Did it have to suck so

Guess which movie I’m talking about.

This movie. You didn’t expect that, did you!

Iron Man, 2008, Paramount Pictures

Iron Man, 2008, Paramount Pictures

I’m deliberately invoking a values-construct I despise, in a fit of sarcasm: that triumphant, half-sniggering delivery in pure geekspeak of the phrase, “it sucks!”

Let’s talk about “awesome” vs. “sucks.” They’re both conversation-stoppers, used to silence discussion of a thing and turn it into a device for socially-positioning the speaker. Once the thing is so designated, then people are obliged to say one or the other about it in order to belong to the tribe. Certain subsets exist, like the posed role of the insider-iconoclast, who has a few catch-phrases to redeem the thing-which-sucks or to condemn the awesome-thing, but again, only as subordinate positions within the larger, acknowledged position the thing has been assigned. Whether the assignment comes from emergent culturally-effervescent properties among the people, or from carefully focus-grouped media blitzing, or from some disorganized network of higher-status opinion-makers among the audience, I have no idea, and I don’t really care.

One crucial detail in these dynamics, though, is the privileged role of movies. It probably has something to do with the raw commercial volume involved, based on how much they cost to make and especially on how much they rake in. I don’t suppose we have to look deeper than that to understand why they command such respect, or, if aesthetics have anything to do with it, I expect they’re in that context anyway. It’s important here though because people who purport to love and value comics become outright insane with stress and commitment regarding how well a comics property does as a movie. Apparently it is very, very important for the movie to … I don’t know … to be successful, to be liked, to usher in name-recognition of the character for people who don’t read the comics, to … geez, I dunno. I really don’t get it. Movie success does not particularly pump comics success in market terms, only in shareholder and board-member terms, so this whole obsession misses me by a wide margin. Bluntly, fandom wholly embraces the notion that the movie’s reception and its reputation in cultural terms sets the gold standard by which they stake their geek identity and the comic’s intrinsic worth.

It’s tied as well to the perfect confusion between talking as an audience member and customer, vs. talking as a policy-maker and investor in marketing, profit share, ROI, and meme generation. A full 50% of fanwank is rooted in thinking of oneself as advisory to the latter, and using its priorities as a way to threadcrap the former.

On to this film, because it’s perhaps the current poster child for THE FUCKING AWESOME in fandom terms, far beyond just being a good movie on its own, but allegedly validating comics and providing comics fans with status which they apparently yearn for beyond all reason. And yeah, it is so much good! Much better than even Spider-Man 2003, especially due to its exquisite pacing; it hits the emotional beats so perfectly:

  • 15 minutes: “I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once. That’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
  • 30 minutes: Yinsen is threatened by the warlord and Stark saves him
  • 37.5 minutes: Yinsen (dying), “Don’t waste your life”
  • 45 minutes: “I never got to say goodbye to Dad. I never got to say goodbye to my father. There’s questions I would have asked him, I would have asked him how he felt about what this company did, if he was conflicted, if he ever had doubts, or maybe he was every inch the man we all remember from the newsreels. I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to protect and defend them. And I saw that I had become part of a system that was comfortable with zero accountability.”
  • 52.5 minutes: physical business as Pepper walks away with the old “heart” he’s just told her to discard (which she won’t), and he looks after her and unconsciously taps the new one
  • 60 minutes: first successful test of the flight technology (this is the only “beat” based on tech display) (nb the next 15-min unit, exact halfway point of the film, is a little crammed)
  • 65.25 minutes: the inscription on the old “heart” case, “proof that Tony Stark really has a heart”
  • 67.5 minutes: Tony crashes Stane’s gala to confront him – next bits include dancing with Pepper and Stane disclosing, basically, how much he hates him
  • 75 minutes: “A child’s simple question: ‘Where are my mother and father?'” (with the chilling profile shot of Stark as well as the mirrored glass)
  • 82.5 minutes: (to Rhodey) “It’s me!”
  • 90 minutes: “I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do, and I know in my heart that it’s right.”
  • 97.5-97 minutes: Stane, to the helpless Stark, “Your father, he helped give us the atomic bomb. Now what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as you? … A whole generation of weapons with this at its heart, weapons that will help steer the world back on course, with the balance of power in our hands.”

