Sunday, May 05, 2013


As per court order, every comics blog has to address the release of a major new superhero film within 72 hours of risk losing their license. So, you know, don't get pissed at me if you haven't seen the damn thing. Although, if you weren't one to rush out and see it immediately so as to avoid being spoiled, I wouldn't recommend beating feet. It's kind of a mess.

Going in, advance reviews seemed rapturous. And, based on the fact that The Avengers was a legitimately fun movie, I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to this one. They've done a good job building up their brand here, which is a lot more than you can say for the people making the comics.

People love Shane Black beyond all sense of proportion. I don't have a lot of nostalgia for the Lethal Weapon series - I haven't seen either of the first two in decades - but just glancing at Wikipedia I see that he wrote (or co-wrote) The Last Action Hero, which is is a movie I legitimately like, so . . . yeah, Shane Black. He has made competent movies in the past, and will undoubtedly be making more movies in the future, and this, this is certainly a motion picture, projected on a screen for two hours and ten minutes.

The first two Iron Man films were sturdy, if perfunctory, exercises in genre-definition. The first Iron Man, more than any of the other superhero movies before it, set the template for what successful superhero movies - at least, Marvel superhero movies - would look like going forward. Since then "consistency" has been the watchword. Watching Iron Man 3 I found myself saying something I never thought I'd say in a million years - I wish this movie had been directed by Jon Favreau. Favreau's films were sometimes banal, often cursory affairs. The best symptomatic example of this, the one that always springs to mind, is the introduction of the Black Widow in Iron Man 2. After having teased "Natalie Rushman" throughout the first half of the film, the Black Widow is finally revealed by . . . walking over to a table in a coffee shop in her costume. It's an odd move for the introduction of such a significant character, and very much indicative of Favreau's approach. What do you remember from that scene? Probably not the Widow's introduction so much as the establishing shot of a troubled Tony, in his armor, drinking a cup of coffee and sitting inside a giant plaster donut with the Beastie Boys' "Groove Holmes" playing. Favreau liked to bury the lede. Even if it made for an occasionally surreal viewing experience, it nonetheless helped, ever so much, at leavening the self-seriousness that naturally follows these films like a cloud of mosquitoes.

I found myself wishing for something sturdy and perfunctory here. Black likes to blow things up and he likes to play with tone but the overall effect was less exhilarating than exhausting. Seriously, about 2/3 of the way through the movie I realized that even if I had no trouble following the plot, the movie had lost my entirely entirely. I spent the the last forty-five minutes or so actively praying for it to be over. I never had that trouble with any of the previous Marvel movies, which have, if anything, made a virtue of their perfunctoriness by always managing to leave the viewer wanting more than what they got - and the post-credits scenes always did a great job of reinforcing the fact that these films were supposed to instill the viewer with no greater sensation than the overriding desire to see the next one. I left this movie wishing that I had received a lot less than what they gave me. I do still want to see the next one, but that's primarily because the trailer makes Thor: The Dark World look like it will be a lot more fun than this thing.

I've never made any secret of the fact that I detest the "Extremis" storyline on which this story is largely based. Do people remember that when Marvel relaunched Iron Man at the tail end of 2004 with Warren Ellis at the helm, the book took a year and a half to finish shipping a six-issue story? (Issue #1 cover date January 2005, issue #6 cover date May 2006.) This was an embarrassment, especially considering the fact that Ed Brubaker's character-defining run on Captain America began the same month. Ellis' major "breakthrough" was essentially to write Tony Stark like a stock Warren Ellis character - a cynical, sardonic futurist who uses phrases like "bleeding edge" without a shred of irony. And yet, this is the version of Tony Stark that prevailed going into Civil War just a few months later, and it was this Tony Stark who produced the template for Downey's interpretation. One good thing this movie doesn't actually do which the comics unfortunately did was to infect Tony himself with the Extremis virus. You can make arguments as to why that was an inevitable development for the character - wouldn't a futurist want to make himself as futuristic as possible, after all? - but ultimately what it did was saddle Stark with a wide-ranging and vaguely-defined set of de facto superpowers that undercut the facts that not only is Tony Stark a normal human whose only real "super power" is his brain, but that the character historically has to be defined by strong limitations. Unfortunately, the strong limitations that they chose to start playing up shortly after "Extremis" finished was his mysanthropic hubris, which led directly to the catastrophic events of Civil War. The character was so unlikeable after that sequence of events that Matt Fraction had to literally reboot Tony's brain to a pre-Civil War state, a series of events that also - thankfully! - finally rid his body of the Extremis.

