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Iron Man (2008)

06/09/2011 1 comment

Hello, ladies. Look at Tony Stark. Now look at your man. Now back at Tony Stark. Does your man look like Tony Stark? No. Can he smell like Tony Stark? Well, maybe. Is your man the heir to one of the most lucrative weapons manufacturing industries in the world? Does your man have three summer homes and 26 expensive cars? Look down. Look up. Where are you now? You’re at a party, with the superhero your man could smell like. Anything is possible with Tony Stark.

Iron Man is a superhero film directed by Jon Favreau, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name created by Stan Lee. It stars Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges.

Tony Stark is an engineering genius, rich playboy, and currently the head of Stark Industries, a military contracting company he inherited from his father. While his father’s old partner Obadiah Stane takes care of things stateside, Stark travels to Afghanistan to demonstrate the new Jericho missile, only to have his convoy attacked by terrorists on the way back to base. Stark is injured in the attack and taken hostage by a group called the Ten Rings, where he finds that a fellow hostage, Dr. Yinsen, has installed an electromagnet in his chest to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. Raza, the leader of the Ten Rings, tells Stark that he can buy his freedom by building them a Jericho missile. Doubting Raza will keep his word, Stark instead builds a suit of powered armor that runs off an arc reactor he builds to power his electromagnet. During the course of his escape, Stark discovers the Ten Rings has weaponry built by Stark Industries. Shaken, he vows that Stark Industries will no longer manufacture weapons. However, he thinks his suit is neat and just needs refinement, so being a good little nerd he hacks away at the design in his workshop. When he discovers that more Stark Industries weapons have been delivered to Ten Rings, Stark realizes his new calling – to use his suit for good to atone for the destruction that Stark Industries has caused with its weaponry. Little does he suspect that someone close to him has other plans for his powered armor…

I will admit that when I first saw Iron Man, I wasn’t as familiar with this particular Marvel character as I was with, say, Spider-Man or the X-Men, and with most of these established characters there just too much continuity across too many alternate universes to justify trying to dredge up everything with their name on it. Fortunately, the movie offers a crash course in all things Tony Stark, and quickly gets the viewer up to speed, as befits a retelling of his origin story. He is at once arrogant and loveable, a charming rogue who had never needed to take any responsibility save publicity stunts and hobnobbing with the beautiful people. Fortunately, when reality slaps him across the face, he rises to the occasion, proving that under the fun-loving playboy lies a genuinely good heart. While the Ten Rings portion of the plot seemed to be banking on the Afghanistan War, the writing was tight enough that the terrorists never stumbled into Sterotype Land, making them seem like a genuine threat. Back on American soil, it was fun watching Stark’s personality simply bounce off the people around him, particularly in his interactions with his long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts, who acts in turns as a secretary, potential romantic interest, and mother figure to the wayward Tony. Their relationship is deeper than mere professionalism, but while they tease with romance nothing ever seems to come of it.

The story is exciting and action-packed, offering a first look into this budding superhero that never feels forced or artificial. Each event flowed naturally into the next, from the introduction of our disgustingly wealthy hero to his transition into a force for good, without sending him spiralling too far into brooding Batman Land. The plot was a lot of fun to watch, especially as he is tinkering with his original suit, trying to improve it, even as he tests of the various weapons and propulsion systems send him careening into walls. His first flight in the iconic red and gold suit offers shades of Icarus’ first flight; Stark enjoys the hell out of his newfound freedom, even as he learns about the suit’s critical weakness (which, like Icarus, he discovers by trying to fly a high as he can). Stark makes a fun, enjoyable superhero, in stark contrast to his DC counterpart Bruce Wayne. Iron Man fans will also notice a lot of nods to the various comics stories, like the proposed cover story that Iron Man is a bodyguard to Tony Stark, as well as early warning signs of his alcoholism.

Whether you’re a longtime reader of the Iron Man comics or a newcomer who really digs superheroes, I highly recommend Iron Man. Tony Stark offers a fun-loving superhero to the mix that you wouldn’t mind partying with, in between him saving the city.