There are no throwaway scenes at all. Every bit of action, every explosion, every bit of mechanical porn in this first hour and a half feeds straight into the next emotional beat, and each of these is a direct development and escalation from the last one.

The scripting and performances to this point are brilliant, as I need not tell you. Stark is unbelievably good. His snark never sidelines the story. It’s seething with romance. The whole complex of imagery and content perfectly distills the historical comics imagery and events.

The politics are real too, shockingly so. It shifts Vietnam seamlessly to Afghanistan, which is more appropriate maybe than viewers realize. In the comics, for decades, editors and writers shifted and wandered all over the place regarding Stark as a weapons manufacturer. Starlin and Gerber plotted to turn him into an ecologist (remember all that emphasis on his solar-powered armor?), which was reinforced in Englehart’s Avengers dialogue. Layton brought it up in the 80s in the context of personal failings and alcoholism, among the most gutsy Marvel work of the period. It’s here in the movie too: productively transferring the 1960s tension between Iron Man fighting all these simplistic communists in a contradictory rather lefty creative context (here I include Lee, and I suspect Kirby) to today’s simplistic notions of terrorism, and driving like a Golden Avenger’s boot-jets toward the ecology-energy issues raised in the 1970s and the stressed warmonger issues raised in the 1980s.

In search of Pie

In search of Pie

So what’s my problem? Am I being that supercilious geek who tells you why your awesome thing actually sucks? Nope, I’m talking about something much more important than geek judgment, status, or the need for larger social validation. I’m talking about stories, and the way this brilliant one simply evaporates in its final twenty minutes, and worse, obviates everything that made it good to that point. The problem here is Ironmonger. Not, I hasten to say, not even the slightest criticism of the Dude’s Bridges’ performance. Nor even in concept, i.e. different values about something important, because that’s spot-on too and gorgeously present from almost the first five minutes of the movie. Exactly the problem? He has No Pie.

It was totally there to do! Jeff Bridges was perfect for it and manfully nailed it all the way up to the 100-minute mark or so until the script bent him over and not in a good way. It shows up first in the over-tight connection between Stane and the Afghan warlord. Without that, the setup and developments were perfect for it. I was sitting there in practical ecstasy, seeing arguably the finest comic book movie I’d ever seen all come together and … … thud. Because that over-tightness by itself was only irritating and possibly forgivable, but what he does in the final twenty minutes makes literally no sense.

  • He already has his control over the Stark Industries board and has successfully ousted Stark.
  • Iron Man’s attack on the warlord is no big deal. He’s already tarred Stark with the PTSD spin.
  • He doesn’t need to make armor. The energy source is the issue, not the battle-suit. The whole bit about recovering the original armor and making one of his own is flatly moronic. He’s a weapons designer on his own; he can make a new thingie of whatever sort.

So why, exactly, did Stane have to put on that suit and go all berserkoid after Stark? Did he get some Pie which suddenly made this situation a zero-sum between his goals and Stark’s life? No, he just … gets all murderous and puts it on. If it were the the standard Kick-the-Dog, I could still at least appreciate his efforts toward his villainy even in the face of a little audience-manipulative Snidely Whiplash nastiness. But no! Look at what he does next. There is no discernible point to his actions. There is zero, zip connection between his subsequent rampage and his revealed goals and values, basically U.S. supremacy straight out of George Kennan, expressed earlier in his gloating over Stark’s helpless body.

Is it about when Pepper swipes the intel and escapes his office? Well, not really, because once that happens, Stane is done. He has his spiff armor, but his entire planned personal role in re-establishing U.S. hegemony is Oh-Ver. SHIELD shouldn’t even have gone to arrest him at all, least of all taking Pepper along; they could simply put out an ordinary APB and arrest the guy when he tries to order waffles somewhere. He can’t live in the damn armor. He has no company, no infrastructure, no resources – no power. It’s not like Tony couldn’t clue them in to whatever little techie tricks he’s carrying around. In this situation, his only hope is to get out of there and spend the rest of his life being the Rhino, without any sort of goal or career or influence or even criminal prospects.