All of which goes to say - not a fan of Extremis as either a concept or a story, and I was happy to see it finally be written out of the series by Fraction. So while I was not thrilled to see it onscreen I was at least glad they chose not to go the same route as the comics and make Tony into a computer-powered Superman. But then they infected Pepper Potts with the Extremis virus, a potentially fatal infection which they were able to fix with a quick hand-wave in the closing narration. Just like they were able to extract all the shrapnel from Tony's heart - something that they had been unable to do for the previous two movies, and which took the character in the comics a few years to accomplish himself - with a brief mention. That's great plotting.

The film actually seemed to get worse as it went along. The early scenes were strong and did a good job of setting up the conflicts. But then after a handful of nice, taut action sequences - Tony in Tennessee fighting the Extremis-enhanced commandos was pretty good - the movie settled into a pretty dull slog. I realized after a while that it had been seemingly forever since Tony was actually in his armor, which strikes me as an odd reiteration of the same narrative problems the last Batman movies had. I mean, yeah, for a couple scenes it was cool to see an unarmored Tony getting by on his wits, but after a while it just got boring - did I pay this exorbitant ticket price to see Robert Downey, Jr., skulk around like an extremely unimpressive action hero and kill and maim people with dollar store gadgets, or do I want to see Iron Man strutting his stuff? (We won't even dwell on the fact that the armor he wears throughout most of the film, the Mark 42, is one of the least interesting designs of any Iron Man armor in 50 years.)

The filmmakers had so little desire to actually show Tony as Iron Man that Tony spent the duration of the entire climax of the film basically trying and failing to climb back into a suit of armor, one of the strangest bits of counter-intuitive coitus interruptus I can remember seeing in a movie like this. After all, action movies are about, if they are about anything at all, gratifying the audience's desire to satisfactory narrative resolution. The last action sequence at the broken oil tanker was just terrible: so many empty suits of armor flying around to no effect whatsoever, and I couldn't keep anything straight - how many of those Extremis commandos were jumping around? How many suits of armor were demolished? Plus, there's the fact that if Tony can not "just" remote-control his armor but basically build a functional AI that allows the suits to function effectively and independently in combat situations, he's more or less mooted himself and created a weapon so powerful he could conquer the planet. This is one of those ideas that gets waved-away every so often in the comics through a number of convenient plot devices, but I didn't see any of those devices onscreen here. Basically, he calls in a platoon of empty armored suits to kill a bunch of super-soldiers, which strikes me as kind of a big deal. Perhaps in the age of drone strikes this might seem to be less startling sci-fi futurism and more "day after tomorrow," but that doesn't make it any less chilling in its implications. Quite the opposite. Since these movies are more or less completely unironic celebrations of American technological superiority and ethical exceptionalism, it does not surprise me in the least that these implications are ignored.

If I'm not a fan of Extremis, that goes double for the various generic characters who follow in that storyline's wake. I'm generally agnostic to Guy Pearce but his role was pretty decrepit, essentially your standard smooth-talking tycoon-turned-maniac that we've seen approximately one zillion times before. Compare Aldrich Killian with Sam Rockwell's delightful Justin Hammer from the last movie and you'll see a definite charisma void here. This is nothing against Pearce, but his role - especially in light of the fact that the third-act reveal undercuts the Mandarin entirely by positing Pearce as the true mastermind of the entire Extremis plot - just did not grab me. Killian was both underwritten and overacted. His motivations did not and would never make sense without a lifetimes's familiarity with the overheated genre conventions of American action movies. I never thought I'd be singing the praises of the second Iron Man's arch subtetly, but think back to how Rockwell's preening Hammer played off and against Mickey Rourke's gnomic Vanko and you see why this movie just didn't have the wattage necessary to present an effective counterpoint to Downey's showboating. Ben Kingsley is, admittedly, pretty funny after the big reveal, but that same reveal underlines pretty definitively that he is not a villain and has absolutely no stake in antagonizing Tony Stark, and therefore drops away from relevancy almost immediately.

