Here’s a question. Can a story succeed and fail at the same time? The answer is a resounding YES. I should know since I am a moderately successful comic fantasy writer who doesn’t consider himself as such. Yet the writer I imagine myself to be clearly isn’t the writer many folks think of me as being. Lots of wonderful, thoughtful fans will tell me how funny they find my books. You’d be hard pressed to find a positive review of anything I’ve written that doesn’t mention the humor element. And you’d probably be just as hard pressed to find a negative review that didn’t revolve around the novel’s humor. There’s just no way around it. As a comic fantasy novelologist, I’m a hit. As a thoughtful writer of off beat fantasy, I’m less successful. But I do earn a living, and, if you put my back to the wall, I’ll admit the world at large thinks I’m a comic fantasist. Truthfully, if I didn’t deny my comic fantasy reputation, I’m pretty sure no one else would have considered me as anything but.
But, believe it or not, this isn’t about me.
Thinking about Iron Man 2, I think it’s a failure as a superhero movie. At least, how I would define a superhero movie. As I’ve mentioned, superheroes to me are about fisticuffs. They’re also about how a superhero spends his hours fighting evil and less about what they do in their secret identities. I couldn’t really care less about Tony Stark. I care about Iron Man. I like him in the power armor, battling evil. The parts of the movie without power armor shouldn’t get in the way of that. They should serve as bridges to action scenes. This is my definition of what makes a superhero story work. And, yes, it’s a completely arbitrary definition created by me. A definition, I’ll admit, that most no one else seems to agree with. Still, a superhero movie without 2o tons of mega action seems inexplicable to me. Why have a character who can bench press tanks, fly, and shoot lasers out of his palms if those aren’t going to be central to what the movie is all about?
Just as I don’t read Spider-Man stories to watch Peter Parker moon about his love life or read Batman comics to watch Bruce Wayne in the board room, I don’t follow Iron Man to see him build power suits and play Davinci Code with clues left behind by his dad. (By the way, why did his father leave behind a bizarre puzzle for his son when there didn’t seem to be any good reason to hide it? Even if his dad had wanted to hide it, was there a reason he couldn’t just put the plans in a safety deposit box along with a note: “Dear, Tony. Here’s a cool new molecule that could come in handy some day.” I mean, it just seems so needlessly complicated, just an excuse to show how brilliant Tony Stark is. But they guy built a super suit. I get that he’s brilliant. But I digress.) Yet I know that I’m the minority on this, and I accept it.
So by my own definition, I’d say Iron Man 2 is a failure as a superhero flick. I’d say the same thing about each of the Spider-Man movies. And probably the first Fantastic Four movie. Both Hulk films occupy a gray area, although I’m one of those who actually liked Ang Lee’s film, it definitely wastes too much time on Bruce Banner. The newer Hulk was much better, and yet, once again, I’m in the minority of those who consider it a good film. (Better than Iron Man 2 in my humble opinion.) I’ll even go so far as to suggest that Ghost Rider is a better superhero movie than Iron Man 2.
And there goes all my comic book credibility.
Have I mentioned how amazed I am that I have a career? It seems that my tastes are, more often than not, contrary to the norm.
Now, I’m not going to say Ghost Rider is a great movie. It’s good, but it’s still a little skimpy on the superhero stuff. Still, in comparison to Iron Man 2, I feel that it satisfies my superhero itch far better. Remember, this is by my definition that I could give a damn about complex characters and plots if it gets in the way of the super action. (If those characters, plots managed to be complex without getting in the way of the action then it’s another thing entirely. The Incredibles manages to be both a great study in multi-layered writing, fantastic characters without losing the super action. Probably why it’s my favorite film.) Ghost Rider’s storyline won’t challenge you, but it’s not supposed to impress you with its sophistication. It’s supposed to be about a supernatural ghost biker who fights demons. Everything is just an excuse for that.
Once again, I’m rambling. Back on track.
My original point is that I consider Iron Man 2 a pretty subpar superhero movie. But it’s not a bad movie. It has good acting, good production, good FX, good directing, and while the story is actually pretty clunky, the dialogue is clever and interesting. It even has a few moments of creative action. Just not nearly enough for my specific tastes. So if you’re willing to concede my point for a moment, is it possible for Iron Man 2 to fail as a superhero movie and still be a good movie? The answer, as we’ve previously established is yes.
I think this can be a bit confusing. How does something fail and succeed at the same time? And it could be argued, pretty easily, that I’m just splitting hairs. If the movie, book is good then does it matter why you enjoyed it? No. I’m not usually insulted when someone tells me they enjoyed my books, even if they just talk about the humor. Although I’ll admit that if I’m in a bad mood, it can be a touch annoying to my perception of myself and my work. But that’s merely ego.
On the other hand, I don’t think anyone involved in the making of Iron Man 2 cared much about the superhero stuff. They threw it in because it was expected, but if they were really excited about it, they’d have cut a minute off of every talky seen to allow the supervillain showdown to last beyond three minutes. (Have I mentioned how much that cheeses me off?) And why should this be surprising? Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t really get a chance to act when Iron Man is onscreen. And, unless you’re an animation fanatic, is it much fun to direct CGI characters? The liveliest action piece in the whole film involves Whiplash attacking an armor-less Stark on a racetrack. You can just tell that Favreau was glad to be working with real people, and as soon as Stark puts on his Iron Man armor, the scene ends almost immediately. It’s completely unfair to suggest that I really know what was going through the director’s mind, but all I know is that the movie seems to want to ditch Iron Man whenever it can. Heck, the longest scene of Iron Man involves Tony Stark stumbling around in a drunken haze. That’s gotta mean something, right?
People will like Iron Man 2. There’s not much reason not to. Even I don’t dislike it. I just think it’s a weak superhero movie, but I’m probably wrong. Just as I’m wrong for thinking I’m not a comic fantasy writer.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,