Sunday, December 21, 2014

Recap: "Iron Man" Part 1: Death and Destruction

Before the film opens, we get the famous flipping comic panels of the Marvel logo, which I'm fairly certain debuted with Spider-Man, but might date back to X-Men. I'm not sure. Truly, I have failed you all. But I can tell you that this is the first time that the word "Studios" was present.

So, here we are. The first film by Marvel Studios.

First impressions, everyone.
We begin in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, where a small military convoy is driving down a dirt road. And the music playing is "Back in Black," as if heralding the return of Iron Man's popularity.

Inside one of the armored vehicles, there are three nervous soldiers and one guy sipping his scotch on the rocks. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Tony Stark.

Tony Stark: "I feel like you're driving me to a court-martial. This is crazy; what did I do?"

I'm quite certain that this isn't the first time that RDJ has said those words in the back of a vehicle.

Tony Stark: "What, you're not allowed to talk? Hey. Forrest."
Soldier 1: "We can talk, sir."
Tony Stark: "Oh, I see. So it's personal?"
Soldier 2: "No, you intimidate them."
Tony Stark: "Dear God, you're a woman. I-honestly, I couldn't've called that. I mean, I'd apologize, but isn't that what we're going for here? I thought of you as a soldier first."

This exchange successfully breaks the ice and informs the audience about Tony Stark's number one personality trait.

See you in 2015, Marty.
But you know what? It's surprisingly endearing, because it's apparent that there's no real malice behind his snark. Tony Stark is that guy that everybody wishes they could be at some point in their life. He's a rich jerk, but he's not actually mean, per se. If you annoy him, he'll certainly open up a can of sass and wit, but you know he's the life of every party. He's like a one-headed, two-armed Zaphod Beeblebrox. Of course, it'd be quite difficult to spend two entire hours with an unrepentant ass, so there will have to be some kind of character growth for our protagonist.

Soldier 3: "Is it true you went twelve-for-twelve with last year's Maxim cover models?"
Tony Stark: "That is an excellent question. Yes, and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict, but, fortunately, the Christmas cover was twins."

And the character's growth through adversity will need to happen soon, otherwise the audience will probably start to hate this smug jerk.

Also, I was unaware Sarah Michelle Gellar had a twin.
Suddenly, as is wont to happen in war zones, the vehicle in front of them explodes and gunfire breaks out. The soldier in back (Jimmy) is ordered to stay with Stark while the other two go out to shoot some bullets of their own at the terrorists. But as they get gunned down, Jimmy gets out to help, but gets killed for his troubles. Tony, meanwhile, has reached the point of "Screw this" and gets out to find cover behind something as bullets and bombs rain down around him. He ducks behind a rock and whips out his phone, presumably to text for help. But knowing Tony, he's probably posting a Tweet.

[@pprvpotts cancel my 3:00 kthnx]
But before he can reach the character limit, a bomb lands nearby. And it literally has Stark's name on it.

No, like, literally literally.
The shell explodes, sending Tony flying onto his back. The good news is that Tony's wearing a bulletproof vest. The bad news is that Tony's really good at designing weapons, and this one just stuck a few pointy bits of metal into his chest, despite the vest.

Tony fades out of consciousness, but gets it back sometime later. In a dark room somewhere, he sits restrained in a chair while some terrorists make demands into a video camera. What's funny about this scene is that there's a twist in this movie at around two-thirds of the way through. And if you speak Urdu, it's kind of spoiled for you right here, four minutes in.

After the title screen, we get a flashback explaining what's going on. 36 hours earlier, at the Caesar's Palace resort in Vegas, we get an infodump about who Tony Stark is and what he does. But it actually works. The infodump comes to us in the form of a clip being shown at the Apogee Award ceremony to honor the latest recipient, Tony Stark. We learn that Tony's dad, Howard, was a weapons developer, as well as just how smart Tony actually is.

Narrator: "At age four, he built his first circuit board. At age six, his first engine."

I hear it was more than meets the eye.
After some explanation that Tony's parents died in a car accident (handing the company over to their good friend, Obadiah Stane until Tony was old enough to lead the company), we finally get told that Tony's company, Stark Industries, makes the best weapons evar. For 'murica, you understand. Tony's buddy and military liaison to Stark Industries, Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (played by Terrence Howard), gives the obligatory overly-rehearsed speech to introduce the absent Tony. As the band plays the theme from the 60's Iron Man cartoon, Obadiah walks up to accept the award on Tony's behalf.

