Sunday, May 04, 2008

Comments on Iron Man

The wife and I saw Iron Man last night with Art and Shannon Carden. It was pretty darn good. There is a clear line between good superhero movies (X-men, The Incredibles, Iron Man) and bad superhero movies (Superman III, The Punisher, Batman and Robin, Daredevil, Fantastic Four). The former do a good job of developing the heroes as characters first, and superheroes second. Iron Man was, I think, a bit light on the pathos side--I'm guessing they'll save that for the sequel, which will probably involve Tony Stark battling alcoholism (with possibly interesting implications for his super-heroics). Bad superhero movies are more about blowing stuff up, which really does little for me.

There were, however, a couple things that bothered me about Iron Man. I know, I'm supposed to suspend my disbelief in a film like this (I mean, the guy can apparently fly without any sort of chemical propulsion source--no rockets, no jets, just little white lights), but these things still irk me (they did not bother my fellow viewers):
  • Why does no one in films use an ordinary-looking operating system? (VERY MINOR SPOILERS) Pepper Pots spends a bit of time copying files to a flash drive after breaking into a computer. When she logs in the login screen looks nothing like a Windows or MacOS login, or any other login screen I've ever seen in the real world. And of course, when she "breaks in", the words "Security breached" flash up on the screen in an alarming red box--and then the computer lets her go about her business. She then browses through files in a way that is only possible in movies, and copies files to the flash drive without dragging or using any shortcut keys (as far as I could tell). Almost everyone has seen a computer nowadays. Would it be so hard to just use an actual computer operating system in a movie? It's almost as bad as that terrible Sandra Bullock film, The Net.
  • (more VERY MINOR SPOILERS) Why does Tony Stark have a witty AI running his workshop? Are its retorts and ripostes canned and preprogrammed, or are they off-the-cuff? If the latter, then this thing must be pretty smart. Why doesn't Tony just let the A.I. fly the suit around, so that he can stay safe at home? The movie takes place in the present or the very near future; why is he the only guy with this clever A.I.? In fact, A.I.s that act like humans in approximately contemporaneous films and TV shows--K.I.T.T., for example--bother me a great deal. On the other hand, K.I.T.T. is the only other example that comes to mind, so maybe I'm being stupid. I'll give 2001: A Space Odyssey a bit of slack because it was written before the difficulties programming such an intelligent A.I. were clear (and because it went haywire, perhaps suggesting it wouldn't be easy after all). I'll go further--A.I.s in general bother me in films, because they are so clearly capable of doing so many things that would free up human labor, but they aren't actually used. Oh, and Tony Stark also has A.I.s inhabiting various robotic arms in his workshop that are smart enough to pick out his actual instructions from his constant belittling of the robots.
  • (BIG SPOILERS) (No, seriously these are BIG SPOILERS): It turns out that Tony Stark's weapons have gotten into the hands of terrorists, and are used against American troops. This changes Stark's life. I find it difficult to believe that this had never before come to his attention. If insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan were using advanced U.S. weaponry against U.S. troops, we (Tony Stark included) would likely hear about it. They could have fixed this by stating in the film that the terrorists had just acquired the weapons, but had not had a chance to use them yet (thus explaining why Tony Stark wouldn't know)--but that still doesn't make sense from the villain's point of view. The villain would have to know that the U.S. government would wonder how the terrorists got their hands on Stark weaponry.
  • (inconsequential spoilers) A reporter persistently suggests that Tony Stark is a monster because his company makes weapons, and these weapons are then used to kill people. It seems to me that this is a weak argument. It would make more sense to criticize him for selling them to particular people, or perhaps for encouraging the U.S. to engage in a foreign policy path that requires the use of lots of powerful weapons (there's no indication in the film that he ever lobbied for a militaristic foreign policy--I'm just saying it would have made more sense if the suggestion was made). I was hoping that the film would maybe venture in to slightly political territory and comment on the U.S.'s actions in Afghanistan, but I suppose that would be out of place in this sort of film.
  • (BIG SPOILERS) There is a bald terrorist character who works with the other main villain in the film. At one point, the other villain meets up with the bald terrorist, ostensibly to make a deal. In fact the other villain simply takes what he wants and kills all the terrorist's men. Here's the puzzling part: He leaves the terrorist temporarily paralyzed, but otherwise unharmed. Why? Why insult him and kill all his men, and then leave him alive? That's the sort of stupid evil supervillain thing that I thought had died with the goofy old Bond films. It's not like the newly understaffed, insulted terrorist is going to be eager to do more business (i.e., buy more weapons) with the big villain in the future. I'm guessing that the reason he was left alive was so that he would be available for the sequel, but that doesn't mean it makes any sense inside the story.
But really, I'm just being picky and obnoxious. While I'm being obnoxious, I might as well rant on about a few more things:
  • Battlestar Galactica hasn't been great since the first season, since it became clear that the cylons aren't really all that interesting, they don't really have a plan, and the writers became more interested in making the show a soap opera than telling a story about difficult choices and moral dilemmas in a lifeboat situation. I guess they could also have asked interesting questions about what it means to be human, or whether it matters whether or not there is one god or many gods, and why, but they don't really seem interested any of those questions. (Season three SPOILERS ahead) Instead they're interested in announcing that well-established characters are cylons by playing Bob Dylan songs in their heads. That isn't cool or edgy or stylish. It's just stupid.
  • Lost started to meander in season 2, but it is back to being the best fiction on television. Yes, this show has some soap-opera tendencies of its own, but for reasons I cannot explain they don't usually bother me at all (the characters that did bother or bore me seem to have been killed off for the most part). Maybe it's because the character stories are buried in such a fascinating puzzle. It's interesting that Lost has managed to bring characters into conflict with each other in a way that makes me root for both sides--I can see why Jack and Locke, for example, go in different directions, and root for both of them. Amazingly I even wonder if there might be reason to sympathize with the evil plotter Benjamin Linus. By contrast, Battlestar Galactica has persuaded me to despise almost every character on the show, even when I initially liked many of them.
  • I think a Captain America movie could be really great, but only if it weren't a rah-rah patriotism movie. I'd rather see a film about a WWII-era supersoldier who is thawed out and finds the modern world--and modern foreign policy--confusing and disturbing. I guess it would be hard to actually call him "Captain America" and have him taken seriously. Perhaps it could be an ironic nickname.
  • South Park continues to be relentlessly relevant and hilarious.
  • Nothing else on TV seems to get my attention. I'll occasionally watch The Daily Show when I'm in Nashville, but aside from Lost I don't really make an effort to watch anything. I'll watch South Park if I can remember, and occasionally I watch Battlestar Galactica to see if things have gotten better (they could still save the show if the ending is particularly clever and explains all the apparently stupid decisions made so far--but I think it's unlikely). I've never seen an episode of 24; I should probably get the first season on Netflix sometime.
Update:
One more thing I forgot to add. Iron Man was digitally projected, and we ended up sitting in the front row. I could actually see pixels in certain situations. That was kind of neat.

