Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

One of my fondest movie-going memories was the time I went to see Star Trek II in the theatre (not the drive-in as my family often did) with my father and my grandfather. I recall my grandfather joking afterward that the next movie will have to be called "The Quest for Geritol." He was of course commenting on the advancing age of the actors from the 1960's TV series.

I kept replaying my grandfather's classic joke in my mind as I anticipated the fourth Indiana Jones film. I have been waiting for this film for 19 years! I went to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a much slimmer man engaged to be married in less than a month. I returned to the theatres for the next installment in the adventures of Indiana Jones weighing 50 lbs. more with a wife and two kids.

There's Indy on the screen. He's aged a little better than I have, still he's moving kind of slow; and the fight scenes and stunts seem to hurt a little more. Every time Indy got into a jam I kept thinking, "He's past 60! I hope I can move like that when I'm 60. Heck, I can't move like that now." Instead of cheering for Indy, I kept wanting to say, "Hey, don't do that. You'll get hurt and you know we don't heal up like we used to." Well, Indy did drink from the Holy Grail after all. Maybe that's the magic Geritol that grandpa was talking about.

The movie was fun and I am glad the whole family could enjoy it. It was nice to visit the Jones family again and catch up on old times. Glad to see Indy and Marian together again. And here's the boy ready to take up the family business; that's nice. Oh, and there's the Ark of the Covenant. Always wondered where that ended up.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Iron Man

The Tin Man needed a heart. So does the Iron Man. He finds it not from a wizard, but in moral responsibility and repentance.

Anyone remember the theme song from the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes animated series?:

“Tony Stark makes you feel,
he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel.”
Bonus points to Favreau and company for inserting the tune into the movie (even as a ring tone for one character’s phone). The lyrics fit to some degree, but in this film Tony Stark actually does begin as a cool exec with a heart of steel.

Stark’s journey to become Iron Man is ironic. As his heart is damaged by his own weapons, he recovers his spiritual and moral heart. He is no longer content to be the “merchant of death” and instead vows to use his power and influence to improve the world. The second irony, which the film does not explain away, is that he builds the world’s greatest weapon (the Iron Man armor) in an attempt to redeem his part in mass producing weapons of mass destruction.

Stark knows that he is complicit is a system of imbalanced power and destruction. Other characters such as Obadiah Stane and James Rhodes are also a part of that system. No one is above critique. However, we can sympathize with Stark because he accepts his culpability and takes the bold actions to change it. He learns to administer justice rather than cater to the highest bidder, even though he may do so imperfectly. This is an accurate picture of redemption.
Iron Man was one of my favorite comics. I grew up with these characters, so this film was huge for me. I know that Shell-Head has always been Marvel’s most political character (perhaps even more so than Capitan America). In the 1960’s Iron Man’s enemies were communists. We were scared of the Red Menace and so Iron Man kept the world safe for capitalism.

Now his origin is updated for our times. Our threat is terror, so Stark's conversion takes place in the Middle East and his captors are some sort of terrorists. Even though the terrorist group in the film is identified as a multi-national group called “The Ten Rings” (which is a reference to The Mandarin, an old Iron Man foe from the comics), it is difficult not to feel that this group isn’t Al-Qaeda. In the opening scene I felt the rage, anger, and powerlessness generated by video executions conducted by extremist groups. Who wouldn’t want the protection and power of high-tech armor? Who wouldn’t want to protect the innocent and rescue the oppressed with the power of repulsor rays? Yet, how do we walk the line between revenge and redemption? It’s a question left open and I applaud this movie for opening the dialogue. I hope the media and the public will engage this dimension of the film as much as it engages the special effects and celebrity glitz.

P.S. We will definitely be hearing from Iron Man again. Be sure and stick around for the surprise scene that follows the credits. Every comic-book nerd around the globe must have cheered wildly over that scene. I did. Go see the movie and then come back and talk to me here if that last scene leaves you wondering.