Which brings us, of course, to the real problem with the movie. First, if you haven't yet you should go read MGK's opinion on the matter here. We usually agree on more than not, but I am slightly surprised to see him striking such a positive note in regards to the movie's third-act twist. Even if you buy his argument that the "real" Mandarin would be a hard-sell in the year 2013 - and I think everyone reading this should agree with that assertion on some level- you're stuck with the fact that the movie itself has a giant void at the center where the villain should be. Although there are no flies on Sam Rockwell or Mickey Rourke, the fact is that neither of their characters were really all that memorable in terms of being "major arch nemeses" - you needed two of them to add up to one Stark, because on their own both characters are merely reflections of different facets of Stark / Iron Man himself. The less said about the first film the better - again, no disrespect intended to Jeff Bridges - but Stane was a pale imitation of Lex Luthor. The generous, spontaneous cheering that occurred in my theater during the preview for the next Thor film when Loki appeared onscreen points to the fact that the quality of the villains has been a serious limitation for many of these Marvel films. People love Loki. But Loki can't appear in every Marvel film. (I will posit that it wouldn't have been very hard to write Justin Hammer into this film in some small capacity, which would have provided some degree of continuity as well as playing up the character's status in the movie universe as Stark's truest real competitor, but that's obviously not the direction they chose to go.)

I will argue that MGK's assertion only works if you believe that the people responsible for these movies have any intention of bringing back the concept of the Mandarin for the (inevitable, unless you're an idiot who believes that Robert Downey, Jr. is anything less than a consummate mercenary, i.e., a professional actor) fourth film. Iron Man doesn't have a very deep rogue's gallery, this is very true. The problem is that most of his villains fall into three camps - either twisted versions of Stark himself, evil businessmen or science tycoons dedicated to his personal downfall (Hammer, Stane, Killian), other guys in armor who are usually just generic thugs (Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, Hammer's Iron Monger), or mercenary corporate saboteurs, gimmick-based charisma-challenged variations on the Flash's villains (Whiplash, the Melter, the Ghost, the Unicorn, et al). These can get repetitive, and the three movies to date have provided versions of all three of these types. After that we're left with compelling thematic oddballs like Fin Fang Foom and Ultimo who, while very cool in the comics, are probably too left-field to appear in the films - and his arch-enemy, the Mandarin. Now, there are obvious ways any of the villains from the first three categories could be pumped-up for the fourth film - they've reimagined the Ghost quite successfully in the last few years, for instance, but I doubt even the current version of the character could support a movie by himself. Without a Cold War enemy against which to fight, and in the absence of any extant real-world ideology to which they could convincingly and non-offensively attach the characters in the year 2013, the Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo are pretty much dead letters. (Notwithstanding the fact that the movie Whiplash already kind-of, sort-of, was a Titanium Man / Crimson Dynamo hybrid.)

But regardless of how few options the filmmakers possess, I still think it's somewhat optimistic to believe they're playing any sort of long-game with the Mandarin's reveal. After all, while we know that the Ten Rings organization existed as far back as 2008, the movies' timeline leaves no ambiguity as to whether or not Killian could have been responsible for the organization dating back to its inception. I think this is - as we're used to seeing every week when the internet comes out in force to dissect the latest episode of Doctor Who - another example of the collective intelligence of fandom being far smarter than the individual creators themselves. The various seeming-clues and plot-holes that fans pick up on as signs of long-term planning and foresight on the part of the creators add up, more often than not, to simple oversights and red herrings. We're hardwired to want to pick up on loose threads as evidence of long-term planning, but history points to relatively few examples of long-term subtle planning adding up to anything more than fans' overactive imagination for these kinds of franchises. The next movie will probably have the Ghost or the Melter, and possibly the return of Justin Hammer or a version of Ultimo, but probably not another iteration of the Mandarin. If they had intended to do so, they would not have been ambiguous in their use of foreshadowing. That's now how these Marvel movies work. If you don't have some kind of dramatic post-credits cut scene to underscore exactly what the important ongoing plot points are, it's probably just shadows.

