Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Thoughts on Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

I saw Iron Man 2 and quite enjoyed it. It was well acted (not hard to believe with that cast) and I found it to be well-paced and fun. I was glad to see Justin Hammer, and glad to see him make it through the movie. I remember the “Power of Iron Man” graphic novel very fondly. I cannot remember which issues it collected, but it told the story of Tony Stark – a Tony Stark very much like the one Robert Downey Jr. plays – descending into alcoholism, using Iron Man as a crutch, which fails, and eventually triumphing.

It was during this time that James “Rhodey” Rhodes first wore the Iron Man suit, and it was a red-and-gold suit at the time, not the silver-and-black War Machine suit that was introduced much later, unlike in the movie. Justin Hammer turned out to be the villain of the piece. He had discovered a way to take over Iron Man’s suit and caused several malfunctions which caused Tony to take the lives of others, including repulsor blasting right through a diplomat’s torso at a very public and high-profile photo op.

This series of comics shows Tony hitting bottom and starting to climb back out with the help of those around him. Then, he takes it to Hammer. Hammer is surrounded by Tony’s enemies, but none of them can stand up to a new and improved, clear thinking Golden Avenger.

All of that was in the comics. I am hoping we get a touch of that in the next Iron Man movie as well. Seeing Hammer come back as a scheming foe – a little harder and more self confident and intimidating for his time in jail – would be very gratifying for this old-school comic geek. And Sam Rockwell could definitely pull it off.

The other thing I really liked about this movie is its attempt (unlike the comics) to show the impact of having a superhero in the world. Tony brags that he has “privatized world peace.” Comic books rarely deal with issues like this; the truth is that a world with super beings in it, particularly super inventors like Stark or like Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, would quickly cease bearing much resemblance to the world we live in. This works fine for short-term entertainment like movies, or one-off graphic novels or books, but for an ongoing comic series, it makes it less accessible to new fans the less the world resembles our own. Could Tony Stark revolutionize power generation? Sure. Could Reed Richards feed the world and solve the ever-growing water shortage issues? It seems likely.

This theme was touched on in Iron Man 2, although not taken too far. However, Nick Fury suggested that revolutionizing the world with cheap, clean energy was something that Stark would be doing in the near future based on the work of his father. It will be interesting to see if they continue to explore the impact of this change on the world. Imagine if oil was no longer used for power, but only for manufacturing. And given that Stark creates a new element in this movie, perhaps he could even come up with a way to take the petro out of petrochemicals. I find these ideas almost more interesting and exciting than the super hero aspects of the movie.

Back to the movie – the action was good, the characters engaging, and the pacing excellent. The effects were well done, and I appreciated that the movie wasn’t forced into 3D. I can understand the complaints I have heard that there are too many divergent plot lines. This movie is not only telling the story of Tony Stark dealing with some of his own issues, competing with Justin Hammer and defending himself against the Senate. He also is dealing with fallout from his family’s past relationships, which ends up circling into his conflict with Hammer. Amidst all of this, he has to deal with the military taking one of his suits of armor. The movie also does some preparation for the Avengers movie, introducing Natasha Romanov, known as the Black Widow and featuring a significant role for Nick Fury.

Again, this certainly is a lot of information. My experience with the source material may have helped me follow, but overall I didn’t find the volume of content to be overwhelming. I thought the story flowed well enough to allow all of this to make sense.

And by the way, continuing in the tradition of the first Iron Man movie, you may want to hang around after the credits for a tiny peak at what is to come from Marvel.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Goodbye to Better Off Ted

News came down this week that ABC has chosen to cancel a couple of shows I was hoping would get another season – FlashForward and Better Off Ted.

I’m going to talk about other shows here – including Lost, and in so doing am going to talk frankly about anything that has happened up to the most recent episodes. Consider this your spoiler alert.

I’m a little disappointed there won’t be more FlashForward, though honestly I was just telling my wife the other day that FlashForward is a funny show in that I like almost none of the characters, but I am still watching. Certainly, I don’t like any of the main characters. It’s been entirely story –driven for me. That is not what usually draws me to a show, and certainly not to follow it regularly. I love Burn Notice – and not because of the ongoing story of Michael Westen trying to get out of Miami. I love the characters on the show – Michael, his mother, and most of all Sam Axe. Put Bruce Campbell on a show, and it is likely I will watch. On FlashForward, there is no one who I care about. John Cho as Demitri Noh is close, but like my other favorite character, Zachary Knighton’s Dr. Bryce Varley, just isn’t enough of a focus.

Lost also pulled me in at least as much with characters I liked as it did with the mysteries and stories – I never have like Jack much. But Sawyer, Sayid, Jin and Sun, Locke in the early seasons, Mr. Eko, Miles, Ben, Hurly, Charlotte, Daniel, Desmond – these were all characters I liked and cared about. This made the mysteries more impactful, because they were happening to people whose future I was invested in. This in fact is one of my complaints about this, the last season. They took Sayid - one of the most interesting characters on the show in my opinion, and turned him into an un-interesting character leading right up to his own death. I suppose his sparing Desmond and sacrificing himself were to represent his own redemption arc, but I would have rather had the capable, determined, yet internally conflicted Sayid we came to enjoy throughout the show.

Better off Ted, (link is to the show's Hulu page - sorry to those outside the US) on the other hand – wow… What to say. Here is show that was never given the chance it deserved to shine. The time was moved around repeatedly, shown in a “burn off” fashion surrounded by reruns, and indeed – the last two episodes have never been shown. Every episode was funny, well written, well acted and fun. It seemed like it would be such a perfect complement to Modern Family on Wednesday nights. Quirky characters, witty dialogue situations that could almost be true – this show should have been a hit, but I was worried right from the beginning when my friends up in Canada told me that they couldn’t even find the show in the listings – that is usually not a good sign. I wish that this show had been picked up by another network or that there could be a last-minute save for the show, but Jay Harrington, the eponymous Ted is already moving on to his next project, an NBC show called “Nathan vs. Nurture.”

I’ll miss FlashForward a little, but I will mourn the passing of Better Off Ted. At least the Season 2 DVD should have the two unaired episodes on it.

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