Speaking of the Avengers, a few nights ago I started rewatching all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I had seen all of them before, but it’s been a while for some, especially the early ones. Five movies in, I am having a blast revisiting these, and watching them close together definitely helps me appreciate the “connective tissues” between them. (I’ve been so bad at paying attention to the story of the Marvel films that I had forgotten all about the Hydra stuff from last year’s Captain America by the time they “resolved” it in Age of Ultron.)
Iron Man (2008)
First thing that struck me was how dated the film looked. Not in a bad way, but this is a movie that’s seven years older then Avengers: Age of Ultron, and so naturally it looks different. It’s a weird thing to say because it’s in no way specific to this movie, but the last time I saw it (around the time it came out) it looked… new. And now it doesn’t. Just another reminder that time isn’t gonna stop or slow down any time soon and death is inevitable. Thanks, Iron Man!
The film-making between this and the last couple of MCU entries has changed a lot, too. It was kinda refreshing to see how much of Iron Man is scenes of actual, real people having long, uninterrupted conversations in real, physical locations. These days any given frame in one of these movies could be a composite of a dozen different elements: one actor’s head put on some computer-generated body talking to another actor who filmed his part months earlier in a different country, all inserted into some virtual rendering of Middle Earth or what have you. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, necessarily. It kinda is, though.
It’s nice to see Jeff Bridges play something else than the various versions of Jeff Bridges they have him play in most of his recent stuff. Ebediah (is that his name?) makes a good villain because you can see where he’s coming from. His motivations make sense, to a point, even if you don’t agree with them. Some of my favorite scenes are when he’s talking to Tony, before he goes all Iron Monger. He’s genuinely concerned, more about the business than Tony, but still.
Gwyneth Paltrow is great, too. There are probably a million ways a character like Pepper Potts could fall flat on screen, but she gives her just the right attitude.
I had forgotten how much they play up Tony Stark’s more, shall we say, asshole-y tendencies. And even after he denounces the weapons trade because he’s seen the harm his business is doing in the world it’s not like he’s a nice guy all of a sudden. He’s doing good as Iron Man but Stark is just as arrogant and irritating as ever.
The final, big action scene didn’t work for me, which is a trend that will continue through most of these movies. I like the characters and the actors that play them so much that I always lose interest once they’re basically replaced by cartoon versions flying around, flipping cars and blowing each other up. Unfortunately it’s those scenes that have gotten bigger, louder, and longer as the series went on.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Love how the opening titles get the origin story out of the way. Let’s hope Marvel remembers that approach when they’re doing the new Spiderman in a few years. God knows we’ve had his backstory spelled out to us more than enough.
For the first 30 or 40 minutes this Hulk movie is pretty awesome. It all goes somewhat downhill once Bruce gets back to the States, but it’s still a decent film. Better than I remembered, anyway. Edward Norton’s Banner is more interesting than Mark Ruffalo’s, but maybe that’s just because we get to spend so much more time with this version. They don’t really feel like the same character at all, and the Hulks even less so. The one in this movie seems to be much more aware and in control of his rage, especially by the end. Guess he kinda forgot all about that when he changed into Ruffalo, just like he forgot about Betty, apparently.
Tim Roth joins the league of fine actors getting to ham it up as Marvel villains. I had just watched Reservoir Dogs the other day and thought Roth’s performance was the best part of that, so it was fun seeing him fully commit to the Cockney/Russian mercenary type. William Hurt could have played General Ross a tad louder, I thought, but maybe he’ll have to do that amid all the noise in the third Captain America next year, anyway.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Watching Iron Man 2, and these early MCU films in general, I was reminded, and bear with me on this one, of getting the first seasons of The Simpsons on DVD, back in the early aughts. By that time the “new” episodes (seasons 13 and 14 – they’re up to 26 now!) were already pretty awful so I was thrilled to go back to the show’s better days. My main complaint about the more recent episodes was that they were full of graphic violence and crude jokes and I just didn’t care for those because apparently I was an old man even by the time I was 20. Sure, the early episodes had edgy jokes, as well, but they were just that: on the edges. Not spread out flat over everything. But then I started listening to the writers and producers talk on the DVD audio commentaries and (I’m slightly exaggerating but you’ll get my point) they were all, “Here we wanted Homer to slip on a pile of horseshit and crack his head open on the pavement and slowly bleed to death while getting raped by a panda, but back then the network didn’t let us do that kind of thing.”
So what I’m saying is that sometimes, when creating content, restrictions can be a good thing. And the reason I thought of this was that when you’re looking at the first two Iron Mans, especially in contrast with the more recent films in the series, it’s clear that they (they as in the studio, not the individual directors, necessarily) wanted to do a lot more “cool stuff,” with the flying around and the CGI monsters and the punchplosions, but they were limited by the technology of their time so they had to settle for only a handful of big action scenes and stretch out the rest with boring conversations and character development and, you know, plot.
Anyway. I like Iron Man 2. Last time I saw it I wasn’t as high on it, but watching it within the context of this series I enjoyed it a lot. Don Cheadle’s Rhodey is a huge improvement over Terrence Howard’s. The whole cast’s great, really. The movie does a nice job of expanding the universe and introducing new characters without ever feeling too crowded. Well, I guess the final battle is. A dozen cartoon robots flying around blowing shit up made me miss the first movie when there were just two of ’em. Oh, well.
To be continued…