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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Marvel Universe – Iron Man

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Iron Man:

Colin:

Wow, so we should end this franchise here. This is by no means a perfect movie, but it’s the best Marvel’s got, in my opinion. Of course, I’m saying that before having seen some of them, but what are the chances that Thor 2 holds a candle to this?

Some things should not be franchised. They weren’t really conscious at the time they made this movie just how it was going to go and what a smash hit this movie would be, so they let Favreau make it the way he wanted, and we got this. It’s not a Nolan Batman movie because it’s not supposed to be a Nolan Batman movie, it’s supposed to be fun as hell. And it was until everything had to be tied together in the sequel and subsequent Marvel movies.

Robert Downey Jr. isn’t just this movie, he’s this entire franchise. Every time I hear about him holding out for more money or renegotiating a contract or something, I’m happy. This man has them by the money balls and he knows it. He’s better than this franchise is, and he owns it. Like since this movie came out and up until mid-2015, he’s had feature roles in 12 movies, including one on the way. Seven of them are franchise movies, either Marvel or Sherlock Holmes. And in 2014, he was the top-paid actor in the Hollywood. He made $75 million in a year. So, more than double Will Smith, or Christian Bale, or Liam Neeson. The second-highest earner was Dwayne Johnson, and he was still like $25 million behind. There’s no contest here. Put it this way — he’s the only actor who could buy a Gulfstream G650 with a single year’s earnings, and he’d still have $10 million to spare. Good for him. If Marvel and Disney want him that bad, he should be paid a ludicrous amount for it. And all of that started here. With a really solid performance.

Let’s talk about the other characters first. Gwyneth, no. Mike pointed out how she doesn’t know how to ad-lib well, and it shows. And Marvel, can we cut it out with the red hair? Terrence Howard…no. I don’t love him, although they usually use him in the edit cuts to great effect. Cutting to him drinking, or cutting to him talking about the training exercise. Good editing in this movie, huh? But the one I wanted to talk about was Bridges. I liked Bridges. There was something I wasn’t used to seeing from him here as the bad guy, and I really appreciated that. I don’t think they really wrote him the right way, and the ending was absurd, but there it is. I liked Bridges, even if his ad-libbing wasn’t quite as on as Downey’s.

Now, Stark. Tony Stark is pretty much my favorite superhero because he’s a jerk. I never thought Superman was that cool, and Spiderman is a nerd, and all the others are weird. But Tony Stark (and he shares this with Bruce Wayne) has the best superpower of all: Money. Give a rich guy a mission, and it’s almost guaranteed to work. Maybe it’s because we can identify with a normal guy a bit more, or that there’s something more believably aspirational to their character. The other thing is that they’re definitely more exposed and badass because they’re just regular guys without magic nonsense. They put this into that really heavy-handed line in Avengers when Captain America asks Stark what he is without the suit, and the answer is “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” He’s a DOUBLE superhero. That’s why we like him. The suit is good, and there can be interesting action with it. But if we’re honest, we all enjoy Stark being a dick and inventing stuff and causing trouble as well. He’s just as good OUTSIDE the suit as he is IN it. And do we care about Peter Parker or Bruce Banner? Not even a little bit. Both of them are otherwise boring characters with the typical background (freak accident, science shit, radiation) who we have to suffer with until they put the suit on and go do cool stuff. When I think about this now, I’m kind of confused at why I’d ever watch a Spiderman movie. I don’t like Peter Parker as a character, I’m not drawn in by his relationships or rivalries, and the Spiderman action sequences aren’t super interesting to me. Compare this with Stark. I’d watch a show of Robert Downey Jr. just being a snarky asshole all the time. Don’t even need the suit.

So I think that’s going to be my test for all superhero franchise movies. It’s never about how cool the hero is in action. It’s about whether I can enjoy the alter ego. That is, if you remove the superhero aspect of this movie, is there ANY reason for me to be interested in this character? And if yes or probably, you’ve got a decent character on your hands. I’ll be going through the Marvel characters this way as we progress, although Thor kinda throws a hammer into the works because he doesn’t have an alter ego. Anyway.

