May 11, 2010

"Iron Man 2"

Here's the opening of my column in Taki's Magazine:
A couple of weeks before the release of Iron Man in May 2008, the American public started to realize that casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, a Howard Hughes-like inventor turned superhero, was a great idea. After all, why does Hollywood bother existing if not to make a big American movie about a big American comic book character starring an actor fated to be either a big American star or our most spectacular flameout?

Iron Man wound up the most entertaining of all the superhero blockbusters, at least for my tastes. The Iron Man comic, created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and two other Marvel staffers, first appeared in 1963, which is as far back as I can remember. (Perhaps that explains why I’ve enjoyed the two Iron Man movies so much.) Iron Man 2 displays the usual signs of sequelitis, but at its (frequent) best, it’s an autumnal screwball comedy that challenges a host of fine actors—such as Mickey Rourke as a villainous old Soviet physicist—to try to counter Downey’s verbal velocity.

Comic book adaptations tend to appeal to American guys of a certain age. While Avatar, the state of the art blockbuster, earned 68 percent of its revenue abroad, movies about traditional superheroes such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight still tend to reap a majority of their box office domestically. Not surprisingly, the new Iron Man 2’s $133 million opening weekend audience was 60 percent male and 60 percent over age 25.

Tony Stark is a throwback, too. He’s a billionaire grease monkey who gets his hands dirty building machines (such as his flying armored suit) rather than structuring derivatives. Moreover, he’s a hedonistic reactionary—much like Downey, who has noted, “…you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t.”

Jon Favreau’s Iron Man adaptations are nominally set in the present, but spiritually, they take place in 1963-64 at the peak of the Cold War arms race in which my father, like Tony Stark's, was employed (at a rather lower-paying level, unfortunately).

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here. 

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tony Stark is a throwback, too. He’s a billionaire grease monkey who gets his hands dirty building machines (such as his flying armored suit) rather than structuring derivatives.



It's been a long, long time since we had one of those. Howard Hughes was one.

Anonymous said...

...Perhaps “the Sixties” (which didn’t begin until 11/22/63)

Nah, "the Sixties" began rather suddenly in 1965. In 1964 anti-war protests were tiny affairs attended almost exclusively by aging Stalinists and Trotskyists, hippies barely existed and no one without CIA connections knew anything about LSD.

Garland said...

I'd say "the Sixties" began when the Boombers came of age, '65 at the earliest but even more so in the later years of the decade and even the early '70s. Certainly the '70s were the years that actually looked like "the Sixties," with the actual '60s still looking like the Fifties.

And I imagine this is because of what Sailer insightfully identifies here: the Boomers' narcissism wrote us a story about the idyllic Fifties and crazy Sixties, but they were really just describing their childhoods and the onset of their (nominal) adulthoods.

Garland said...

Captain America was devised as an anti-Nazi hero, and managed to remain one even decades after the real-world Nazis fell, continuing to fight Nazis in recent issues of his magazine earlier this year.

Iron Man was devised as an anti-Communist hero and remained one for a few years, though when "the Sixties" overtook Marvel in the late 60s/early 70s they started to downplay and deconstruct this.

Maybe this is why, when Marvel had their heroes fight a civil war a few years ago, they had Captain America lead the good side and made Iron Man the leader of the bad side. At any rate, Cap will be fighting Nazis for years to come but Iron Man is now mainly into learning why arms manufacturing is wrong.

Whiskey said...

Somewhat OT, AVATAR was co-financed to the tune of 60% by Private Equity partners in Britain, who are now feeling the dread hand of Her Majesty's Inland Revenue. Who demand that with all that profit ... comes taxes.

I'll bet that Hollywood is seeing the end of the HUUUUGE! as Donald Trump would say, budget movie, financed with other people's money. Because there are just not that many other people out there, with money, that won't be taxed into oblivion.

Which means more Iron Mans and less AVATARs. Since the former can be financed out of internal cash flow, and generate money reliably.

Which is NOT box office. Forget that -- box office is stuff that exhibitors and co-financers and such all fight over.

Nope, the real money is licensing and toys. How to Tame Your Dragon is expected to earn about 65% of its revenue from licensing and toys, not DVD or theatrical revenues or sales to TV.

Which in turn means a transformation of Hollywood. My guess is that Hollywood WON'T exist (and probably doesn't now) to make BIG blockbuster movies.

Rather, its Mamma Mia! and the Notebook and Twilight and other (cheap!) female fantasies for 12 to 65 (Amanda Seyfried of the bug eyes will be in about two thirds of them). Sex and the City Part Six.

Consider these the descendants of the B Western serials of 1935-55.

Then there will be comic book movies hoping to sell mostly toys and games and licensing. Not DVDs or tickets. Which means simplistic heroes, and bad guys, very male humor (think South Park), and very much comic book graphic design of the hero.

