and always reeks of false patriotism. I always wondered why Superman never helped anyone that was not in the good ol' USA (with the exception of Lois Lane, when she got stuck in the Eiffel tower in that abomination of a sequel). I'd rather see Iron Man rescuing an Afghani village from warlords than seeing Spiderman save NY from a bank robber. It's about time we depict a hero that is a little bit more of an international thinker.

Superhero movies are made to show a very non-realistic, heavily fictionalized, black and white, right and wrong argument. Dr. Strangelove (one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time) they are not, but they are not trying, and that is OK with me. The market that these films are made for are 10 - 13 year old boys, and dorks like me who read comics when they were 13 year old boys. Iron man was a fun ride, but if you're looking for a message that is more than a simple morality tale, you are looking in the wrong place. I would say that the only exception to this is the new Batman series of films which are based on a "re-imagination" of the classic comic book by an artist who decided to tell the batman story as an adult vigilante tale. These films have complex ideas, conflicts, and are definitely not meant for little kids.

As for Favreau, I think you're being harsh. The only way I can describe his movies are "fun". He found a niche making movies that are for a young audience that their parents are not dreading watching with them. He is not a great filmmaker, but you can tell he likes what he does, and he's trying to pass that fun on to the viewer. I am extremely harsh on mediocrity when it comes to movies, but I think that his movies know what they are and are not trying to be anything more.

Rickey Henderson said...

Toasty/Leigh/Adam: "V for Vendetta" wasn't as left wing as much as it was reactionary. It's an anarchist movie involving a hero who blows up buildings, and it was pretty tasteless and silly. Yes, Rickey's a registered Democrat and Rickey's got nothing against a movie with a good left-leaning yarn (Michael Clayton comes to mind) but if you're going to make a movie that's unabashedly liberal, at least make it intelligent. And certainly don't infuse a silly comic book story with half baked political ideology. This is a tier-3 Marvel comic book character who dresses up as a big metal robot that we're talking about here, where does Favreau get off trying to infuse the story with a lesson on the defense industry? Yes, the movie was entertaining (or at least the two major action scenes were) but the whole parable thing left a bad taste in Rickey's mouth.

Tom: You said that you'd rather see Iron Man rescuing an Afghani village from warlords than seeing Spiderman save NY from a bank robber... The problem with that is that some 8 year old kid seeing Iron man rescue an Afghani village gets the wrong idea about the world we live in.

Rickey Henderson said...

(and yes, Rickey's aware that it's only a silly movie, but as your film school classes would tell you Tom, subtext is a big deal, even in pop movies).

maybe i can help... said...

When I was 10, the idea that I got of the world around me from movies was:

- That we would be under attack by a vast Russia /Cuba alliance and the only thing that could save me was a high school football team (and Jennifer Grey). WOLVERINES!

- That if I went to India, I'd be served chilled monkey brains and my heart would be ripped out and shown to me while it was still beating.

- That, during WWII, "foreigners" invented these little green creatures that are afraid of bight light to screw with my electronics and generally wreak havoc.

I'm just saying that some films are pure escapism and should be left as that.

Oh, I've also decided that "Maybe I Can Help", although it's been with me for years, is a bad Blogger handle. It's so much easier to write "Tom". I need to come up with a snazzier name... like "Toasty" or "Rickey"... 2 syllables MAX!

Toasty Joe said... least make it another Tom Hagen reference.

Anonymous said...

Here is a "Speed Racer" review. It sucked, I should of watched Iron Man - it sounds like there was at least a minimal amount of entertainment involved.

Rickey Henderson said...

Yeah, well that's kind of a no brainer. You'd have to pay Rickey to watch that garbage. Or you could have just gone here.

Mikey P said...

More comic nerd factoids:

In the original comic book in 1963 when Tony Stark was captured and imprisoned it was in South East Asia by Communists.

This historic reference affects the story because in this day and age kids would be like "what the heck is a communist?" Sadly, the Commie bastards are not as good of bad guys as the Nazis (or the Terminator Machines). So, as with retelling all good stories (Shakespeare most definitely included) a modern setting lets the younger viwers relate and draw the simple moral story in current context.

I would be interested to hear what Rickey things about the Little Mermaid and its liberal undertones. (Women think for themselves and not obey their male father figures wishes? not in Mikey P's world...)

I think you are stretching too far with this one Rick.

Its rated PG, has no curse words and is eye candy. Kiddie movie, not bad underdeveloped poorly though out liberal or conservative propoganda.

Peace in the Middle East.

AmyV said...

Whoa. I feel like I just stepped into the NYT Op-Ed page.