Sunday, May 4, 2008

Super Hero Risky Business

About 30 minutes into Iron Man a couple of nagging questions popped into the old noggin. First question: who the hell would have guessed that Jon Favreau could have pulled off this movie? And when I say he pulled it off, I mean he did more than stand behind the camera and let the special effects drive the movie. Truth is, he could have phoned this baby in. When Fantastic Four makes enough to warrant a sequel, you know you've got a recipe for success in a comic book movie. Instead, Favreau gave us more. He gave us a great movie that just so happens to have a super hero in it. And damn it was a fun ride. One that you absolutely must experience.

We're seeing an evolution of the comic book movie my friends, brought on by directors like Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan and now Favreau. Gone are the days of passing these off as high-priced popcorn. I suppose if they gave the reins to the likes of Michael Bay and Bret Ratner (which they did of course with X-Men 3), then that's about as far as we would get. Fortunately there's someone out there who had the insight to listen to the ludicrous idea of Jon Favreau delivering a big budget comic book movie. And who is that guy with all that insight? Or gal? Please buy them a drink from me and send me the bill. They deserve it. Okay, back to my questions.

The second question I had was who the hell would have thought that Robert Downey Jr. would have made an excellent main character in a comic book movie? I remember when the original Batman came out and Michael Keaton was cast. It was an interesting choice but honestly I didn't really see a good marriage there. I think Keaton was cast more for his lips than anything else. And everybody hooted and hollered about Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but really who didn't see that coming? It's not like you were casting against type there. But Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark? His flamboyance was perfect and probably a no-brainer, but he also had the depth to make the convincing transformation from war monger to super hero. Of course there are lots of people out there that can pull that off, but not many that can have so much fun with it.

It's hard to believe that amidst all the dreck that comes out, especially during the Summer, that there are still people out there in Hollywood taking risks. And not just little itty bitty risks. But big, huge risks. Favreau, while a very lovable character in movies and on TV, doesn't exactly have a bankable track record. The reception of his first movie Made was mixed, and Zathura never found its audience. Elf was a hit, but it was hardly the paved road on the way to "hey, I can deliver a big budget summer movie."

One hopes that these risks amount to something other than huge pay raises and bigger offices for the the person(s) involved. One would hope that Hollywood might perk up its ears and take note. Afterall, this isn't the first time that major risks have paid off. Look at Peter Jackson and the trilogy that made Robert Shaye the money whore he is today. Or Sam Raimi with Spiderman? Or all the way back to Tim Burton with Batman? It would be nice to see some of these risks translate to other areas of movie making that maybe don't need hundreds of millions of dollars or a super hero attached. It would be nice to think that movies such as Zodiac and There Will Be Blood are more the norm than the exception in any particular year. Jeez, wouldn't that be weird. To think that it's not the little independent features that could drive better films, but the big super hero movies instead. It is Hollywood after all, and stranger things have happened.


Burbanked said...

Great perspective, Piper, and the comparison of Jackson and LOTR with Favreau is particularly intriguing. When I first heard about IRON MAN getting made, I was interested, but not all that compelled. When I read that Favreau would be doing it, I became even less involved.

But it sounds like he's accomplished a lot in the movie, and great for him. I still have to see it, but I'm way more excited than I ever thought I'd be.

And off-topic, I'd just like to go on record and say one of my boys is a proud owner of a Slingshot Monkey! And not only does it fly 50 feet (dubious), but it SCREAMS while it does it. Creepy and fun!

Anonymous said...

Happy to hear such nice things said about Iron Man. Love Downey in almost everything and was intrigued to hear he was playing Stark and curious to see what Favreau would do. Heck, I could direct a superhero flick like Fantastic Four but bringing substance to these movies has been long overdo.

The bar has been set? Hopefully.

PIPER said...


So let me see if I have this right. The monkey slingshot flies 50 feet and it screams? Must. Have. One. Now.

Also, not to be missed is my unsuspecting beard cap which you will see in the sidebar if you scroll down lower.

bird flu,

If you haven't seen it, you should. And in my opinion, the bar was set with Spider-man 2 and Batman Begins. Two very good movies about super heroes.

Damian Arlyn said...

Yeah, Favreau is now 3 for 3. I remember when I heard that the director of Elf and Zathura (two movies I very much enjoyed) was helming the Iron Man movie, I was optimistic. I also remember thinking that Robert Downey Jr. was a gutsy choice for Tony Stark, but also perhaps a brilliant one. I've always found him to be a great actor, but could he carry a mega-budget, effects-laden, "franchise-spawning" comic book movie? Yup. Downey proves with this film that he is not just a fantastic actor and a well-known celebrity, but an A-list movie star. Some are predicting that this will do for his career what Pirates did for Johnny Depp. I hope so.

Must respectfully disagree, however, with your assessment of Keaton in the original Batman. To this day he's probably my favorite actor to inhabit the role so far (with Bale coming in a very close second). I think Keaton brought just the right amount of enigma and eccentricity to the role. Hs was the first Bruce Wayne ever to be slightly "off" and it proved very effective for the character. I don't think he was cast for his lips so much as for his eyes. In an interview, Tim Burton said he thought Keaton had very striking and intense eyes (which he does) and underneath a mask, eyes are very important.

You are right about Jack Nicholson's getting the Joker was no surprise to anyone, but who says great casting has to be against type? Sometimes the obvious choice is indeed the right one. That's what makes it obvious.

PIPER said...


You make good points about Keaton and Batman. I always felt he played it a bit subdued. But you're talking to a guy who thinks that Batman hasn't weathered so well. And you're right about obvious casting. There's no harm in it, but to me Nicholson was bigger than his role. It was Jack Nicholson playing The Joker versus The Joker as played by Heath Ledger.

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