THOUGHTS ON THE IRON MAN MOVIE

August 27, 2009 at 10:39 am By:

Okay quickly–I don’t want this to be a big scholarly dissertation or anything, BUT–

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Last night I (finally) watched the Iron Man movie. I’ll grant that that’s kinda weird, as I work in a comics shop, WITH a bunch of people who saw it right away and pretty much all loved it. But here’s the thing–when you work in a comics shop, and have for years and years and years, you start hearing about these movies years, sometimes decades, before they’re actually released. We were hearing about the Spider-Man movie when James Cameron was supposedly doing it. Every time a new actor is attached or there’s drama on the set, we hear about that too. The budget, who’s handling the special effects, behind-the-scenes romance… by the time the movie comes out, it’s pretty hard to think of it as a fun piece of escapist adventure.

I would even suggest that, to some curmudgeons (me), it’s easier to think of it as work. Getting off work to go see (or even rent) a movie you’ve had to hear about for a bajillion years, not to mention directed by Jon Favreau (?!)… well, there’s plenty of other stuff to watch is all I’m saying.

So enough about why I took so long to see it. Who cares? I have now seen it. And guess what? It was good–maybe great, at least in terms of loud action movies. Maybe not Die Hard good, but pretty darn good all the same. And I liked it despite NOT being a fan of Iron Man, which I think is part of what made this such a big mainstream (read: not comics-world) hit.

I think most people can agree that the lion’s share of superhero comics movies are terrible. Or, if not all the way terrible, then at least deeply flawed. To be fair, besides the regular factors that afflict bad movies (including bad acting, bad writing, bad directing, bad story, etc.), a comics movie has another potentially crippling factor to deal with–

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A comics movie has to deal with the whole adaptation issue as well. Most of them screw it up, tying themselves too closely to the original work, not allowing the NEW work to have a life of its own, to breathe as its own piece of art. It sounds like this was the Achilles’ heel of Watchmen, although I haven’t seen it. But you don’t have to be a genius to read that incredibly dense book–which is very much a COMIC BOOK, and depends on that form for much of its punch–and know that there’s no way to do that faithfully in a 2-3 hour movie. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adapt Watchmen–but just chuck the idea of “filming the movie” out the window and make something new and exciting, something worth all that time and money you’re spending.

Because here’s the deal: most people out in the world who watch a comics movie have probably not read the comic book, and have no loyalty to that story, don’t care about that story, in many cases are not even aware of that story’s existence. Let’s face it, the percentage of people who went and saw Spider-Man who buy Spidey comics every Wednesday is probably in the single digits. If you target that small but rabid fanbase and cater to them, you lose the other 90% of people who just want to see a good movie, who are on a date or had a hard week at work, and just want to do something fun on Saturday night.

Am I right?

So. What Iron Man did RIGHT was to use the original Iron Man story as a kind of loose framework, and then build something on top of that with a life of its own. There are enough “core” elements there to satisfy story enthusiasts–Tony Stark is a tipsy millionaire who creates this wacky suit in a prison camp to save his life and escape. I’m not really into Iron Man as a comic, so I’m not sure if a lot of the Obadiah Stane stuff exists in the original story or not, but who cares? The story moves too quick to sit down and start wondering about stuff like this. Jon Favreau made a movie that honors the source material somewhat, but is really just about telling a fast and exciting story. Compressing 40 years of Iron Man evolution into a half hour of hilarious testing pratfalls was great (not to mention skipping all the boring 80’s alcoholic stuff), and more importantly, was told to the WIDE audience, and not just those of us (somewhat) familiar with the material already.

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I have to say, while I’m certainly snobby about a lot of things, I’m not a person who cares AT ALL about fidelity to source material in adaptations. It almost always makes for crappy adaptations. The reverse is true as well–are there any comic adaptations of movies that are good comics in and of themselves? As in, can stand on their own rather than just being promotional tchotches designed to cash in on a film’s (usually brief) popularity? These things make me die inside a little, although there are exceptions. But a bunch of lightboxed stills from the movie with dialogue pasted on top DO NOT a compelling story make.

Am I right?

Anyway, I liked Iron Man, a lot, way more than I thought I would. That’s the point. Okay, now to get back to work on the order form for October comics!

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