I haven’t even talked about what happened in the movie. It was extremely simple. They didn’t handle the villain reveal as well as they could have, and the end felt tacked on. You don’t really care about most of that, though because it’s this awesome character doing amazing things and saving Arab families.

There’s also a major theme I want to touch on here, which was common with Transformers to some extent. Setting action in the Middle East featuring the US military in a prominent role is part of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan fantasy in which the United States no longer worries about Islamic terrorism or insurgency because technological superiority has rendered it harmless. You do this by setting part of the movie in a place that we all recognize to be a hotbed of sectarian violence or something like it, and then introduce different bad guys who are entirely unrelated. You’re thinking terrorists, and what you see is a fight against Decepticons or Jeff Bridges. Basically the same. Iron Man was WAY obvious in this regard — they never talk about it as an Islamic terrorist thing, but you have a group of terrorists grabbing territory in Afghanistan, kidnapping him and doing the whole ransom video treatment. What are we supposed to think? Then one man in a cave defeats an arms dump full of career insurgents with some crap he built in a few days, and Jeff Bridges paralyzes a guy with sound before insulting the Arabs’ lack of technological expertise. The collective takeway — from a movie that came out during a year when the US lost over 1000 men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan — is, “Arab insurgencies? No problem!” That’s the ACTUAL fantasy going on with these movies and why they work as escapism to an American audience. By the time we get to Avengers, are we worried about religious radicals? Does a group like ISIS even register in a universe with invisible, flying aircraft carriers and alien attacks?

Now, beyond that, it’s a fun movie. We love Downey, and the character is a womanizing alcoholic. Good for them for not watering that down.

My Final Thoughts:

They keys to this movie are the element of surprise and low expectations. No one saw this coming. And since there wasn’t any formula for one of these movies, even the studio didn’t really have much say. It just sort of happened. They managed to assemble the right people, and the result was something really special.

Favreau casting Downey was really what made this movie fly. And his ability to recognize Downey’s strengths of making good things up on the fly allowed the movie to be more free-form (plus I’m sure they actually didn’t have a script while filming, which further allowed lightning in a bottle to happen), allowed something special to happen. And since no one was expecting such a great movie, it really allowed this to be something great. And then they started controlling the product, which ruined any chance they had of making something great again.

The best they can do at this point is making something good. Or even pretty good. Because even the ones that are good (which I only count as about four, at most), there’s something in there that annoys me. Usually pertaining to them trying to expand their universe, or follow their established formula.

There’s this weird perfect confluence of things that work together to make this movie work. And I think it’s because it’s almost a standalone story, where we have our hero, his flaws, and he changes. Plus, Downey is perfect for the character. And, the ending is a stroke of genius. The idea that they said “to hell with the secret identity” and had him openly be Iron Man. It was absolutely genius. (And then never capitalized upon at all.)

Jeff Bridges was really solid casting here, and I almost wish they did more with him, or had him survive so he could be in the later movies. Though he wouldn’t fit in this universe. So I’ll take what I can get with him.

I can’t really list many problems with this movie because all my problems are what they did after this movie. Some parts of this are a little weak, but I can’t really point to anything that really makes me want to think less of this movie, which I can find in every single one of the other Marvel products. Like how they don’t capitalize on Tony’s character after this, and don’t really ever have the chest piece make sense or be consistent in future movies. And the world building, etc. Here, though — this movie is fun from start to finish, and like almost every single franchise so far — is the best thing the franchise can do. Think about it — unless you have a franchise based on a series of books (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), all of them (Star Wars, Pirates, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, and Marvel) have one great movie at the start, and all the rest are various levels of not as good as that. Empire is the only one where you can make the legitimate argument for it being better. And even then, I wouldn’t say so. I consider Empire like Last Crusade. Empire is a great Star Wars movie, but without the first one, it’s not the same.

This movie is both a blessing and a curse because it’s great, but also created something that can never live up to it. It also has hampered Robert Downey Jr, since he now has become Tony Stark. It’s weird how great things create more problems than they ought to. Which is kinda what Age of Ultron is about.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start The Incredible Hulk. The Marvel one. Not Ang Lee. You wouldn’t like me when I’m Ang Lee.

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