Monthly Archives: April 2013

Miscellaneous Post: I is for Iron Man: Launching a Cinematic Franchise

It’s not a question of whether or not 2008’s Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Obviously, it did.

What’s amazing is that it did it so spectacularly.

And this is coming from someone who had absolutely zero interest in anything Marvel-related at all.

Being a DC fangirl, I paid zero attention to Iron Man when it came out. I scoffed at it. I could not care less. Then Iron Man 2 was just as big a hit. But I still couldn’t care about Iron Man or Marvel or anything of the sort. I was sticking with Batman and Superman, despite various cinematic disasters and “realistic” settings for a guy who dresses in a bat costume, not to mention a bunch of comics in which my favorite characters were getting killed (and let’s not talk about the New 52).

Then, I was on vacation, the weather was drippy and cold, and there was nothing to do all day. Bored of staying inside, I suggested we go to the drive-in, because A) I love the drive-in, and B) the night’s double feature was Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. No, I didn’t care about Marvel, but at least the films would have some good action and would also go together, unlike some drive-ins showing a kiddie movie and something R-rated, or two movies that don’t go together at all (District 9 and The Ugly Truth for example; that was a long night). I didn’t even know anything about the Avengers at the time, or maybe vaguely was aware that there was some sort of Marvel movie thing that was happening, related to those two movies at the drive-in.

Anyway, through the misting drizzle and thin veil of fog, we watched Captain America and then Thor best their adversaries. Sort of. If you’ve seen them you know what I mean.

I still wasn’t that interested in Marvel’s The Avengers but eventually did see it. And loved every second of it. It has pretty much everything a movie-goer could want, and nothing that he wouldn’t (Unexpected Romance, I’m looking at you).

So then I had to backtrack through the other MCU films, starting of course with Iron Man, which Redbox had so conveniently put back into its system. I was, shall we say, impressed. The film was tight with no extra nonsense scenes, not boring or drawn out, shiny without looking fake, fun without trying too hard, and again didn’t slow itself down with romance (which would be out of character for Tony anyway, except of course where Pepper is concerned).

Tony’s childhood is hinted at but not embellished, unlike many superhero origin stories (Batman and Superman, I’m looking at you), so all the audience has to go on is the portrayal of the character before the inciting incident. Clearly Tony is selfish, a womanizer, doesn’t care about money because he has so very much of it, and pretty much is all about the flashy toys his money can buy and his company can build. He even comments about peace being a bad thing because it will put him out of a job. Of course, Tony changes his entire purpose for existing after Afghanistan, throwing himself into becoming a hero and changing the focus of his company, and working to ensure his weapons don’t end up in the hands of the enemy.

It’s amazing that nothing seems forced; the film is entirely about Tony’s growth from within, even if the change is initiated by external factors. There’re no agonizing-to-watch personal demon battles; Tony’s actual personal demon, Obadiah, is fought and ended in a very clean-looking fight.

I’ve described the effects and fighting as “shiny” and “clean” because they truly are. If someone didn’t know better, the computer effects are easy to confuse for practical effects. Too many films do not properly integrate CGI, leading to the effects either popping off the screen unpleasantly or looking flat rather than appearing within a three dimensional space inside the actual film (and yes, motion capture is different than creating a monster or something, but still). Iron Man doesn’t have that problem, which really does put it a step ahead of so many films, be they superhero (Green Lantern), science fiction (Transformers), action-adventure (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), disaster (2012), fantasy (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), or pure action (The Expendables 2). That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy these films (give you a couple guesses as to which ones I truly did not enjoy), but my point is that there is clearly CGI at use in them. Things look fake or cartoony, and certainly if Iron Man is any indication, they don’t have to. I’m not even going to mention the seamless blending of effects in Jurassic Park, a 20-year-old film that runs circles around so many movies today. …okay, I mentioned it. But come on, dinosaurs!

All of this being said, my point is that Iron Man was designed to launch the MCU, as the after-credits scene with Nick Fury illustrates. If the film had flopped, Captain America, Thor, and perhaps even the Hulk wouldn’t have gotten their chances in the spotlight. Chris Evans would have had to stay Johnny Storm his entire Marvel career, and no one wants that. Robert Downey, Jr and Jon Favreau had a lot riding on their shoulders, and with their efforts and their teams’ efforts, the film was a huge success and deservedly so.

