Saturday, December 20, 2014

Recap: "Iron Man" Intro

It only seemed right to post this during Hanukkah, which we're now well into.

From Siegel and Shuster to Brian Michael Bendis and everyone in between, I'd like to thank all the Jewish comic writers and artists who helped define the medium for everything they've done. To them and to my readers, Happy Hanukkah. Peace you upon you all.

"L'chaim. L'art de Martell?"
So let's talk about one of those Jewish comic creators and a film based on one of his creations. I am, of course, talking about Brian Michael Bendis and his character Jessica Jones. And if you read the title of this post, you know that's not true.

Nothing to do with Brett Favre, Travis Fulton, or Cal Ripken, Jr.
Stan Lee had a legendarily successful creative run with previous Marvel characters like the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. To continue that streak, he opted to try something a bit new. He wanted to make his audience sympathize with someone they hated. Tony Stark was designed to represent the opposite of what Lee's largely counter-culture audience believed in. Tony Stark, a millionaire pawn of the military-industrial complex. Tony Stark was, in essence, "the Man." By making the character a repentant hero following one of his own weapons sending shrapnel into his heart (forcing him to wear a chest plate to survive), Lee created a hero that the audience could sympathize with, despite ideological differences between the character and the audience.

Iron Man enjoyed moderate success since his debut. He was never as popular as Spider-Man or Wolverine, but he had his fans. More than, say, Captain Marvel.

But to be fair, Captain Marvel died a while ago.
Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man has more fans than ever. And I'll tell you what, it's a miracle that the Iron Man movies even exist.

Short story? Development Hell. Long story?

Since creating the first superhero film (Superman and the Mole Men or Batman: The Movie, depending on who you ask), DC Comics dominated the genre with the likes of Superman and Batman before they slipped up by releasing the box-office bombs of Steel and Batman and Robin, which many claim killed the genre. Not exactly true, but it did lead to a one-year lull in 1999 where Mystery Men was the only superhero movie released, as well as a complete lack of them in 2001.

1999 was a rough year.
Luckily, Marvel already had a few projects lined up that they released in spite of the backlash against the genre. Marvel's earlier attempts at films had mostly been direct-to-TV fare, save for the infamous Howard the Duck and the 90's Captain America movie that no one saw. But in 1998, the year after Batman and Robin was released, we got the cult hit Blade. In 2000, we got X-Men. In 2002, we got the dynamic duo of Blade II and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.

Comic book movies were back, baby. But this time, the roles were reversed. DC was releasing crap like Catwoman the same year that Marvel released Spider-Man 2. Marvel movies were being made left and right all willy-nilly. But quality soon plummeted as Spider-Man and X-Men wrapped up their respective trilogies with disappointing threequels. More heroes were tapped to fill this void by various film companies.

Hulk. Daredevil. The Punisher. Failures.

Pretty soon, Marvel was simply running out of available properties. A plan was formulated in 2005 as Elektra and Fantastic Four received lukewarm receptions. Marvel's plan was simple, but unprecedented. And having already filed for bankruptcy the previous decade, they were willing to take a chance.

Step 1: Make movies about each Avenger. (Sorry, Hawkeye and Black Widow.)
Step 2: Make an Avengers movie.

It would take some doing. The first thing to do would be to get the film rights back for the individual characters. This would be fairly easy, because the Hulk's last film flopped and the other founding Avengers' rights had been in Development Hell since the 1990's.

Thor's movie deal fell through once Sam Raimi left the project in '91, and Ant-Man's film kept moving one step forward and two steps back for about twenty years before somehow finding a release date in 2015, to the shock and glee of both fans of Ant-Man. Myself included. In 2006, Marvel got the film rights to Iron Man back from the various studios who had been trading them around and got to work. The next step was throwing out the awful script.

Because Iron Man was barely a blip on the pop-cultural radar in the 90's, some odd ideas were thrown around. Potential villains ranged from a billionaire playboy Mandarin to War Machine-clad Howard Stark. Names like Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage were tossed about. Once Jon Favreau got his mitts on the project, though, he took inspiration from Tom Clancy, RoboCop, and James Bond. The end result was 2008's Iron Man, the first film by the newly created Marvel Studios (though Paramount Pictures would distribute).

How did it do?

Over $585.1 million at the box office. Critical and commercial success. Selected as one of the top films of 2008 by the American Film Institute. And the character went from a B-Lister to one of Marvel's flagship characters. I'd say it done good.

"Well, I don't like to brag."
Liar.

"Yeah."
And who could have predicted that from a movie about a B-List superhero played by a washed-up actor directed the guy who gave us Elf ? Especially when you consider another movie released in 2008 starring a certain superhero of the billionaire kind you may know from Marvel's Distinguished Competition....

But enough about that. For now.

Coming tomorrow in Part 1 of the Iron Man Recap, we'll find out what makes Tony Stark tick as well as what's wrong with his ticker.

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