There was a time a few years back when I was excited to see Marvel comic characters in a movie. You had Spider-man on the big screen, Blade, The Uncanny X-men, then... Daredevil? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll geek for the man without fear in a heartbeat, but the film... lack-luster just isn’t the right word, is it? After that the slew of popcorn-scented box office chum just kept dripping from the boat. "Elektra", "Fantastic Four", "The Punisher".
Come on! Really? How can you mess up "The Punisher", you just shoot a lot of people. And wear a skull on your chest. That’s it. Oh, and don’t have John Travolta as your villain, ever.
To say the least I had lost all faith in comic book movies (sans "Hellboy"). Then this little film came out called "Batman Begins" that pretty much kicked every other hero out there’s asses in terms of realism (I use that loosely) and captured the essence of the character it portrayed.
Things started to get better.
Case in point, 2008’s "Iron Man", which, in my opinion, is now Marvel's best film adaptation followed closely by "The Incredible Hulk" (also 2008). Both films trump "Spider-man 2" and "X-men 3: The Last Stand" (yes, X3) and are far superior both in the lack of campiness ala "Spider-man 3" and the lack of sheer idiocy that "Ghost Rider" and "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" pooped all over the masses.
So let’s get to it.
It’s important to know that this suit-up scene picks up directly after a black-tie affair where Stark (Downey) was left standing on the steps of a beautiful building, paparazzi bulbs flashing in his eyes, as the realization slowly sinks in that his long time Stark Industries partner, Obdiah Stane (played brilliantly by "Tron" alumni Jeff Bridges), is really just a bad, bad man.
Stark, obsessed with his prototype armor sits in front of a television newscast, one gauntlet on, a ratchet turns, fine tuning its fit. The miniature arc reactor in his chest that keeps missile shrapnel from sinking into his heart glows though this A-shirt, almost a luminescent View-master disc (remember those?).
For a few seconds here this slow suit-up flip flops between quick cuts of news footage and the adjusting of the gauntlet. The on-the-scene reporter, she’s telling us about the atrocities occurring in Gulmera (which is in fact a real location in Pakistan); the line she delivers as Stark twists the ratchet slowly is; the 15 mile hike to the outskirts of Gulmera can only be described as a descent into hell.
The camera cuts to the television screen; we see desperate faces marching across rocky lands, soldiers exchanging gunfire. Explosions.
Starks jaw sets, grinds. He gives a rather firm twist to the ratchet as the image of the lead terrorist fills the screen, Raza (played by Faran Tahir). This is the man that held him hostage, forced him to build one of Stark Industries most destructive weapons from a stockpile of black-market weapons built by his very own company. The last time Stark had seen Raza, it was through the smokescreen of a handmade mini-missile. He thought it was the last. As the reporter explains to us how this man is part of an international criminal organization called the Ten Rings, the repulsor disc in the palm of Stark’s gauntlet begins to glow. (Tidbit of Trivia concerning THE TEN RINGS; the Marvel Comics villain and Iron Man nemesis, The Mandarin, wears ten rings… coincidence?)
So it’s here Stark gets up, begins to stalk the room. It is important to know that for the duration of the suit-up, there is no more dialogue. Not even from the talking head on the screen. Instead, director John Favreau opts to use Downey for what he’s good at; being expressive. Now the rumors of an Iron Man film had floated around for at least ten years prior to its actual fruition, popping up on the "coming soon" pages of Wizard and in movie chat rooms. Subsequently a slew of actors had been rumored throughout the years, ages and talent pools ranging from Tom Selleck to Brad Pitt to Tom Cruise; but of the endless list of rumored actors eager to tackle the role, it is my firm belief that none of them could have come close to giving us the billionaire cockiness and just-below-the-surface-humanity as Robert Downey Jr dishes out ten-fold.