Remember, this is coming from a DC Comics person, who did not care less about anything related to Marvel Comics until after that soggy day on vacation coupled with Marvel’s The Avengers eight months later. Now I know more about the characters than people who’ve followed the movies for years. Clint grew up in a circus? Check. Thor uses Allspeak? Check. Loki has three kids? Check. I tell fans this stuff.

Anyway, Downey and Favreau really helped turn a DC fan into a MCU fan, though if we’re comparing DC movies to Marvel movies, there’s not much of a comparison (where is our Flash or Wonder Woman movie, hmm? Why do the Nolanverse films make less and less sense as the trilogy is explored? Are DC and Warner Brothers going to embarrass themselves by copying the MCU concept and then doing a terrible job of it?). I’m sure I’m not the only person who didn’t care a bit for Iron Man or anything Marvel but then was blown away by the movie. The film had to do so to save Marvel, and launch the other heroes and give the Avengers their chance.

It succeeded.

Iron Man 2 kept the momentum going, ensuring an excited audience for Thor and Captain America. Iron Man 2 is darker at times and more serious with respect to Tony’s childhood and current/future health, and it ends with Tony not being accepted into the Avengers Initiative. However, Justin Hammer is a villain fans love to hate because he’s just so horrible, Agent Romanoff has her excellent side role, and Happy has some good lines. The relationships of Tony and his friends—Rhodey and Pepper—are explored in more detail, helping the viewing understand why they stay with such a narcissistic person, and why they keep coming back even after they leave. The film certainly rounds out Tony’s character in ways likely intentionally left out of the first film.

With Nick Fury, Natasha, and Coulson, the audience is further immersed into what will be the Avengers, providing characterization and backstory to get it out of the way and keep Marvel’s The Avengers as lean as possible by not having to go through too many backstories. The means of creating the MCU—individual back story films to clear the way for a truly epic team story—was ingenious. It really is the only way to get it to all work and not have a four hour movie full of explication, or a two hour movie with a bunch of random people. Everyone knows who Batman and Superman are, but Black Widow or Hawkeye are far more vague. Though Hawkeye certainly doesn’t get his fair share in the MCU, or at least hasn’t yet (can there be a SHIELD-focused Hawkeye/Black Widow film please?). The Avengers movie has character introductions to set the tone in case people haven’t seen the other movies, but it knows it doesn’t have to spend too much time on it, thanks to the foundation laid by Iron Man.

As someone who did not care about Iron Man until a year ago, I have to credit the success of the MCU and its future projects to Iron Man setting the example as a superhero movie that isn’t cheesy, isn’t overly complicated, isn’t poorly written, isn’t bogged down with a needless love story, and doesn’t have cartoony special effects.

Good job, Favreau and Downey. Let’s hope the other teams can keep it going through the second Avengers movie and beyond. And maybe it’ll inspire DC to get their act together on a Justice League film and do it properly.


L is for… Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon, directed by Richard Donner, is the quintessential “buddy cop” movie, which makes it not quite the right fit for the theme of this site, but heck, it’s Lethal Weapon, so it had to be included!

Lethal Weapon stars Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs and Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh, two LAPD sergeants who get teamed up to solve a drug/murder case. The film opens with a half-naked woman (Amanda, played by Jackie Swanson) leaping from a balcony. It then cuts to Murtaugh, who’s accepting birthday wishes from his loving family. Next up is Riggs, who lives alone in a trailer and is unstable enough to throw something through his television, and it’s eventually explained that his wife of eleven years recently died in a car accident. Riggs works on a few cases while Murtaugh investigates the woman’s death, which is determined to be a homicide. Riggs, unstable and dangerous, is paired with him on the case. The film indirectly focuses on the relationship between Riggs and Murtaugh, notably Murtaugh’s relationship with his family contrasting with Riggs’ suicidal loneliness.