Toadal said...

Physicist-in-training Matt Springer at 'Built on Facts' stepped us through his force and momentum physics equations to show the fuel burn rate for Tony Stark's rocket suit was so great Iron Man could only hover a few minutes before crashing to the ground.

However, readers pointed out his suite is an outgrowth of secret Defense Department, "repulsor" technology, which utilizes a vacuum zero point fluctuation charged particle field to push things out of the way. Directed at an enemy and they go hurling away. Directed at the ground and he can fly through the air. Huh? Wasn't this the Incredibles antagonist Syndrome's secret weapon too?

Of course, the "repulsor" technology doesn't explain the vapor trail Iron Man leaves while flying. Commenters wondered whether it is residual heat from his energy generator or simply Tony Stark's showmanship.

Anonymous said...

Jon Favreau’s Iron Man adaptations are nominally set in the present

It should be pointed out that this is NOT the Jon Favreau who ghost-wrote Audacity [along with William Ayers].

Obama's Favreau was born in 1981; Iron Man's Favreau was born in 1966.

Anonymous said...

Quit hating on Amanda Seyfried.

Steve Johnson said...

"Quit hating on Amanda Seyfried."

C'mon anon, this is Whiskey. Be glad he didn't write a few paragraphs about the beauty of Sarah Michelle Gellar.

robert61 said...

I thought the Cold War setting of Iron Man 2 made it a lot more comic booky and fun than 1, which in turn made it easier to stomach tiny Scarlett Johanson kicking the crap out of a bunch of big male villains (one of the current movie/TV tropes that's going to look especially silly to film buffs a few decades from now).

And seriously, Whiskey, if the best descriptor you can come up with for Amanda Seyfried is "of the bug eyes", I must respectfully question the quality of lead in your pencil.

Thrasymachus said...

I was a bit disappointed. I'm sure Whiskey would really rip this one up, in a full review. Why didn't they just give Terence Howard his money and maintain more continuity? Why is Vanko's beef so lightly dismissed? Why is Harry Hogan a buffoon?

Simon said...

Steve, we bought and watched Iron Man on DVD yesterday on your recommendation (plus the strength of Downey's performance in Tropic Thunder), and were very disappointed. It was _boring_! Sadly, at the end my wife said:

"At least it wasn't as bad as Paul Blart: Mall Cop"

Perhaps in future you could focus more on the overall entertainment value of the movies you review, rather than just the cleverness of their central conceits?

BamaGirl said...

"I thought the Cold War setting of Iron Man 2 made it a lot more comic booky and fun than 1, which in turn made it easier to stomach tiny Scarlett Johanson kicking the crap out of a bunch of big male villains (one of the current movie/TV tropes that's going to look especially silly to film buffs a few decades from now)."

I've only seen that happen in fantasy, sci-fi, or comedies. I think everyone understands the context and that 98 percent of the time its not possible for a tiny woman to beat up a huge henchman with her fists. And the women who do this in movies usually have some kind of imaginary special powers.
I've never seen a purportedly realistic or "gritty" movie in which a woman took down a large man with anything other than a gun or possibly some kind of surprise attack with a weapon.

asdfasdfadf said...

When will this madness ever end?

Gosh, there's still Capt. America, Aquaman, Flash(hey, finally a gay hero), Thor(prolly to be played by a black guy), Mighty Mouse, etc, etc.

Enough already.

adfadfdsfd said...

What about a good idea for a superhero?

Digi-man(Digital Man)?

Blogger Man? (Finally a role for Steve as he takes on Dr. Harvard).

Anonymous said...

I've only seen that happen in fantasy, sci-fi, or comedies. I think everyone understands the context and that 98 percent of the time its not possible for a tiny woman to beat up a huge henchman with her fists.

A little off-topic, but scifi/fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta died the other day, and he seemed to specialize in drawing white women with the physiques of a Florence Griffith Joyner or a Jackie Joyner Kersee.

robert61 said...

I've never seen a purportedly realistic or "gritty" movie in which a woman took down a large man with anything other than a gun or possibly some kind of surprise attack with a weapon.

It happens all the time on TV shows. I watched an episode of Southland yesterday in which a reasonably feminine woman officer knocks out a bad guy who has gotten the best of the guy who plays Ryan on The O.C. The curvaceous babe on Chuck constantly beats up people who have managed to beat her partners, a big, strong guy pretending to be a nerd (Zach Levi) and for god's sake Animal Mother from Full Metal Jacket (Adam Baldwin). Nothing realistic about it, but it is a TV commonplace.

In the real world, or at least its depiction on a recent viral video, a Swedish lady cop made a fine showing in a mano-a-mano with a Muslim whacko who attacked Lars Vilks in Uppsala, but she had linebacker thighs and was scarcely distinguishable from a man.