6/08/2013

150 Movies in 90 Days: Iron Man 3 and Die Hard

As you can see by the homely, MS paint-drawn logo above, 150 Movies in 90 Days is still a thing.

I'm just really, REALLY behind, is all.

The good news is that since I last wrote, I've managed to watch two movies! The bad news? It's been ten days. As my friend John McClane would say, "Yippie ki-yay." (No "motherfucker", though. People who watch two movies in ten days don't get to quote the entire catch phrase.)

Essentially, what started out as 150 Movies in 90 Days really just kind of became 146 Movies in 72 Days. Totally do-able, right? But I'd better stop pattering about and get to my reviews so I can start watching some more of them, right? Right.

June 2: #5, Iron Man 3

When we said we wanted "more Iron Man", we didn't mean more Iron MEN.

I wasn't always a comic book fan; it was something instilled in me by my older brothers, Derek and Russ. They were technically step-brothers, but that only increased their influence. One day, they were just there, having moved back to live with their dad (my stepfather, obv), and as they were older than I was, they were clearly more worldly, experienced, and just plain cool than I was.

I never really gave much thought to comic books until I saw their collections- neatly bagged and boarded, alphabetized in their longboxes, my inner need to organize was at once married with a primal appetite for stories featuring super-powered muscle men and scantily-clad female warriors, and the effect was undeniable.

Even at the zenith of my childhood comic fandom, though, I didn't give a shit about the Avengers. It may seem crazy now, but in the 90s, the Avengers were kinda lame. Captain America? Zzzzz. Iron Man? Dorky. Thor? Bo-ring. They even had a b-team, the "West Coast Avengers", which were the characters that were too lame to even be in the Avengers proper. Guess who was in that team? Hawkeye, and a bunch of other people nobody gave a shit about.

If you would have told me back then that one day, totally awesome comic book movies would all but take over every summer blockbuster season, I would have been pretty damn stoked. If you would have told me that Iron Man would be a much bigger box office and critical success than Wolverine, I would have laughed at you. And then called you something really mean and run away, because that's how I rolled when I was 10 years old.

We forget now how much of a surprise the success of Iron Man was. Nobody was really excited about it before it came out- at least nobody I knew was. Comic fans were cautiously optimistic about the oncoming slew of comic book movies, with the X-Men and Spider-Man films leading the way.

Another thing we forget, though, is that comic movies weren't exactly a can't miss proposition. You may remember the slightly-polished turds that were the likes of Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, or the formidable pair of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, sure. But we comic fans remember many other atrocities. The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. The 1990 version of Captain America. The unforgettable disgrace that was the original Fantastic Four, apparently filmed on a budget of $64 and 100 gallons of cheap vodka. (Seriously, click that last link and keep it on at least long enough to see the film's nightmarish rendition of The Thing.)

Now, it's 2013 and Iron Man 3 was widely expected to be the biggest hit of the summer and a can't-miss third installment of a series that has been enjoyed by critics and fans alike. Go figure.


Before I sat down to watch Iron Man 3 the first time, I had already told my brother, Chris, "In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark had a suit that came in a suitcase and automatically formed around him. In The Avengers, he had the wristband-homing suit. I'm sure in this one, we'll get a new and even more ridiculous way for Tony to put on his suit."

I don't mean to be self-congratulatory, but I kinda knocked that one out of the fucking park.

I won't spoil any plot specifics, but let's just say that there's A LOT of suits attaching themselves to Tony in new and unlikely ways in this one, and it's not just a one-off gimmick, but absolutely central to at least two pivotal moments of the film.

Besides that? Everybody gets to wear a suit, if at least temporarily. I'm beginning to think it was written into people's contracts. "Yeah, I'll do the movie, but why should Iron Man be the only one who gets to wear the Iron Man suit? I want one, too, damn it!"

Another thing that seems to be written into contracts in super hero franchises: not having to wear your damn mask. We first saw this particular phenomenon in the Spider-Man trilogy, where by the end of the series, everybody in Manhattan knew who Spider-Man was and simply didn't give a shit, apparently. Why? Because GOD FORBID we forgot for a second that Tobey Maguire was playing the role.

With the often-used "inside the helmet" cam we've gotten used to, we get a lot of Robert Downey, Jr. in mid-flight, telling Jarvis to Recalibrate This or Update Him on That. And that's okay, really. I suppose if you take a role and make it absolutely inseparable with your particular performance the way Downey, Jr. has with the role of Tony Stark, you can get a little more face time.

Acting-wise, Iron Man 3 delivers, as you would expect. Downey, Jr. is excellent, Gwyneth Paltrow is concerned without entering "wet blanket girlfriend" territory, and series newbies Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley both do well in their respective roles, even if I think that Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer (from Iron Man 2) is a far better corporate rival than Pearce's Aldrich Killian. Kingsley is really just superb in all facets of his role, as you would expect.

