Iron Man 3, Watchmen, V for Vendetta

I know I keep saying this, but there really aren’t that many more films on my list for my project of getting caught up on the superhero genre. Over the last couple weeks I managed to knock out three more of them. I watched Iron Man 3, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta.

For the sake of brevity I won’t summarize the films and will assume that the reader has seen them.

Here is my take on these three pictures. I will strive to keep the reviews relatively brief (for me at least).

Iron Man 3

Yes, while this film is fairly regarded by many as the weakest of the Iron Man trilogy starring RDJR, I still found it to be pretty enjoyable to watch. My expectations were low, which helped. I did appreciate seeing Tony Stark as a much more vulnerable character–although that meant that for much of the film he wasn’t wearing his robotic armor which is so much of the fun of these films.

The subplot with the young lad helping Tony avoided becoming treacly mainly because Robert Downey, Jr. played it (in-character) flippantly; and thankfully it was written that way for him. So that subplot at least did no real harm.

Pepper ending up with super powers through the events of this tale I will reserve judgment about, because it ultimately depends on how they develop that as the cinematic universe progresses (assuming that they will).

I was disappointed that the ending included Tony Stark ridding himself of the shrapnel in his heart, and removing the arc reactor from his chest. Huh?! Isn’t that integral to what makes Iron Man who he is?  Okay, I guess not…

In closing, I would point out that Iron Man 2 is not worlds above this film. They are about on par for my taste–with the first film of the trilogy being the best by far. But I suppose I would give 2 the nod as being slightly more engaging (for me) than 3.

Addendum: Oh! I forgot what I’m sure must be one of the biggest criticisms of the movie: the treatment of the arch-villain, the Mandarin. I’m not knowledgeable about the comic book history of the character, but friends tell me that this arch-enemy character is to Iron Man what the Joker is to Batman or Lex Luther to Superman. In Iron Man 3 he is cast as a puppet of yet another industrial billionaire super-villain. As such the movie treats the Mandarin as fluff.

Mind you, this is the third time the trilogy has gone to that well for its (actual) villain (another evil military-industrialist billionaire, that is). But regardless to basically rewrite the Mandarin character in such a way has to be upsetting to comic book fans. (It didn’t bother me all that much per se because I don’t know the character.)

However, the Mandarin is a Chinese character. What did bother me was to rewrite the Mandarin’s Chinese identity as a Muslim terrorist–and then use a “Truther”-like notion that he is merely a puppet created by a Western industrialist.

Watchmen

I watched the Watchmen Director’s Cut, which I believe extends the running time to 3 hours and 6 minutes.

This film is kind of a hot mess. But it is a fascinating mess nevertheless.

This thing could be described as a not-so-great acid trip. It is, as one would expect, surreal and fantastic; but it is also meant to be disturbing, even if not outright nightmarish. It is of course a dystopian world–and also cinematically the experience is meant to be vaguely unsettling for the viewer, I think. That’s all fine–but unfortunately it does not flow particularly well as a story.  I suspect that the narrative flow is probably made more uneven with the additional 25 minutes of footage that is added.

That said, the film still manages to be mesmerizing despite its disjointed and uneven narrative. I wondered at certain points if it was intentionally intended to reflect Dr. Manhattan’s experience of time. But the film’s narrator is Rorschach, not Dr. Manhattan.

First, the main positive: I have to say, I found Rorschach to be one of the most memorable, offbeat, and subtly funny superheroes I have yet to encounter. He is great. This character holds the film together in many ways.

Now for some negatives: As I have noted in earlier reviews, in analyzing a film I am looking at what resonates with me personally; and the main litmus test for whether the film thereby succeeds in entertaining me is whether I care about the characters and what happens to them. This film makes that somewhat challenging! For three of the main superhero characters I did care just enough about them and what happens to them to maintain my interest. They were: Laurie Jupiter (aka Silk Specter II), Dan Dreiberg (aka Nite Owl), and Rorschach. The others I did not. Those characters were: Jon Osterman (aka Dr. Manhattan), Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias), Sally Jupiter (aka Silk Specter), and Edward Blake (aka the Comedian). The latter group is decidedly unsympathetic. Dr. Manhattan is so due to his supreme detachment, but the end result is still that the character is not terribly likeable or relatable. Sally Jupiter is potentially likeable. But unfortunately the character isn’t well articulated enough for me to develop a true soft spot for her.