I could be wrong. I'd love to be wrong. Nothing would make me happier than to see the Mandarin - the real Mandarin - onscreen, with his ten magic alien rings of unimaginable power, as smart as Stark and twice as ruthless. I think the first half of this film did a great job of showing how a character like the Mandarin could work, by presenting us with an ethnically ambiguous terrorist in the (quite glaringly obvious) Osama bin Laden mold, whose critique of western values nevertheless carry enough moral authority to be genuinely frightening. But in hindsight it was no surprise that the Mandarin failed to arrive - none of the commercials or previews actually showed the Mandarin doing anything. There were no rays of deadly black light or devastating electro-blasts cracking Iron Man's armor, flashy effects that would probably have made it onto the promo materials. I think the character himself could have survived the transit from his "yellow peril" origins to a more vaguely-defined central Asian terrorist figure - a pan-ethnic revolutionary dedicated to overthrowing the hegemony of Western capitalism through force and guile. No one but a few hand-wringing liberals would be upset if the villain of a superhero movie turned out to be a vaguely brown-skinned terrorist. But the movie Mandarin was undercut, as it turned out, by capital itself, made into just another stalking-horse for a mad tycoon with a grudge intending to use his personal power to leverage a monopoly. That at least makes sense, but dramatically it hit like a wet fart, and this narrative deflation sucked the energy from the film's final sequences. Compare this, for instance, with the similar third-act reveal at the end of The Dark Knight Rises - again, hardly a perfect film, but the revelation of Talia's identity very pointedly did not undercut Bane's significance, and actually succeeded in ratcheting up the stakes for Batman by forcing him to deal with a crushing last-minute betrayal from a valuable ally.

As Michael Paciocco pointed out, the movie enacts some really weird algebra by having the Mandarin + Extremis = more or less the Melter, which seems like an odd way to burn off two more interesting ideas (I might not like like Extremis but at least there's an idea there) to get to something really banal. The Melter is pretty much the most generic Iron Man villain ever: he's a thuggish industrialist who builds a weapon that will allow him to melt Iron Man's armor. He slipped into the role of super-villain and mercenary, even serving in the inaugural line-up for the Masters of Evil - but think about the fact that even though the character debuted in 1963, you probably can't even remember his real name (Wikipedia is cheating). Despite his pedigree, he was killed by the Scourge and it was over twenty years before they even bothered to resurrect the name. The idea is pretty basic, really: a villain who tries to kill Iron Man by melting his armor. You don't get much more simple than that, but you also don't get more forgettable.

The movie is defined by missed opportunities. After spending years selling a worldwide movie audience on the importance of these films' shared universe as not merely a selling point but a narrative strength, this film seems strangely disconnected from the previous Marvel productions. The introduction of AIM seems significantly underplayed considering the organizations historical ties (in the comics, at least) to Hydra, who will assumedly be making their return in the next Captain America film. Now that we have half-a-dozen superheroes walking around the cinematic Marvel Universe, the films are running into the same problems that the comics have been confronting for five decades - how to logically maintain the separateness of each hero's adventures while maintaining the cohesion of the shared universe. The previous movies have addressed this question, rightly or wrongly, by using SHIELD as the glue, providing a rationale for the way certain characters interact at certain times and not at others. The fact that SHIELD had no role to play in this movie seemed strange to me, considering just how much time they've spent selling us on SHIELD's central significance. As comic book readers were used to the kind of hand-waving that allows us to answer the question of "why don't the Avengers just show up to help every time the Sinister Six tries to kill Spider-Man?" But this seems like a more difficult question to answer in the context of these movies, since they've gone out of their way to show us that there's not much that happens on this world that goes unnoticed by Nick Fury. You'd think a little thing like a string of terrorist bombings leading up to a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States spearheaded by the Vice President of the United States would be something he would at least pay attention to - but hey, I guess he was busy!

So we're left with a third film that, rather than expanding upon the good will left by the success of The Avengers, shows signs of settling into typical late-franchise bloat. The filmmakers seem to be genuinely baffled as to why people like these kinds of movies. I'm not going to lie and say that my perception of these problems is having any impact whatsoever on the films' reception - it's already one of the most successful films ever, breaking records left and right, blah blah blah. But it goes a great way towards illustrating just how fragile a recipe the first few Marvel's films' mixture of high adventure and arch humor really was. Tony in this film goes over the line from smartass to asshole without really any indication that this is an intentional slippage on the filmmakers' part. I've never been completely sold on Downey's version of the character, but here he just seems unpleasant and shrill. People seem to like assholes now - the whole "cool exec with a heart of steel" thing has become less a description of the characters' defining disabilities and more an aspirational model of why we want to be Tony Stark in the age of neoliberal economic collapse. Sure, he has the whole PTSD thing going on for a little while, but as we all know from years' of experience with returning soldiers, that's nothing that can't be cured by further exposure to excessively violent traumatic life-and-death situations. Go America! Fuck yeah!