The story starts off well enough, with a compelling villain, a believable personal crisis and a first act that somehow survives a palpable lack of AC/DC. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen terrorists blowing Stark's oceanside palace into smithereens, and yes, that scene is great, as is everything that leads up to it.

Where things slow down for me is in the final hour, when the film tries to wear a few too many hats for my taste. There's a pit-stop in a small town where Stark befriends a kid, and although not only do they avoid the temptation to develop a corny, heartwarming relationship between the two, but actually do much the opposite for comedic effect, I could have done without him. Then, there's the final battle, which is easily the most amazing in an Iron Man film from a pure special effects and action standpoint, but somehow lacks the impact you would expect in the process.

It was a great film, just not an excellent one. If you ask me, the series was released in descending order of quality, though having the weak link in a trilogy be this damn good is really saying something. Grade: B+.

June 6: #6, Die Hard

I'm struggling to think of something to say that isn't "Yippie ki-yay, motherfucker"...damn it.

I may have seen the original Die Hard when I was a kid, but I'm not sure. It's hard to tell whether I have a familiarity with its most well-known scenes, lines, and moments just from growing up in the 80s, or from actually seeing it, but I know that I have next to no recollection of the specifics of the movie beyond its more iconic moments. Did I see it when it came out? I don't know; my dad had cable and I was 10 when it first came out. I watched plenty of R-rated stuff (much more than PG-rated, for sure), but even today I don't remember movies all that well years later if I only see them once.

At any rate, I haven't seen any of the sequels, and with three of the five available on HBOGO right now, I thought it was as good a time as any to get into the franchise for the first time. I know, it's downright blasphemous not to have really watched Die Hard, but what can I say? I was more of a Van Damme and Stallone kid. We all had our favorites.


So, a half hour into Die Hard, and I already understood its appeal. Why was Die Hard so unbelievably popular when it released way back in 1988? Because it combined four things that just about every American loved in the 80s:

a) Tough guys shooting people,
b) Americans kicking the crap out of foreign dudes,
c) A working class hero, and
d) Hide and seek.

I'm not kidding- I think Die Hard mostly became a classic action film because it's all about hide and seek. Everybody who grew up in the 80s loved hide and seek. Shit, we didn't have Xbox 360s or smart phones as kids, and even if we had a Nintendo, our moms made it pretty clear during the summer that we had to go outside and play. Hide and seek was a great game, too, as tag was too simple and rewarded pure athleticism, while hide and seek allowed for creativity and sneakiness.

Everyone I know that's between 30 and 35 loves Die Hard, because when it came out, it was pretty much a living enactment of our fantasies: a badass playing hide and seek (with guns!) from deadly terrorists. What more could you want?

Watching Die Hard today, the film seems almost quaint. Innocent, even. Dude, the terrorists are white people. They look like businessmen. I mean, they're foreign, but that's a given. Can you imagine a movie about terrorists today where a) there isn't a Middle-Eastern person in sight, and b) the terrorists are just after money?

Then, there's McClane himself. Much like with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, you don't have to have seen Die Hard to know it. So much of what happens in the film has become a regular part of action movies since. Bruce Willis' John McClane was a predecessor to the action heroes we got more regularly in the 90s and after, who not only shrugged off gun wounds and dispatched bad guys with extreme prejudice, but had a sensitive side and ultimately just wanted to be with their wife and kids.

The film doesn't take long to get moving: if I recall correctly, the terrorists show up and start their little party about 20 minutes into the movie. The pace moves along briskly, with the exception of a portion of the early third act, where the terrorists seem to stop pursuing McClane so he can continue his unlikely buddy cop bromance with Reginald VelJohnson's Sgt. Al Powell via CB radio.

You may know VelJohnson better as the father in "Family Matters", and he's okay in the film, but part of the slowish area of the film is just there for VelJohnson to introduce the subplot of his own trauma, which comes from having accidentally shot a 13-year old kid while on duty and then opting to get off the streets. The subplot becomes important late in the film, and I wasn't really a fan of it, nor VelJohnson's little monologue. He was better when just kidding back and forth with McClane and not laying it on so thick.

Otherwise, this is pretty much a perfect action film. It's from the 80s, so there's lots of blood, cussing, and even a little brief nudity. None of that watered-down PG-13 action crap we get today, my friends. Oh, and also because it's the 80s, female lead Bonnie Bedelia, who plays McClane's wife, is saddled with an awful perm that renders her hotness almost imperceptible, sadly. She brings a surprising amount of believability and depth to a pretty clich├ęd "cop with strained marriage" storyline, though.

It's always nice to see that a classic holds up to the title, as I was saying the other day. Die Hard has terrific action sequences, solid acting, a script with just enough cheesy 80s quirks, and some humor, to boot. After this, I'm excited to see the others, even if I understand that they don't approach the level of the original. Grade- A.


No comments:

Post a Comment