So I struggled with the confusing narrative, uneven pacing of action, and not terribly likable characters (at least generally speaking). The alternative universe plot-line of Nixon somehow getting four terms and persisting in the “make them fear me as a madman” strategy he adopted for the Viet Nam war was thin ice for me. But I suppose that since that he had Dr. Manhattan allied, that would have emboldened him. So maybe not so far-fetched after all.

The acting performances are all fine. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorchach steals the show, in my humble opinion.

I’m not sure what to make of the actors made up as historical figures such as Nixon, Kissinger, the McGlaughlin Group, et al. It felt a little clumsy and half-baked. But I suppose overall it added to the film’s surrealism enough to work.

Where I think the film’s story definitely fails to connect convincingly is in the hollow and awkward epiphany of Dr. Manhattan at the film’s end, and the success of Ozymandias’ scheme. At the climactic moment where Dr. Manhattan decides to save the earth, I don’t really buy the reason why he comes to that conclusion. And the notion that in this especially ruthless, animalistic, and Darwinian dystopia, simply because Dr. Manhattan is rendered as a “common enemy” of human civilization, that people shed their tribal instincts and id drives to come together and live peacefully is just not believable to me.

But anyway, the film certainly was like nothing I have ever seen. And I think it is a film I could watch again with interest. So overall I can say that I enjoyed it, even if there were aspects of it that I found made me antsy as a viewer.

V for Vendetta

This is another complicated film for the viewer. Or at least for this viewer…

V for Vendetta is certainly a well made movie. The story is compelling, the direction is competent and rather crisp, and the casting and acting are all first rate.

So what is the problem?

I think it is fair to say that the story and film glorifies terrorism. Somewhat in the same sense that director Sam Peckinpah introduced “beautiful bloodletting” in his cinematically artful treatment of violence, this story/film casts terrorism in a kind of romantic glow. That is my association, at least. I realize that the film is a translation of the graphic novel (which I have not read). So it is in that sense that I refer to the film as that “story/film.” But in any case, the story/film makes terrorism seem an artistic and noble thing of exceptional poignancy–a thing of beauty.

The story/film depicts a post-apocalyptic and profoundly dystopian (alternative universe) world in which Britain experiences a kind of reincarnation of Hitler in its psychopathic fascist leader Adam Susan. So it I understand that it is in that context that the justification for terrorism is framed. The character V is battling a truly evil police state; and he is also carrying out his own personal vendetta for what was done to him by the Norsefire party.

But I am not sure that that is enough for me to warrant making terrorism seem “cool.”

That said, the film may also be said to succeed by posing the question of whether such a vision is justifiable to begin with. As a piece of art the film made me think. It challenged me. That’s inherently a good thing.

Natalie Portman gives a wonderful performance in this movie as V’s initially uncooperative protege. Despite Portman’s fine acting, her conversion is not entirely convincing; which, craft-wise, is one of the few weak spots of the film for me. Hugo Weaving does a fine job of voicing (and physically acting?) the namesake character, who is rather Shakespearean. The other performances are all very good.

V for Vendetta is a very good film. Overall I suppose I can tolerate that it troubles me in the way that it treats terrorism. Some would say that it is even commendable as an art form that it disturbs me as such. I still had a bit of trouble enjoying it for that reason, though. I watch films ultimately to be entertained in a fun way. And I watch superhero genre films for escapism, in particular. 

***

From here on out I plan to take in about five more superhero movies. Those are: X-men: First Class, Elektra, Constantine, Kick-ass, and Kick-ass 2.

After that, I don’t think there are any others I’m interested in seeing from the Wikipedia list.

Iron Man 3, Watchmen, V for Vendetta