7 comments:

Sean Braisted said...

I agree with most of your criticisms, but with regard to Tony realizing the error of his ways, I think it has a lot to do with experiencing the destruction first hand.

Its sort of like poverty, we know that people in Africa and parts of India live really horrible lives, but it probably won't effect you as much unless you experience it personally.

Likewise, he spent months with an individual who hate to live in the war torn Afghan lands, and so he got a deeper understanding of the problems associated with his line of work.

Mike Hammock said...

I totally bought that part of his conversion, actually-it was not at all unbelievable that he would feel differently after going through what he did in Afghanistan. What I found hard to believe was that his amazing weapons had been used against U.S. troops and neither he nor anyone else had heard about it.

Andy said...

(MAJOR SPOILERS) Your suggestion of how to fix the weapon-supply question ("the terrorists had just acquired the weapons") is in the movie. The Stark Industries weapons that Ten Rings was showing off to Tony were the payment they received to kill him (and apparently the method they used to capture him). They had not been used against American troops before that. They begin using them once he escapes; he realizes that Ten Rings must have an inside supplier since he did not see any Jericho missiles during his captivity.

I don't remember exactly how it's revealed, but I do remember being glad when it was because the same plot hole had been nagging me, too.

Mike Hammock said...

Ah, well that's much better. I missed that bit, but it still leaves open my next question: How did they plan to use these super-weapons without having them traced back to Stark Enterprises? Surely the villains could think that far ahead.

Paul said...

South Park is the most inconsistent show on Televsion in that some episodes are incredibly funny and some are so intellectually vacuous they make my brain hurt. Also, their insistence that the correct answer is nearly always exactly in the middle (on whatever scale they have decided on that week) is annoying hogwash.

But man, when they do it right there's really nothing better on TV.

Mike Hammock said...

I think South Park is pretty consistently funny. They're not always topical, though, and I tend to like their topical shows more.

I don't think that they always argue that the truth lies in the middle. It think it would be more accurate to say that they believe that both sides in most arguments are stupid. Those two views (the truth lies in the center/both sides are wrong) are not the same.

Also, they take some pretty clear stands on some issues, such as drugs and big box stores.

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