Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dah, Dah, Dah-Dah-DAAAH!

First of all, at this time, Michelle is in the midst of returning home. Once everything is settled, we will be recording a new Cartoon Geeks cast again. We have seriously tried to do a once-a-month show, but life seems to be getting in the way. We shall persevere. to Iron Man. It is as good a movie as its box office bears out. I finally was able to afford tickets for myself and two friends; I didn't trust my own reaction. Everyone enjoyed it, including the big old guy who never read comics and who has a sour opinion about most modern movies.

The character of Tony Stark was never a favorite of mine. It was hard to feel for him. He was rich and a party boy. He had all the toys. Sure, he had a defective heart that was supposed to make us feel for him. But he compensated for it by basically being a bully. His assistants were pretty much treated badly.

Remember Pepper Potts, his secretary with whom he cozied in the movie? He was so secretive and so unresponsive to her, in the comics she ended up marrying the sourpuss chauffeur "Happy" Hogan. The biggest emotional hook that the comic developed, in the 1980's, was that Stark became an alcoholic. The writers took him to the bottom, deposing him from Stark Industries and making him a pathetic homeless vagrant. At one point, Stark went hunting down all the weapons using his tech and destroyed them, an Ayn Rand deathcamp solution since some of the weapons he destroyed were ones he'd sold to the US government.

Most recently in the comics, Stark helped the U.S. Government hunt down the Marvel superheroes in the "Civil War" plotline, forcing them to work for the government or go to prison. His understandable conservative attitudes turned into Karl Rove-like power-mongering. Basically, he's a guy you could easily dislike.

Well, Marvel did a good job with the movie. Stark became likeable. And as other people have pointed out, there is a bonus to having Marvel Studios making the movie, instead of licensing the product to someone else.

If you stayed through to the end of the end credits, you saw the big surprise cameo. Recall what Nick Fury said? I don't, but it was something about "stepping into a wider world." That was not simply "the Avenger initiative." That was also a sly inclusion of Captain America's shield in one scene. That was a skyscraper identified as "Roxxon" (an evil megacorporation that actually killed Tony Stark's parents in the comics). That was the subtle reference to the "Ten Rings," which of course means Iron Man's main villain, the Asian conqueror The Mandarin.

The big problem with superhero movies is that studios only license one superhero per movie. That means, in each movie, there is only one superhero in the world. Superman movies never refer to Batman, or vice versa (until a much-delayed crossover movie makes it to the screen, if it ever does). Spider-Man shares Manhattan with dozens of other Marvel heroes, some of whom he has wound up fighting by accident, but you wouldn't know it from the movies.

But with Marvel producing its own movies, and only using the studios for releasing the films, they can put anybody and everybody they control into the films. Marvel can make superhero movies the way they used to make superhero comics, with guest stars and guest villains.

Marvel paid a lot for this. To create Marvel Studios, they promised the future film revenues of twelve of Marvel's characters, including Iron Man. If you want the business details, you can read this Business Week article here.

Suffice it to say, on the Spider-Man movies, Marvel only makes 5 percent of the potential profits. With Iron Man, they make a lot more. It is a slick business deal...slicker than anything Tony Stark could have put together.

This is, in fact, the most upbeat bit of fanboy news we've had in a while. Speed Racer is looking as empty as the sequels to The Matrix. "Moon" Night Shyamalan and his upcoming take on the Living Dead looks awful. I've seen the first part of A&E's remake of The Andromeda Strain and it gored and grossed up the original Michael Crichton story something awful.

But Marvel...even if not all their films work, I think they'll show Hollywood and the megacorporations something. Namely that you don't fix what doesn't need fixing. I thought Tony Stark would have needed a lot of changes to make him a viable movie character. Undoubtedly Disney, Warner, and the other big guns did too. But we were all wrong. Marvel was right. They created the character, and they know better than anyone else what made him popular. They didn't give him a "cute dog" or the other nonsense that film adapters love to add. And if Marvel Films keeps it up, they might make genre films fun again. It's about time.