Think: does smashing his way out of his HQ and murdalizing Stark in the street further his own goals in the tiniest way? He says “No one’s going to stand in my way, not even you,” but now that he’s totally busted, what “way” is he talking about exactly? Does he think he’s going to finish that fight, take off the armor, and go back to run Stark Industries some more? Is there even that tiny bit of delusional ambition to talk about? Or am I suddenly looking at a previously rational albeit wicked human character in the story suddenly turning into a bona-fide armor-headed holder of the idiot ball? That’s a rhetorical question. Obadiah Stane was wonderfully evil and above all relevant, but Ironmonger is an unmitigated idiot. He doesn’t even Kick the Dog on his way to doing something understandable, because in terms of response and reaction and rising action, he’s just thrashing around. He has Cow Pie. (hey, I’m getting good at this trope creation, aren’t I?)

That’s why SHIELD’s and indeed every good guy’s action in the final fifteen minutes is moronic too. Stane’s transformation into a moron forces everyone else to do the same so there can be a fight between two armored guys to watch. I’m back in the early 90s groaning over the stupidity of Robocop 2. The fight is unnecessary (Stane’s ambitions are already thwarted), manipulative (Pepper gets shoehorned there for no reason except for Tony’s girl to be endangered), irrelevant (it has nothing to do with Tony’s social ideals and responsibilities), predictable at every step (oh look he falls down a hole which blows up, so surprising), and completely anti-climactic.

This is a writing issue, character and plot, whether originally scripted or doctored or on-set revised this part of the story into what happened in the film. Whoever did that made it suck. Not a fandom, geekspeak “sucked, man!” reeking of its conformity to all the reviews and to what everyone “knows.” Whoever did that made this a bad story.

Don’t be blinded by pop culture loyalty and the desire to validate what you like through commerce. This was a disaster, all the worse for its – I’ll say it – genius setup and execution until that precise sequence. It reduced all that excellence into a mere setup for franchise writing: more “Robert doing Tony” schtick, more armor-porn as if that weren’t the most played-out imagery in cinema, more depiction instead of development, more fight instead of conflict, more “see it again like last time” instead of closure and change. I’d have liked the movie better if the entire thing had been this stupid; then I could have accepted all these things as a spectacle worth a movie ticket, no more than a blatant advertisement for toys and for its own sequel, in fact, why not accept that every movie is now nothing but a trailer for the next. I get that. It’s banal but it’s not evil.

This was evil. To ground a story in this much history, this much solid politics, this much humanity, this much scripting expertise, this much thoughtful use of the comics material, this much personal development, this much potential genuine villainy … and then we get Idiot Ball Cow Pie … … it’s worse than “thud.” Buzzkill is a mere irritation by comparison. Hell, coitus interruptus takes a distant second; you can always fuck some other time. We are talking here about outright ruining something beautiful and unique.

Geekdom assembled, abandon your “awesome” and your “sucks.” They have not served you well.

Note: Tags and featured image will be added to this post after it leaves the top of the queue.

Next: No one joins a “cult”

About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on June 11, 2015, in Filmtalk, Gnawing entrails and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. As much as I love my Marvel movies, so many of them fall into this exact same trap: Build compelling characters with interesting, relevant conflicts, and then suddenly remember that they are a big budget tent pole movie and need to finish with a huge battle scene. In short, agreed.

    As for the lionization of film adaptations, I have more thoughts than I can go into on my phone. Be back later.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Like Stalwart says: other than Loki, none of the villains in the Marvel Movies have a Pie, largely for structural/genre reasons.

    You can be guaranteed a nice enjoyable Act I as we say hello to our friends again; Act III is going to be a fore-ordained bore with punching we’ve all seen before; the most we can hope for is a satisfyingly nuanced Act II that gets us to the fight we all know is coming. “Iron Man” has the reputation it does, because Act I and Act II are a lot more fun than they should be, thanks to the sheer charm of all of the name actors.

    Looked at more broadly, its a problem of villain motivation. Figure every Hollywood blockbuster script writer has read McKee. One of the things about conflict is that characters don’t escalate unless there’s no other way to achieve their goals. From a creative standpoint, orchestrating an in-hindsight-inevitable agon in which two sane people risk punching each other to death is quite difficult.