Karel BĂ­lek said...

I don't agree with all your points and I liked the movie, but I have to say, this was the best written critique of the movie I have read. Kudos to you, sir.

DanielT said...

This is an honest, no-snark question because I always wonder when someone says/writes something like this: if you were so miserable with 45 minutes left, why didn't you just leave?

Timothy O'Neil said...

Are you serious? You're going to walk out of a movie you paid $10 to see? Who does that? That's just a waste of money.

Evan Tarlton said...

One of the oddest things about this whole mess is how little play the Battle of New York got. That should have been all over this film, and not just because of Tony's PTSD. The existence of aliens was definitively proven AND there was an invasion in the space of less than 24 hours. We don't know how much time has passed between then and now, but even if it was about a year, people would still be in the HOLY FUCKBALLS ALIENS WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE! mode.

In that environment, Killian's plan makes no sense. The Extremis project represents the greatest advancement in Super-Soldier technology since the original Serum, and we know (from all the way back in The Incredible Hulk no less!) that every attempt to reverse engineer the damn thing ended in failure. Killian wouldn't need a war to sell his troops. The potential benefits would outweigh the dangers, and a sufficiently cruel or desperate commander could make use of the fact that the soldiers would be one unperfected batch away from a spectacular explosion. One wouldn't even need to sacrifice troops-- just get suicide bombers.

Your comment about Fury being busy was a joke, but that angle could have very easily been made to work. SHIELD was heavily compromised in The Avengers. We don't know what kinds of intelligence Hawkeye gave Loki, and how much of it was widely disseminated, but it's no stretch to say that the many foes of SHIELD now have a way to track the Helicarrier. We also know that relations between Fury and the World Security Council are somewhat strained. Put those two together, and one can easily say that SHIELD has had a very bad year-- safehouses compromised, spies eliminated, long-term goals revealed, and the entire world is in an uproar because the HOLY FUCKBALLS ALIENS WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE! mode invites chaos, and it can be very easy to take advantage of mass chaos. Something like the Mandarin as presented could conceivably be something SHIELD thinks it can ignore, until the Mandarin hits the airwaves and starts directly threatening the President. If Fury did see through the charade, as I think he would, it wouldn't even have come to that. Killian has Extremis? SHIELD has (Iron Man and War Machine and) a Hulk.

There were also missed opportunities in the PTSD. Tony being triggered by little kids worked well, but I think it would have been better if he had been confronted by an aggressive BoNY denier. In fact, taking all of the little kids out of the film would have bumped it up a notch. RDJ played very well off the child prodigy, but that time should have been spent on Rhodey and/or Pepper. Why couldn't we have a good War Machine fight sequence?

For me, the film's strengths outweigh its weaknesses, but I think it might just be the weakest of the Marvel films to date. That is, unless the Chinese cut helps fill in some of the holes.

Timothy O'Neil said...

"unless the Chinese cut helps fill in some of the holes." - that made me chuckle.

I didn't even mention how badly the film treated War Machine, who is alternately a patsy, an idiot, and ineffectual. I thought I had heard a rumor there would be some kind of explanation for just why he hadn't been in New York during the invasion, but I guess that was either just or rumor or it got cut from the final movie. That's a shame because Cheadle is a likeable actor and War Machine is a great design, and at the very least they could have gotten more use out of just how poorly-conceived the Iron Patriot redesign was. They didn't even make use of the fact that AIM did contracting on the Iron Patriot armor: I thought as soon as they mentioned that that the armor would be compromised, but lo and behold when Killian did get Rhodey he was still unable to crack the armor. Even though his company built the thing.

And I guess the Marvel Universe, in any incarnation, really is just completely blase about aliens. Also, just found out that the Marvel Movie Universe is designated Earth-199999, which is good to know for parties.

Lysander said...

Yeah, I'm not sure what this movie was really trying to be, but it didn't seem all that terribly fussed about being an Iron Man movie. Of course, it also wasn't entirely successful as a Shane Black movie either, so it really adds up to zero.

And that stuff with the cute moppet was . . .man, really? I know the movie was trying to kid it and take the piss out of "Spielbergian faux-Capra stuff," but if that was the case, then why play it out so long? It meant there was ultimately no point or connection between Stark and the kid, no matter how hard they tried.