Amanda’s father, Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins), had recently contacted Murtaugh to ask for his help getting Amanda away from the bad element into which she’d fallen, but obviously it was too little too late. Murtaugh and Riggs follow one lead from doomed prostitute Dixie (Lycia Naff) and a kid who saw a man with a Special Forces tattoo plant the bomb that killed her, and determine that Hunsaker must know more than he let on. Hunsaker explains to Riggs and Murtaugh that Shadow Company, a group of former Vietnam soldiers, traffics heroin into the United States. Amanda was killed because she knew too much.

Hunsaker gets shot by the guys actually pulling the strings—Joshua, played by Gary Busey, and the General, played by Mitch Ryan—and they later try to kill Riggs. Unknown to them, he survives, and soon Murtaugh realizes that his oldest daughter was kidnapped by Joshua. Riggs and Murtaugh plot a way to get her back, and Murtaugh agrees to meet Joshua in the desert and take his daughter’s place. Riggs is able to disrupt the exchange, but he, Murtaugh, and daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe) all get taken anyway.

Cue Riggs being a badass and using some of his talked about martial arts skills to escape his bonds, and he’s able to free Murtaugh and Rianne. He proceeds to chase Joshua through the streets of LA, while Murtaugh focuses on the General. The General gets blown up, while Joshua makes it to Murtaugh’s house to go after the rest of his family. Riggs engages Joshua in a long, complicated fistfight on Murtaugh’s front lawn, eventually subduing him. But he tries to shoot Riggs, but Riggs and Murtaugh shoot him first. The film ends with Riggs and Murtaugh having a friendly relationship, in contrast to their antagonistic interactions in the beginning of the film.

Let’s check out the criteria.

A is for… Accents

This is the first film reviewed on this site in which no one—hero nor villain—has an accent. Everyone is American, without even a dialect to make anyone stand out.

B is for… Bad Guys

The introduction to the bad guys is pretty subtle because Amanda is seen jumping by herself. She’s obviously on drugs, but that’s all that seems to be going on. However, it’s revealed to Murtaugh that Amanda’s death was no accident when drain cleaner is found inside the pills she ingested. Even if she hadn’t jumped, she’d have been dead soon. Someone wanted her dead and made sure it happened. Ironically, had they been able to anticipate her leap from the balcony, perhaps they wouldn’t have laced the pills with poison, and thus the death would have been ruled a suicide.

“Mr. Joshua” and “the General” are first seen doing a heroin deal with a Mr. Mendez. Hunsaker explains to Riggs and Murtaugh that the “Air America” group in Vietnam, Shadow Company, run by General McCallister, killed heroin dealers they came across and started to traffic the drug into the States themselves. They do two big shipments a year, and the money looks good for Hunsaker’s bank. Other than this Joshua and the General aren’t terribly developed and don’t really have any memorable scenes.

C is for… Chases

Not too many chases in Lethal Weapon. One happens when Joshua’s helicopter follows Rianne as she tries to escape in the desert.

The other is longer and more entertaining, as Joshua attempts to escape in a car after Riggs and Murtaugh get free, and Riggs chases him down on foot. Riggs is able to shoot the car, which sets it on fire, and Joshua crashes it. He then steals another car. Riggs knows he’s going to Murtaugh’s house, though, so he can continue to follow him there on foot.

D is for… Damsels

There are a handful of female characters, but the only one who can be considered a “damsel” is Rianne, Murtaugh’s teenaged daughter. She’s a typical teen who’s currently grounded for smoking pot in the house, and is angry her dad won’t let her go out with a blonde boy with dimples (not because he’s blonde or has dimples, just because she’s grounded). She also has a very obvious crush on Riggs, and he’s flattered.

Joshua kidnaps her and Murtaugh and Riggs have to go get her back. She’s able to steal a car but gets chased down by a helicopter. In the bad guys’ custody she’s handcuffed, and hugs her father and almost chokes him while she cries. Riggs frees Murtaugh and Murtaugh is able to free his daughter.

Rianne is basically just kidnapping fodder and a means for Murtaugh to show off his age and parenting ability, but she’s not an annoying or pointless character, either, the way most of the women in these movies are.