Obadiah: "Well, I'm not Tony Stark."

More than you realize, Obie.

Obadiah: "Ya know, the best thing about Tony is also the worst thing... he's always working."

And we cut to him working the craps tables, accompanied by his chauffeur/the movie's director, "Happy" Hogan (Jon Favreau in his usual cameo). Women, money, alcohol, etc. To spoil Tony's fun, Rhodey arrives to hand over the Apogee Award, only for Tony to offhandedly hand it over to one of the people hired to play Caesar in the casino. As Tony gets into his limo, Christine Everheart from Vanity Fair arrives for an interview. She tries to be an intrepid, Lois Lane-esque reporter by attempting to grill Tony regarding his nickname "The Merchant of Death," only to fall for his pelvic sorcery and end up in bed with him.

I find it interesting that Tony's apparently known as "The Merchant of Death." In real life, Alfred Nobel read a premature obituary for himself that used the same moniker in reference to his most famous invention, dynamite. Wanting a better legacy than being the guy who gave us grenades, Nobel set up the Nobel Prize committee to ensure that he wouldn't be mainly remembered for giving us a weapon, when all he wanted to do was make mining easier. Hmmm, I wonder what that says about Tony's upcoming character arc? Especially since Tony's obviously aware of the fact that he makes things that kill. He brings up his dad's work on the Manhattan Project as well as the medical technology his company has worked on, as well. It's obvious that this is a sore spot for him because he gets uncharacteristically serious when he talks about this. Well, until the flirting.

Anyway, Christine wakes up all post-coitus the next day in Tony Stark's Malibu mansion. No, he doesn't live in New York. And you know what? Even though many Iron Man fans were up in arms, there's really nothing wrong with this change. Keep in mind, the comic book Iron Man spent a lot of time with the West Coast Avengers.

Also, his house is freakin' awesome.
Speaking of changing things, Christine attempts to mess with a panel on the wall before the computer yells at her. Tony's PA, Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), tells her that the computer's called "JARVIS." (In the novelization, it's revealed to stand for "Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.") Yes, Tony's human butler Edwin Jarvis has been turned into a computer. Again, there's really nothing wrong with this change. Instead of just giving us another Alfred, we get all the British snark Paul Bettany's voice can muster without another character's subplot slowing down the movie. Win-win.

Pepper takes out the trash (in her own words) and goes to visit her boss tinkering with his cars in the garage/basement/puttering around area. She also gets after him for being late for his flight.

Tony: "I thought with it being my plane and all... that it would just wait for me to get there."

And she calls the Jackson Pollock he's ambivalent about buying "incredibly overpriced."

Tony: "I need it."

After more of this, she reveals that part of the rush to get him to get his business done is because she has plans tonight. After all, it's her birthday.

Tony: "...I knew that."
Pepper: "Isn't that strange? It's the same day as last year."

Originally, Pepper was going to be more like her comic counterpart. Young, immature, eager to please. Then Gwyneth Paltrow was convinced to join the project. Overnight, the character became a calm, collected, professional, snarky secretary with a sort of non-sexual sexuality to her. Gwyneth herself compared it to 1940's romantic comedy, and I completely agree. There's an old school Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn quality to their interactions and the movie is all the better for it.

Anyway, Tony speeds over to his plane and walks right past an indignant Rhodey.

Tony: "Waiting on you now. Let's go."

After some nice comic banter during the flight, Tony arrives in Afghanistan to present his latest toy to the military.

Tony: "Is it better to be feared? Or respected? And I say... is it too much to ask for both?"

This little speech was improvised by RDJ, and in fact, most of the movie was, too. The script was having... issues. It was being rewritten literally every night. Ad-libbing was strongly encouraged until it reached the point that actors would be given outlines for each scene and would improvise the majority of the dialogue. This worked out spectacularly. One of the things most often praised about this movie is the snappy, realistic dialogue. In fact, one of the hardest parts of writing this Recap is the fact that there's so much amazing dialogue that I'm dying to include. But this thing is already going to be ridiculously long, so let's move on.

Tony demonstrates the Jericho missile, which is a missile that uses "repulsor" technology to deploy several smaller missiles after being fired. Tony grabs a drink after the demonstration, gets a call from Obadiah, and gets into an armored vehicle. After bombs, bullets, and some horrifying flashes of Tony's surgery, Tony wakes up inside a cave. After doing the obligatory bit where he pulls a breathing tube out of his nose (don't try that in real life), he sees his cellmate, who recommends that he doesn't get up. See, Tony has a car battery hooked up to his chest, powering an electromagnet sticking out of it. At least he still has both his kidneys, right? After all that alcohol, he needs all the kidneys he's got.