At this point we can see that all of the issues plaguing Stark have gelled together and formed an oozing beast that sits upon his shoulders. We see his jaw, his mouth go from worrisome to set. His posture; from slumped to prone to upright. We can see in his body language how these revelations and impulses affects his psyche; that he’s been betrayed by his company, by someone he had complete trust in. How much of a toll it’s taken on him knowing that the weapons his company creates for the US military are ending up in the hands of terrorists who use them to murder and subjugate. That his former captor is still out there. Still breathing and plotting and killing. We see, when he raises his right hand (The same one you raise in court when your left hand is on a bible and you swear to be the truth, the good and the just) that the character arc has just travelled: frustrated to fearsome to resolute. When we see that repulsor disc glowing his raised palm; we’re not really sure what’s about to happen… then… BOOM. That little glowing thing, what was previously only used as a flight stabilizer, well it seems Stark went back to basics and so it now doubles as a weapon. One so powerful, in fact, it leaves long fluorescent light fixtures dead and swinging from the now darkened hull of his workshop.
Maybe liking the way it felt to wield that power or maybe astonished at the replusors live test, with a total disregard to his own property, Stark fires again. And again. Shattering floor to ceiling glass; crafting home-made debris.
That little outburst, it’s all he needed to validate the plan rolling about in his mind. Go to Gulmera.
Not only am I glad that this movie never got off the ground in the late-nineties, early double-zero’s, but I’m thankful that it wasn’t touched by another director. If you’ve never seen Favreau’s “Zathura”, then 1) do it now, and 2) you had no idea that the “Swingers” guy was a master of shooting special effects. With the backing of the Stan Winston team, the machines in the film become as much of a character as Paltrow’s Pepper Pots. And if you’re seen “Iron Man”, then you know how flawless, how seamless the effects are (even in daylight scenes).
Ready for a high tech, hands-free suit up?
Set to a building score, we flash to the floor grid where the machines are hidden. As Stark stands, numbered black tiles shift and open, blossom; same as robot cars and helicopters in Michael Bay movies. His feet slip into the jet booster mountings, the calf and shin and foot casing slide together from front and back forming a boot. Robotic arms, the sort you’d see in high tech Japanese automobile factories, they torque the leg armor closed. Stark’s thighs becomes encased in gold-titanium alloy.
With his arms up and out, his upper body a capital letter Y, two giant airline engine-like sockets come down on each hand, slapping on the gauntlets. Elbow pieces, biceps, shoulder joints.
From behind a raw titanium spine and back fitting slides over the rear of the body suit. A red casing torques over. The raw metal chest piece slides over the arc reactor housing; robotic arms fastening the power shield around the tiny, ultra-powerful electromagnet. The breastplate is fastened, and when screwed secure, the arc reactor, that iconic circle in the center of his chest, it high-beams.
All that’s left is the final touch to any knight’s suit of armor. The helm.
As the camera flash cuts and the machines release his arms, we see Stark, fully encased in his exo-armor, only his head still retaining that soft, squishy humanness. This is instantly remedied as two arms from the left and right simultaneously apply one hundred and eighty degree pieces that leave only his face exposed. His neck, chin, ears; skull base to crown, all covered, same as a chainmail hood. The most interesting part of the scene is that as the gold-titanium alloy face mask is attached to the top of his head at the temples, before it lowers down over his face, Stark looks exactly like a knight with the visor of their helm up. Most-likely an intentional allusion created on Favreau’s part (he’s a pretty clever fellow).
As the face-shield slides down, as the eyes light up, as Stark makes the transition from mere human to the meta-human Iron Man; you know it’s on.
We directly transitioning into a mach speed aerial shot of Stark as Iron Man streaking through a cloud-filled stratosphere.
This piece of high tech suit-up isn’t your average suit-up scene since it’s all done by machines, ala Jetsons; which makes it all the more compelling to view. But as far as the dynamic and kinetic filmmaking shown in this scene, you seriously have to do more than read about it. You have to see it. The intricacies of each piece of machinery, each robot are truly mind-bending. It’s a testament, not only to the achievements of Favreau’s ability as an inventive and imaginative director, but to the state of computer generated effects, visual effects, and animatronics as a whole.
If this movie does anything, it makes you burn for Iron Man 2 (or maybe just me).
All in all, it’s a great time to be a comic book fan, and a great time for movies.