I had no problem with the Mandarin being an empty suit--him being Iron Man's #1 villain only proves that Iron Man has really awful villains (even as reflections of himself, there are better options) and he was treated with appropriate dismissiveness for me. Killian wasn't much better, but once you've done Stane and don't wanna pull out another guy in armour, there's not much else.

Maya Hansen was . . .well, she was in this movie, but seemed as puzzled as to "why" she was as I was. She sets up Extremis, turns on Tony, then dies. OK then. Ditto for the Iron Patriot--one of those weird things that took off in comics and stays around even if no one's really sure why. He's like Iron Man's ERMAC.

I have never bought the Stark/Pepper romance, not in the comics, not on the screen (that RDJ and Paltrow have a chemistry not unlike a buzzsaw ripping through sheet metal doesn't help) and having her get put in easily-reversible jeopardy just seems reductive and something to do just to ensure she has something to do rather than stand behind a desk and look sour.

So, I don't know. I don't know if I'd say this had "Spider-Man 3" level problems, but it really seems like it doesn't want to be what it's supposed to be and dismissively ticks off whatever boxes it needs to as swiftly as possible, in a sort of "Oh hell, let's get this over with" kinda way.

Justice and Rule said...

I agree with a lot of what you said, though I managed to enjoy the movie for the comedy that it was.

I think that you are ultimately right in that the Mandarin is the best villain for this type of movie, and that it was really disappointing that Ben Kingsley's Mandarin got shoved out of the way for a guy who is literally a footnote in the Extremis plot. I think the Mandarin can be done a number of ways, though I think I would have liked to have seen Knauf's "futurist" take if they were going to use Extremis. But regardless, I've seen people put out great, original ideas for how to use him instead of how they did. This pretty much salted the ground when it comes to the character, and there are other stories which can be moved on to (Armor Wars, Zeke Stane, etc...).

I disagree with you on Guy Pierce and Aldrich Killian, though. I think the way they wrote him was far better than Justin Hammer. In the second movie, Justin Hammer is a joke that runs out rather quickly for me. Sam Rockwell can be charming, but there's a point that Hammer's complete, transparent incompetence gets kind of irritating and you have to wonder how he even manages to get close to Tony. Killian is what Hammer should be: smart, slick, but whose charm is artificial. He's someone who learned to be cool, to imitate it, unlike Tony who is simply cool naturally. To me, Pierce plays a great Hammer 2.0, one that is competent and threatening. The problem, however, is that he can't carry the movie as a main villain, especially a super-powered one.

Josh Trujillo! said...

I don't disagree with most of your points, but still liked the film overall.

Mandarin works for me given the world they have created. In a world that was recently attacked by inter-dimensional aliens (or something) all it takes is some warped iconography and hot air to make people afraid. I thought that Ben Kingsley rocked the house with his unexpected performance, and honestly I was dreading having to watch ol' Fu Manchu shoot CGI lightning out of his rings. But hey, Kingsley's character is still alive so maybe he stumbles across the Power Gem and makes a ring out of it.

Please direct me towards some better stories if I'm wrong, but in the comics Mandarin doesn't really get his due, either. He's a foe that is defined (and redefined) by Marvel's fear of offending modern readers with 'Yellow Fever.' There isn't a definitive characterization of him, yet people insist he is Iron Man's greatest arch-foe because Tony MUST need an arch-foe and Unicorn is an even dumber name than Mandarin, right? Meh.

Tony's greatest villains are Avengers villains: Abstract, all-powerful space gods, or time-traveling warrior kings. These are effective because together the Avengers can do the impossible, and when surrounded by deities and super-soldiers Iron Man lifts himself up to do the impossible, too. Iron Man's solo villains are always supposed to be pale reflections of Stark himself, because when left to his own devices Tony is his own worst enemy.

Extremis is not my favorite Iron Man story, but I was just grateful that Killian didn't jump into a robot suit at the end. My biggest beefs were War Machine having absolutely nothing to do, that Maya character's odd character path, and a complete absence of SHIELD. I feel like that was done because of Iron Man 2's over-reliance on SHIELD, but at the very least Nick Fury should have shown and been like 'I'm busy, Tony. You don't want to know.'

Harvey Jerkwater said...