    (But then, you’re a damn Hollywood script writer guy, this should be something you learn how to do.)


    • I’m with you on the villain motivation paragraph, obviously, but I gotta spray fiery spit over this part:

      largely for structural/genre reasons

      My call is instead that a failure of Pie or anything equivalent is not justifiable in these terms. Poor execution, to use the politest term, in a given medium is not the same as genre features common to that medium. Saying, “well, a lot of comics scripting is terrible, so it’s OK to script badly if the movie ties into comics,” is purest cop-out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • James Nostack

        No, I expressed that badly. I agree with you that the failure is intolerable. But from a storytelling standpoint, there’s so much bullshit on the checklist, that unless you set out from the start to make “Iron Man vs. Iron Monger” you’re not gonna get much character development for Iron Monger. Creating the villain and his motivation and building him up relentlessly and frighteningly almost has to be primary creative constraint. Setting up a Bang for the villain is gonna be an afterthought unless you prioritize it really hard.

        I don’t remember Thor especially well, but my recollection is that that entire movie is about baking a Pie for Loki, so that he can eat it in time for Avengers. And, tellingly, Loki comes across as a plausible character in part because Huddleston is a good actor, in part because we can all relate to being second-best, but also because, although he gets so little screen time, we see him through several films. (Same deal with Magneto, actually. Perhaps killing off the Best Villains, no matter how well it tests with sample audiences, is not the best idea, Hollywood!)

        Anyway, it’s a shame. The first Invincible Iron Man comic I ever read was the origin of Obadiah Stane, where he is this horribly psychologically messed up kid whose father blows his own brains out playing Russian roulette, and he becomes this (literally) cutthroat competitor who never wants to show a moment’s weakness. A fairly compelling villain who shares nothing but the name with Bridge’s character.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Yeah, have to agree to what and to be a Marvel movie problem in general: the endings don’t matter much and the villains are weak. I can’t think of a single superhero movie that gets both the hero abd the villain, it seems with Hollywood, it’s either one or the other. For ny part, I prefer what Marvels doing (choosing to make the heroes interesting) over what Warner Bros. has done so far (favoring the villains, excepting the original Superman, which had probably the worst ending in movie history and is still widely beloved). The question is, what would it take for a two hour film to make both work?

    Now that I think about it, Guardians of the Galaxy might be so beloved because it has a very strong third act. I honestly was totally disengaged with that film until the group had to face off against Ronan, but even there Ronan himself was completely boring (and underpwrformed compared to the valiant efforts of other Marvel villains).


    • The mysterious thing is that the task you’re describing really isn’t very hard. Lots and lots of excellent hero-villain opposition stories are out there, both to draw upon from the comics and to emulate in many movies without superpowers. Embedding it in a meaningful policy problem, without either preachiness or false balance, is also standard for story-making throughout human history.

      I used to consult for fillm-making. It’s patently clear to me that the highest-level and most important decision-makers live in a state of either complete complacency or complete fear, in either case completely disengaged from anything to do with making stories. I don’t mean directors or producers or (ha!) writers, but weird power-structures among parent companies and casting agencies and tacit sponsors. They care about what’s in the film but in a weird way which implies to me they think “only as much story as brings in the bucks because otherwise that shit is dangerous.” So enough story to show off in the trailers, to get people to stay in their seats, to get invested in so they’ll say how good the movie is to their friends, but cut off at the knees so consistently and in such specific ways that if I were conspiracy-minded I’d imagine a manual for doing so.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Ron! This time I don’t agree with you.

    First: the pie: I did not agree even with that post, but I did not have the time to post about it at the time, and lost the occasion. Do you prefer I talk about it here, or go back and post there, or wait for a following post?

    Talking about the Iron Man movie: I think that the II and III were very bad movies, that they make very little sense, but I remember liking very much the first one. (and I didn’t like at all any of the Spiderman movies, for comparation). But I did watch it the last time years ago and I didn’t remember it well. The sort of problems you describe are things that usually bother me a lot in movies, so I thought “it’s possible that I liked so much seeing Iron Man on the big screen that I totally missed all that?”, so before replying I did watch it again.