Later, as Tony's cellmate (Yinsen, played by Shaun Toub) cooks a can of beans, he explains that he operated on Tony to remove most of the shrapnel in his chest. What's left is kept in place by a magnet. A bit homespun, but it works because Yinsen is a world-class genius. In fact, he's met Tony before, even though Tony doesn't remember it.

Yinsen: "If I had been that drunk, I wouldn't have been able to stand, much less give a lecture on, uh, integrated circuits."

This line is a subtle nod to Tony's work with transistors back in the 60's comics when those were like something out of Buck Rogers.

But angry voices from outside the giant metal door start yelling. Yinsen puts his hands up, and tells Tony to follow suit. Terrorists waltz in, armed with guns of Tony's design. Yinsen translates the leader's words. He wants Tony to build a Jericho missile for them. Tony says no and gets tortured. The torture session is overseen by another terrorist leader, Raza, played by... holy crap, it's Captain Robau!

The picture on the left was taken shortly before he turned command over to Thor.
They take him outside and show him that they have stolen all the parts needed (as well as a buttload of other Stark Industries weapons), so all they need is for Tony to put them together. And when he's done, they'll set Tony free!

Tony: "No, you won't."

Later, Yinsen tells Stark exactly what Tony's legacy will be if he gives up: death and destruction. Like Nobel before him, Tony has seen a glimpse of his legacy. So Tony hatches a plan and makes a material list for the terrorists. As Stark and Yinsen work, Yinsen explains just who these terrorists are. They're a multinational alliance known as the Ten Rings. This is a reference to the Iron Man character called the Mandarin, who was actually in a few early drafts as the main villain before they decided that the movie need to be more grounded.

Under the watchful eye of security cameras, and the less-than-watchful eye of the guy monitoring the cameras, Tony first builds himself a small, circular device known as an Arc Reactor, which is about the size of half a tin can, but can power Tony's magnet for fifty lifetimes.

Tony: "Or something big for fifteen minutes."

Iron Man is what's called a "hard" sci-fi film. The film's universe operates under the same physical laws as ours, but with one major deviation: Arc Reactor technology. Of course, it will eventually be revealed that the technology was reverse engineered by Howard Stark during the 1950's from a cosmic cube created from a compressed galaxy that was left on Earth by Odin... but that's a few retcons away.

Anyway, Tony shows Yinsen the escape plan: an armored suit. Tony gets his reactor implanted and gets to work. He and Yinsen get to know each other a little better over a game of backgammon, and Yinsen reveals that he's from a small town called "Gulmira." And when they escape, he's going to see his family again. (Plot point!)

After continued work on the armor, Raza gets suspicious and comes in to threaten torture, and gives them only one day to complete the missile, after philosophizing about weapons while talking about Genghis Khan (ancestor of the comic version of the Mandarin). After Tony saves Yinsen from a coal to the tongue, they work overtime to finish the armor. But the deadline soon comes, and while Tony's suited up in his ramshackle suit, the primitive programming system needs time to boot up. Raza sends troops to check the room, and they get blown up by a booby trap. Yinsen runs out with one of their machine guns to improvise a distraction, and the armor slowly but surely boots up. And Tony Stark walks out to meet his captors.

And it.



Okay, I'll admit that this screencap doesn't do it justice.
Tony walks out like a juggernaut, taking out everyone in his way (including Raza wielding a grenade launcher) until he comes across Yinsen, who took a few bullets and insists on being left behind.

Yinsen: "My family's dead. I'm going to see them now, Stark."

Ah, using your death to inspire the hero to live. Is your first name "Uncle Ben," Yinsen?

Yinsen dies after telling Tony not to waste his life, and Tony exits the cave. After setting fire to the Ten Rings' cache of Stark weapons, Tony activates the armor's rockets and flies off... for a bit. The armor fails in midair, and he crashes into the sand relatively unharmed. Somehow.

After digging himself out of the sand, Tony begins his trek across the desert, which ends when American helicopters fly over and spot him. And Rhodey himself is there to take him back to America, where Happy and Pepper await.

Tony: "Your eyes are red. A few tears for your long lost boss?"
Pepper: "Tears of joy. I hate job hunting."
Tony: "Yeah, vacation's over."

Coming up in the second part of the Recap, Tony goes from making weapons to making armor.

In a cave! With a box of scraps!

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