Tron (1982)


Some movies set out to make history, and fall flat on their face. Other movies set out to just make a good story, and succeed brilliantly. Yet other movies set out to push the limits of cinematic techniques of the day, and not only do they succeed, but they also make a parmanent place for themselves in the ranks of film classics. Here’s what happened when one man set out to tell a good story with movie tricks that were unheard of in the day, and would not even have been considered by a crew with a lesser imagination. Not bad for a film originally inspired by Pong.

Tron is a sci fi film written and directed by Steven Lisberger, inspired by the nearly universal fascination with video games that had developed during the early 80s. It stars Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Barnard Hughes, and David Warner, each in dual roles as human characters and avatars of the programs they have created.

In the mainframe of the software company ENCOM, a war is being fought on two fronts, each side unaware of the other except in vague concepts. In our world, a young and gifted hacker software engineer named Kevin Flynn is trying to gain access to the mainframe to find evidence that senior executive Ed Dillinger stole his code an presented it as his own, leapfrogging him into the upper tiers of the company, but Flynn finds himself blocked on every side by the Master Control Program that regulates access to the mainframe. When Dillinger tightens mainframe security in response to Flynn’s probes, Flynn convinces two ENCOM employees, Alan Bradley and Lora Baines, to get him direct access to forge a higher security clearance for Tron, a security program Bradley has created. Meanwhile, in the computer world, MCP is an oppressive overlord, trying to quash the programs’ almost religious belief in their users while at the same time absorbing all useful programs into itself to increase its own power, and trying to gain access into all parts of the network. Tron is a constant thorn in MCP’s side, and it has given the task of finding and derezzing this troublemaker to Sark, a control program who captures wayward programs and trains them for gladiatorial games in the Grid. When Flynn gains physical access to the terminal on the mainframe, however, MCP must act quickly to eliminate this new threat to its supremacy. Taking control of an experimental laser being developed for “quantum teleportation”, MCP digitizes Flynn and abducts him into the Grid. Lost in this strange world, Flynn is forced to learn the laws of the Grid, and then use his powers as a User (and a seasoned hacker) to bend these laws in order to free the denizens of the Grid from MCP’s iron-fisted rule.

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as CGI specieal effects. Moviemaking technology that we take for granted today simply didn’t exist – until Tron. Pioneering this new technique – and doing it the hard way, mind you – opened the door to new ways of portraying things in the movie world that simply couldn’t exist in the real world, like a whole virtual world inside a mainframe. Of course, only a relative handful of FX shots were actually CG, due to the insane difficulty in rendering them; the rest of the techno-world was portrayed using methods that would seem stupidly simple today: monochrome film, backlit animation, and of course the actors simply imagining this virtual world on an otherwise blank soundstage. There are no shots where live actors interact with the CG items, or are even in the same frame (hooray for rotoscoped animation), but despite the extreme limitations of CG at the time, the effects hold up really well, mainly because they aren’t trying to portray anything that’s “real”, or trying to make things that the actors must touch or manipulate on camera.

The plot of Tron is decently simple, serving as a means to get human Kevin Flynn inside the digital world and give him something to do while there, but the plot doesn’t have to be complex to make a good movie. The plight of the programs, virtual though they may be, is genuine both from a human point of view and a computer security point of view. While MCP’s ever-expanding grasp calls to mind how ridiculously easy it was for Matthew Broderick’s character to hack into NORAD in WarGames, this fit the perspective of computer security of the day – systems weren’t sophisticated enough to independently react to threats, and there was still the fear of the megalomaniacal A.I. that seemed to lurk in the perpetual near future. MCP works as an antagonist in a different way than his spiritual cousin, HAL 9000, in that despite being a computerized creation his roots as a chess program give him the ability to learn and strategize, analyzing available data and devouring the resources it finds useful. HAL only turned murderous as a result of a logic bomb in his programming, but MCP seems to be deliberously malicious, possibly striving for virtual world conquest. His right-hand program Sark serves to give a face to the threat, a “real” entity that we can hate rather than a nebulous control program whose face bears a striking resemblance to the Biship of Battle in John Carpenter’s anthology Nightmares.

Tron was made when CGI was still in its infancy (and indeed helped give birth to it), but it still holds up today as an enjoyable movie. The effects don’t seem dated at all, and the story is still engaging in its simplicity. I recommend Tron to all sci fi fans.