    And in the movie things doesn’t happen the way you describe. I mean: we both know that the real reason why they fight at the end it’s than in Super-hero stories there is the fight between the hero and the villain. So the real question is not if they should have fought, but if that fight was justified by what happen before in the movie. And I think it clearly does.

    1) Stane has killed (he thinks) Stark and stolen the arc reactor, and he goes to his lab to see if his new weapon now works. He doesn’t show any intention do don the armor at this time, he wants to SELL it, or at least a lot of copies of it (he says this even when to Stark a few minutes before)

    2) Pepper and a group of SHIELD agents show up at the secret lab (Pepper has discovered its existence when he did steal the compromising files), to search and impound it.

    3) Stabe hides inside the armor. The agents enters the lab, he doesn’t make a move or a sound. He could kill them all easily, but he is simply hiding. (seeing that the suit can fly, he is not only inside a hiding place, but in a armored getaway plane if things go bad

    4) They are about to leave the lab, without seeing Stane, when Pepper notice something (it’s never explained exactly what she notices, but it could be anything)

    5) Stane start up the suit and try to flee, but before that he try to kill Pepper, his employee that betrayed him and brought evidence to SHIELD.

    6) Iron Man arrive and engage Stane.

    So, about your objections:

    “He already has his control over the Stark Industries board and has successfully ousted Stark.” – Yes, but he had not the Arc Reactor, that was the most valuable thing. His technicians were unable to develop a working version. He could not claim the reactor as his, Stark had developed it by himself, not at the company. And in any case, coult rulings have appeals: he could havce lost anything at any moment with Stark alive.
    Not only that: all this happen AFTER he has discovered that Pepper has stolen evidence that could get him into prison for murder. At that time his only chance to profit from the Arc Reactor is to stole it and flee quickly from the country (he could have simply escaped the country with the money he probably had in overseas accounts… but have you ever seen a corporate tycoon leave most of his money and be contented with a smaller amount, if he is not forced to do so?

    So, no, he is about to be arrested, to have everything taken from him and put in a SHIELD prison for treason and murder (the soldiers died in the ten ring attacks).

    “Iron Man’s attack on the warlord is no big deal. He’s already tarred Stark with the PTSD spin”

    Yes, that’s why he doesn’t even try to use that attack in any way.

    “He doesn’t need to make armor. The energy source is the issue, not the battle-suit.”: the movie has already shown the armor as a very desiderable weapon. The Ten-Rings wants some armors, they are no longer interested in Jericho. The armor has already defeated a Jericho systems and other Stark weapons. It has taken down a plane. it’s almost invisible to radars. You can debate the realism of this (would be an armor suit so much more desiderable as a weapon than a plane or a missile?) but the movie, inside his own narrative logic, has already answered “yes, it’s much better, everybody will want this” more than once.

    Not only that: the armor could have been at the beginning a way to deduce how the miniature arc reactor works. And at the end, it’s his only chance to avoid prison and keep the reactor.

    “The whole bit about recovering the original armor and making one of his own is flatly moronic. He’s a weapons designer on his own; he can make a new thingie of whatever sort.”: Not at all: Stane has not seen the Armor. The Ten Rings recover the armor thinking that they can rebuild and use it, because they have no idea about the arc reactor existence or necessity to power the armor. When they fail to repair the armor, they call Stane to offer it to him in exchange for working ones. Stane has not seen the armor until now. He has not the arc reactor. Do you think he would not be interested in a early propotipe, when he is trying to duplicate the arc reactor that powered that armor? How could he build an armor that would be powered by the same arc reactor… without the arc reactor or an armor already build to be used with the same power source?

    “So why, exactly, did Stane have to put on that suit and go all berserkoid after Stark?”. He doesn’t. Stark is the one who goes after him.

    “Did he get some Pie which suddenly made this situation a zero-sum between his goals and Stark’s life? No, he just … gets all murderous and puts it on.” When Stane dons the armor, he still thinks Stark is dead. After Stark’s arrival, killing Stark is the only way to (1) not be followed by another guy with a similar armor and probably being shoot down from behind, and (2) keep the monopoly on the Arc Reactor technology.

