Git Off My Lawn: Of Mice and Metal Men

“I AM IRON MAN.”

There was a time when people knew the lyrics to this song, even before Ozzy got his own reality television show. I guess there was a time when people knew who Ozzy was before he got his own reality television show, but maybe that’s too metaphysical a thought for me to tackle at this moment. Besides, we’re not here to discuss Black Sabbath’s complete works and history. We’re more interested in current geekery. Although maybe if Justin Bieber bit the head off of a bat…

Which, of course, brings us to His Metallic Majesty, Tony “Iron Man” Stark. Hailing from the comics of the 60’s, when Communists made for great villains and the House Un-American Activities Committee was not just me name-dropping some historically significant jibba-jabba, Iron Man was a superhero of pure science, not gifted with powers from mutant DNA or magic talismans or radioactive spiders, but rather with a PhD in Awesome Engineering. Strangely, neither CalTech nor MIT offer this degree anymore.

Also, in case you’re wondering who would win if Batman and Iron Man got into a fight, the answer’s always Batman. He’s cheeky that way.

What’s the big difference between the classic comic book Iron Man and today’s big screen blockbuster character Iron Man? Commies. The original character spent a lot of time fighting the Red Menace, with foes named Crimson Dynamo (Anton Vanko) (bet you didn’t see that coming, movie-goers…), Titanium Man (Boris Bullski) (Bullski? That’s not even good Russian…), and Black Widow (Natasha Romanova) (okay, I can’t make fun here, because Scarlett Johanssen gets my man-parts a-tingling…). He even battled the naughty Viet Cong and some guy subtly named The Mandarin. (Hey, Mandarin is like Chinese, and they’re commies too! Oh wow!) (That’s right, comics were a lot less subtle back then.) He even battled alcohol, which was probably invented by communists to weaken our great nation. Fortunately, he never battled people who abuse parentheses, or I’d have to rewrite this paragraph.

I have to specify “classic” comic book Iron Man, since after some series reboots his origin has become much more modern, leaving out all that Cold War commie-bashing and becoming a real American hero, representing truth, justice, and the American way, even if it means rounding up enemies of the state with extreme force. Oh shit, he’s turned into a communist! I don’t know how anyone didn’t see that coming.

Let’s move on and look at the films, Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Tony Stark’s primary opponents here are his business rivals, Obadiah Stane and Justin Hammer. Sure, there are some other guys hanging around, like Ivan Vanko and some Middle Eastern persons of ill repute, but it still comes down to businessmen wielding big business as a weapon. Now, deep down, I think it would be great if all business executives got into suits of powered armor and beat the hell out of each other in order to keep themselves respectable and on their toes. After all, can you imagine the whupping that BP’s CEO would be taking right now? In fact, that’s such a great idea that I’m going to write that screenplay as soon as I finish this article. However, the point remains: fighting Cold War-era Communist supervillains is somewhat more interesting than taking on greedy corporate bastards. After all, we have the United States Congress to take on those greedy business types.

On a very barely related tangent, it should be pointed out that Captain America started off fighting Nazis in World War II. That’s why he’s better: Nazis are great villains. Any fan of Indiana Jones knows that movie #1 and movie #3 were the better films, and the not-so-secret ingredient in both cases was a heaping helping of Nazi scum. Don’t even try to argue with me, because my hearing’s gone and I didn’t catch a word you just said.

However, despite the comics’ superior class of villainous source material (oh crap, I can’t tell if I’m being sarcastic with the word “superior”), the movies have one thing that pushes them up and above the comics: Robert Downey, Jr. In all the history of character typecasting, never has someone been so designed to play a role than Downey as Tony Stark. One cannot even call it “acting” as much as “waking up and going through one’s daily routine, only with better special effects”. Tony Stark brazenly declared, “I am Iron Man”, but Downey could just as easily have said “I am Tony Stark” without anyone batting an eyelid. He’s so perfectly suited for this role that he even eclipses Samuel L. Jackson, who is even more supremely typecast to play Agent Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the comic book character was deliberately drawn to look like Jackson, with his consent), and that takes doing.

What is the best version of Iron Man out there? The first Iron Man movie, without a doubt. It was an excellent superhero origin story, with vibrant characters and a hero that was simultaneously a complete ass and the epitome of the absent-minded eccentric scientist. His transformation and subsequent battle to become Iron Man, I think, outshone the Batman origin in Batman Begins, which was itself no slouch of a film. The comics do not do the character as much justice as Downey does, and the sequel, which may just be a placeholder until The Avengers comes up, emphasizes the one downside to Downey’s portrayal of Tony Stark: as a result of his picture-perfect depiction of Stark, the other actors seem muted and weaker in his presence.

But don’t take my word for it; I’m the guy who still thinks Flash Gordon was one of the best movies ever made. Go out and see Iron Man 2 for yourself! It’s better than Robin Hood.

Tune in next time when I decide to turn some other comic into a movie, with the help of some Cadbury’s and a bottle of Tanqueray. Inspiration is delicious!

Posted on May 26, 2010 at 12:04 by The Grand Vizier · Permalink
In: Columns, Comics, Movies · Tagged with: , , , , , , ,