A slight tangent and a decade late, but fuck it. In the actual "Extremis" story arc, the final issue had a seventeen-page fight scene. Seventeen. Yes, the decompressed, blow-by-blow version of the fight that minimized panel transition time made the fight more immediate and thus scarier, but it's also seventeen fucking pages spent on punchy-punchy-punchy-boom in lieu of story. If memory serves, the content of the punchy-punchy-punchy-boom aside from the pretty pictures boiled down to Iron Man railing against the villain in his inner monologue and showing off his new hardware. Holy shit was it boring. So very boring.

As a single issue in 1985 by Michelinie and Layton, "Extremis" would have been okay, I guess. As a six-issue arc that took forever to come out by an acclaimed team and that kicked off a new series, I'll go with "less than okay."

The only joy is in imagining how the BoingBoing-esque techno preaching will age. I'm guessing on a par with how the Sixties "The Human Race Would Be Gods and the Earth a Paradise, If Only You Can Keep From Destroying Yourselves, You Stupid Hairless Apes" preaching feels today.

Sorry for the decade-late grousing. It seems almost relevant.

moose n squirrel said...

I'm perfectly happy that Marvel has abandoned the Mandarin, because, let's face it, he's a grotesque racial caricature - a relic of a time when Stan Lee could come up with a plot by going, "Eh, we had him fight Russians last issue, let's have him fight a Chinaman this time! What's China like? It's all pointy beards and rings and dragons, right?" At best it's an embarrassment, and at worst it's serious race-baiting. We don't need to keep racist Fu Manchu analogues around just because we have a misplaced nostalgic affection for stories involving them from our childhoods - buying these things out of nostalgia can be awkward and kind of sad, but it doesn't have to be reactionary.

moose n squirrel said...

I dunno, I think you're being a little harsh there - the original Planet of the Apes holds up surprisingly well.

I read the original "Extremis" story at the time it came out (and at the time it came out, it was coming out so slowly that I remember speculating that they might just bring in a guest writer to finish it off - instead, I remember them putting out a couple Iron Man limited series to fill the gaps, including one with Ghost and Spymaster with, I think, Frazer Irving on art, that was way more entertaining than anything Ellis was doing at the time) and I never would have guessed that that awful, sluggish, boring thing would be the story that would go on to define Iron Man for the next decade, with all its "futurist" nonsense and its techno-optimist, neo-positivist bullshit. Granted, by the time you get to the Illuminati and Civil War and such, you're getting shitty Ellis as filtered through even shittier Bendis and Millar, and you have scenes where Tony Stark is claiming he can predict the future because of smartphones or something, and fuck it.

Long story short: I don't think anyone has read a decent Iron Man story in a long, long time (although I'll admit to enjoying, for pure schadenfreude-related reasons, the Fraction-era story where Tony gets too dumb to operate email - that got some yuks out of me), and that was bound to affect the course of the movies (which have succeeded largely based on Robert Downey Jr.'s charisma).

Harvey Jerkwater said...

"I dunno, I think you're being a little harsh there - the original Planet of the Apes holds up surprisingly well."

You got me there. That movie is a god-damned marvel of cinema.

I was thinking more of Stan Lee's godawful "Silver Surfer" monologues, which are not a god-damned marvel of anything except pompous crapulence. Oh man was that terrible.

Timothy O'Neil said...

I believe you must be mistaken if you think dogging on the Silver Surfer in any way shape or form is going to win you any friends on this blog.

Joseph Gualtieri said...

Tim, 99% of an excellent post. he film had a fun and glossy surface, but feel apart as I was watching it (because I paid for Iron Man, not RDJ: stealth infiltrator) and that was before I started thinking about the utter lack of motivation for Killian.

The 1% you're wrong about/ Dark Knight Rises. The twist did hurt Bane (because with his backstory grafted on to Talia, now he doesn't have one), but more importantly it hurt Batman, because once again, it showed Nolan's Batman to be the world's worst detective, rather than the best. said...

As a Vaguely Brown Skinned Person and hand-wringing liberal, I think that the Mandarin is a character that's deeply flawed to work in something like a million dollar box office movie.

I've only liked the character once as Tem Borjigin, where the Knaufs stripped him of a lot of his baggage and turned him closer to a Super-Powered Ra's Al Ghul. I can understand why they would shy away from doing a character like that since Ra's Al Ghul has been in other movies recently.

I liked the explaining away of the Mandarin as a bunch of bullshit stereotypes co-opted by white dudes to create a villain, because I mean let's be honest, that's what the Mandrain has always been.