Sunday, May 4, 2008

Storywh0re's summer movie kickoff

I would like to mark this fine Mayday weekend by reviewing two of the first films of the Summer movie season—The Forbidden Kingdom and Iron Man

As much as it pains me to say it, The Forbidden Kingdom was forgettable. There is almost nothing about it that stays with you after you've left the theater. In brief, it is the story of a young boy, a fan of Wuxia films,who gets transported back to a fantasy version of ancient China. He aquires two mentors, played by Jackie Chan and Jet Li, who recognize him as the prophesied hero who will rescue the magically imprisoned Monkey King. None of the characters are three-dimensional, none of them grow or change emotionally or psychologically. It bothered me that a secondary protagonist who is eaten up with rage dies without getting past it. For some reason, not even the fight scenes hold the attention—which is tragic, considering how long Jackie Chan and Jet Li have wanted to work together.

The very best part of the movie is the Monkey King. Not only is he a joy to watch, but The Forbidden Kingdom would be a good movie for anyone who wanted to better understand the concept of the Trickster God.

One review that I read compared The Forbidden Kingdom to Willow as a movie that a ten-year-old might enjoy and remember fondly. I was that age exactly when Willow came out, and I think it's the better movie of the two.

Coming out of that disappointment, I saw Iron Man this morning, and now I feel that summer has truly begun.

Iron Man begins in the Afghan desert, with the kidnapping of brilliant multi-billionaire weapons developer Tony Stark. A rogue warlord tries to force him to recreate one of his newer and deadlier weapons, but he escapes instead, by creating a robotic soldier suit. Once selfish and irresponsible, Tony returns home with a new perspective and new energy technology (also his design) keeping him alive. His former captors soon want the suit for their own. To the frustration of the military, Tony, still characteristically reckless, acts on his own to stop them and to help the civilians in the area. His best friend and his personal assistant help him (as does a robot with an adorable canine disposition), but another old friend turns out not to be what he seemed.

I really enjoyed this movie. The action sequences were engaging, and the beautiful, super-cool gadgetry will appeal to the kid in everyone. (There were times when the audience literally moaned over the suit—even the girls.) The story has been updated for our complex times without taking a divisive stance, or losing touch with the themes that make comic books meaningful. (The scene where Iron Man targets baddies using human shields made me wish for a real hero so adept at avoiding “collateral damage”) The movie takes full advantage of Robert Downey Jr.'s comic talents, including one moment at the end that will leave you laughing and saying “Hell, yeah!" We get to see Tony Stark grow up, and the process, as other writers have observed, mirrors Downey's own redemption. (As a former heart patient, I really appreciated the very symbolic “heart” subplot.)

If you do go to see Iron Man, stay for the clip after the credits. It reveals a bit of future Marvelverse casting that had my audience—mainly gamers and comic fans—squeeing. It's been a while since I've been around that many people that happy at one time.

Part of the fun today was seeing trailers for upcoming movies, like The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk. Summer is the time for being outside and playing in the water; but it is also the time for slick, big-budget spectacles featuring talented and beautiful folk embodying beloved archetypes. I can't wait!

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