    ” SHIELD shouldn’t even have gone to arrest him at all, least of all taking Pepper along; they could simply put out an ordinary APB and arrest the guy when he tries to order waffles somewhere.”: Shield at the end even cover up Stane’s crimes and fake an accidental death. It’s clear that anything they wanted to do to Stane, it would not have been a public process. So no public APB, no. Not only that, but do you leave a guy with knowledge of military secrets free to go around for days… when he is a phone call away from selling his secrets to the highest bidder?

    “He can’t live in the damn armor. He has no company, no infrastructure, no resources – no power”: but he has probably some money stashed away, and a technological breaktrought that woult put any nation at the head of the arm race… do you think he would have to beg in the streets to find some money?

    So, no, I don’t think your objections made a lot of sense this time.


    • I think my points all stand regardless of these corrections and quibbles.


      • Uhm… I don’t know how to reply here: how can your points still stand, if they are factually untrue and they didn’t happen in the movie?

        Or do you are talking about “the pie”? Mmm…. in my never-posted reply to that post I would have said that super-hero movies suffer by way-too-much pie, villain too tied to heroes to the points that after the First Batman (where the Joker killed the Waynes and created Batman) every single hero origin was tied to a supervillain (Spider-Man was created by Normal Osborne, Daredevil was created by the Kingpin who killed his father, even in Iron Man everything is caused by Stane). It has become a stale and tired formula repeated without any sense.

        If with “pie” you mean a reason for a dramatic escalation to higher stakes, it’s right there: up to a certain point in the movie Stane limit his strategy to get the arc reactor by forcing Stark with lawyers or by duplicating it.
        Then, he discover that Pepper had found evidence that will put him in jail, and gave it to SHIELD

        At that moments, he needs to get that technology NOW, before the following morning (when he will probably be arrested if he don’t flee before that).
        I think that this raise the stakes, a lot.

        If I still am not getting what you mean, please explain it again with different words.


        • Christ, I have to put up with you and Ralph in one day? [edit: that’s an example of teasing not working. I thought it was funny until I came back and read it later] [I don’t mind at all]

          I’m saying you can correct all the things you say, just put them into my post instead the way I wrote it, and my points still all make sense. Because the real sin of the scripting is getting Pepper into that office and out with the intel in the first place. I’d be happy to rewrite those paragraphs with every thing you say, and it doesn’t change the fact that everything that made Stane a relevant villain for Stark vanished in that instant. All you’re providing is more reason for why he turns into the Rhino. I’m saying that I didn’t enjoy this movie about the morality of the military-industrial complex, complete with a villain who practically worships it, to see it finish with Iron Man fight the fucking Rhino. Even if Stane went on the open market as an international arms outlaw, so what, he’s still the Rhino now, just upgraded to minion level.

          I would be willing to bet (really, not hyperbolically) that someone on the writing team got them into that corner and no one could figure out how to fix it, and that the last twenty minutes are a complete salad of nearly random-fixes thrown in by the … how many was it, four writers? {IMDB: yes, four] You don’t get that many writers on a film from the start; it’s almost always the result of looking at a bad script or half-finished one and calling in person after person, probably shooting film as you go and eventually trusting to the editing to carve some kind of shape from it, which can at least stand up although it’s made of crap.

          I agree with you about the over-tightness, because that’s not what I mean by Pie at all. It only happens to be personal and familial in the Green Goblin’s case because that’s already the kind of story it is for Peter. The tightness is absolutely wretched for the 1989 Batman and the 2003 Daredevil, and for many others.

          It’s more than just escalation though. Stane’s situation even as you describe him (which I submit is already completely irrelevant to the story we’re watching) is merely danger, not direct and meaningful opposition. I’m talking about opposed values and their attendant goals and required actions, not merely “oh no he found me I must fight my way out.”


  5. Oh, I forgot: what about the parts that I didn’t like?

    Like you, I didn’t like the meeting between Stane and the chief of the ten rings. It makes both seems like common criminals with a band of a dozen goons. It was already estabilished in the movie that Stane was selling weapons to the Ten Rings, and the clip retrieved by Pepper on the PC was enough to confirm that Stane was behind the attacks. All that scene is useful for is to give Stane the prototype armor. He could have brought it, or the ten rings could have send the armor to him in some way, but it’s not credible that Stane himself would risk going into a war zone to retrieve that.

    And the final part of the battle: the perfect ending would have been the ice. It would have meant that Stark would have won against a more powerful armor using his brain, not his repulsor rays. If that would not have been dramatic enough, they could have added a last cathartic fight with Stark beating down Stane now in a damaged armor.

    The “Arc reactor kill” instead is based not on Stark’s guile and intelligence, but in luck and Stane’s stupidity, and a scene where Stane shoot around missing Tony by a mile having the targetting system damaged. The only possible reason I can see in that anticlimactic scene is to have both talks with the face of their actors, but there were better ways to do it.

    Two missteps, but they don’t lower my vote for this movie very much. Still one of the best ones done by Marvel.

    (If you want to talk about what went wrong in Iron Man II or III, I could rant for hours…)


    • I completely agree with you about the ice. If there were to be an armored-battle, and presuming that it rested upon any sensible plot material at all, then yes, that was the moment of victory. I remember watching the film and thinking, wait a minute, why?, when they hit the ground and Stane stood back up.

      Truly bad movies aren’t worth my time either in a post or comments, so we can save that for a bottle of wine in Italy.


  6. So, a few thoughts on lionization of film:

    I think it’s more than just the scale of the money that makes geeks so invested in the success of film adaptations of comics, although that’s certainly a factor. Along with the money comes the marketing machine and celebrities knowing who these characters are and all of that feels like vindication to some fans who perceive comicdom as an oppressed subculture. That sense of “If people saw what I see in this thing that I love, they’d love it, too!” is really powerful.

    And movies are by their nature so very much more accessible and so much more social than comics (or fiction, for that matter). Generally, you make a group ritual out of seeing them: going to a special place, eating special foods, holding to a special (not particularly demanding) code of conduct, speaking in hushed tones in the dark with a big group of strangers. The marketing machine turns them into events, so that you can trust that the first weekend in May, all your friends are going to be talking about the latest Marvel movie. And the movies ask so little of their audience. It’s so much easier to ask someone to watch a 2 hour movie than “read these dozen issues and then we can talk about them.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Gordon Landis

    I want to say “sure, the third act is weak, but the rest is good (sometimes GREAT) and I like the movie anyway.” I do say that, a lot of the time. But sometimes I get angry because in this and so MANY movies, the weakness seems so easy to fix. But maybe more importantly, this post & discussion makes me wonder if my “like the movie anyway” is why creators don’t bother with the easy fix …


  8. Gordon Landis

    Things I think now, after reading here, at Ron’s G+, watching the movie, and doing some internet searching.

    Last first – not sure how this relates to Ron’s bet about the scriptwriters, but it sure is interesting:

    The thing that is most frustrating about the “Pepper gets the goods on Stane” thing is that it is totally, absolutely, in no way AT ALL needed. In fact, it’s BETTER if she just sees the incriminating video and CAN’T prove it, runs to Coulson/SHIELD and still needs proof. The only reason I can think of for having her “get the goods” is that they wanted to avoid making their only meaningful female character seem incompetent – but the “shoot the arc reactor” thing (if done right) would have been better for that anyway. And overall, she’s really well established as competent – isn’t she?

    I do love Stane saying “well, Tony never really did come home, did he?” to Pepper in that scene. The levels of bullhockey astound.

    There exists a deleted scene of Obidiah explaining to the scientists what’s at stake in pure Manifest Destiny and “we are the World Order” terms. The movie would be better if that were merged with the existing Stane Meets Scientists scene and polished up.

    Obidiah’s Pie is right there, actually, with the scientist saying “I’m not Tony Stark.” But it’s WAY undersold – it really needs to be “YOU’RE not Tony Stark.” Even if delivered in a stumbling, “I’m not Tony, he’s not Tony, none of us are Tony – even you aren’t Tony.” I’d probably prefer a scientist to grow a pair and tell Stane “if it’s so easy, you do it – prove you’re as smart as at least ONE Stark.” Maybe giving Obidiah a chance to Kick that Dog as well.

    Ron’s merging (in G+) of the personal Afghan warlord story and Stane-as-geopolitics – or doing that in SOME way – would be a significant improvement. Dissociating them creates a weird and insufficiently connected double-climax. I mean, I guess the closeness of Stane & Warlord was meant to bridge the gap, but it didn’t work. I think moving the heart-theft (and Stane’s suit/weapon development) to BEFORE the Warlord confrontation sounds promising … like, I can imagine the Warlord insisting on a suit, over Obidiah’s protest to use the tech in “smarter” ways. Making the apparently-required Iron Man/Ironmonger confrontation more reasonable.

    While I have seen the awesome/sucks that Ron talks about, I mostly have a different relationship with it. I’m fine with saying the first Iron Man movie is awesome in these x ways, and sucks in these y ways.

    OK, now I’m ready to learn about joining cults!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Without having gone through the G+ thread, maybe it’s mentioned there, Ron, how would YOU have scripted the last 20 minutes?


    • I’ll do that for about a zillion dollars, give or take a jillion. … actually, I’ll do it, when I’m not being divebombed by kids.

      Also, let me know what the mandates are. Do I have to stay with some specified later continuity? Do I have to stay consistent with anything from the comics, and if so, what? Do I have to set up for a sequel? Et cetera.


    • Oh all right, I found a minute. And it didn’t take much longer than that.

      Finish with the Stane & Afghans thing, I mean, except in terms of selling weapons to them. He’s selling weapons to awful people everywhere. We move on to a different batch of them.

      1. The reporter was smarter than we thought all along and has been bugging the place the whole time for Stane. Might save some time in that turgid dance scene by intercutting with this. That’s how Stane has access to the early design stages; could have given that away earlier too. Definitely trim every scene in the first 80 minutes for time.

      2. Stane goes after Stark pretty much as in the film, he gets the heart widget, leaves Stark for dead. He nabs Pepper for spying, and it looks like he’s gonna win big. Stark rescues himself just as in the film.

      3. Rhodey is powered-up by Stane with the widget to go stomp on terrorists which really means to eliminate resistance against the (new/other) awful band that Stane is selling to. Stark rescues Pepper who tells him this, and now Stark has to fight Rhodey even though he’s got the shitty battery, and which is why he doesn’t have time to collar Stane either. Gotta make some way for Rhodey not to be confused or a dumb-ass in any way. Probably under orders, I guess; Stane has totally convinced the brass that Stark is nuts.

      4. The fight with Rhodey hinges on the “ice” thing, but play up the whole “shitty battery” thing. Ties back to Rhodey protecting Stark’s identity in prior scene, and it’s very tragic. Executive decision whether Rhodey dies in action (shot from behind by bad guys no doubt), gets convinced by Stark (but is too wounded to help him further), or whatever. [yes, the black guy gets killed or put out of action; too bad, I’m playing the hand I’m dealt, it’s better than making him the fucking sidekick for the climax]

      5. Stark has to stick with his “not gonna warmonger no more” thing but I assume we can’t go all the way and have him go off to be Dr. No. Stane of course goes off and does that very thing.

      The desired ending state needs clarifying: still in charge of Stark Industries or not, outs himself as Iron Man or not , what he plans to do with being Iron Man, especially how that relates to fighting terror vs. fighting the war-machine. Whatever combination is chosen, it’s demonstrated in the final moments of fighting (i) Rhodey, (ii) the horrible (new) terrorist assholes Stane has been arming, and (iii) the U.S. forces that the bad generals have sent to back up Rhodey’s mission.

      Note that the most nicey-nice version leaves Cody alive and Tony reconciled with the military-industrial establishment, although the latter contritely agree only to drop bombs on real terrorists from now on and not sell weapons to them either. Plus Stark Industries will work on that alternate-energy thing, so “any day now” for that. Grim it up with aforementioned bad things happening to Rhodey, adding a horrible fate for the reporter (Stane’s doing, plus stereotypical end for bad-girl) or tragic ending for some brave U.S. fighter pilots, shot down by Stark weapons of course in the final fight, as needed.


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