E is for… Explosions

Dixie’s house explodes when a bomb blows it up. It has a mercury switch, which leads Riggs and Murtaugh to consider it was made and planted by a professional, likely special forces.

Murtaugh brandishes a grenade in the desert to Joshua and his men, threatening to blow them all up (even his daughter, saying he’d rather control her death than have the bad guys do it), but it’s just a smoke grenade that will buy Riggs some time to fire.

When the General is escaping in his car with his heroin, he crashes into a bus, and the grenades inside explode, killing him.

F is for… Flashbacks

There are no flashbacks in Lethal Weapon, though they might have proven a more dynamic method of telling the story of Rigg’s wife, his love for her, and her death, rather than Riggs staring at his wedding photos and crying.

G is for… Guns

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of guns in Lethal Weapon, but nothing that really stands out as memorable. Details at the IMFDB.

Riggs, Murtaugh, and the other cops have their service weapons, though Riggs points out that Murtaugh is old school with his use of a six shooter (a 4 inch Smith) as he brags about his own .9mm Beretta.

The sniper Riggs takes down has a rifle, and the SWAT guys that eventually storm the scene have rifles.

The drug dealers Riggs busts have handguns.

When Joshua does his drive-by helicopter shooting of Hunsaker, Riggs fires a lot of shots at the helicopter as it flies away. Not sure what he thinks his handgun can do against a helicopter, but considering how he treats bullets like water (see the sniper scene where he shoots way too many times), it’s in character.

Joshua then tries a standard automobile drive-by shooting of Riggs, which Riggs and Murtaugh pretend is successful. If Riggs hadn’t been wearing his bullet-proof vest, it would have been.

Riggs has a fancy-looking sniper rifle in the desert.

Shootouts include at Amanda’s pimp’s house, the desert, and the club.

H is for… Helicopters

Joshua buzzes by Hunsaker’s cliff-side home in a red and white helicopter, which provides him a very convenient means of escape after he shoots him. Really, it’s ingenious.

The same helicopter is used in the desert.

The final fight scene on Murtaugh’s lawn between Riggs and Joshua is lit by an overhead police helicopter.

I is for… Improvisation

Riggs and Murtaugh take advantage of the failed drive-by shooting to gain an edge over Joshua. They’re able to pretend Riggs is dead so Murtaugh will have an advantage over Joshua while trying to get his daughter back.

While chained on a hook, Riggs is able to use the leverage from the chains to break Endo’s (Al Leong) neck with his legs.

Rather than sneak up on Joshua in Murtaugh’s home, Riggs and Murtaugh instead rig up a police car to crash through the front window of the house.

J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects

When Joshua shoots him, Riggs is thrown backwards through a store’s plate-glass window.

K is for… Kill Count

Riggs shoots Amanda’s pimp and kills him, much to Murtaugh’s chagrin. He also drowns at the same time.

Riggs kills probably a dozen or more of Joshua’s men, not even waiting for them to fire on him. He also kills random people at the club without knowing if they’re hostile or not.

Murtaugh is very much against Riggs shooting people, though likely feels differently once his daughter is at risk.

L is for… Limitations

Riggs is crazy. Suicidal, death wish, et cetera. While it means he has a certain extra ability to do his job (no fear), it also means he has a higher risk of getting killed.

Murtaugh has his family to worry about. He’s also “too old for this shit.”

Until they talk to Hunsaker, Riggs and Murtaugh have very little information to go on in Amanda’s case, to the point where they keep talking about how thin their theories are. Fortunately they do pay off.

M is for… Motivation

Murtaugh at first wants to find out what happened to his friend Hunsaker’s daughter, as a thank you for Hunsaker saving his life during Vietnam. Of course once the truth comes out he has to stop Shadow Company, and later rescue his daughter.

Riggs is brought in to the case to save himself, and by the end of the film it seems that he no longer has a death wish. He of course wants to stop Shadow Company, and help Murtaugh with his family.

As usual, Joshua and the General are in it for the money.

N is for… Negotiation

The General tells Murtaugh he’ll exchange his daughter for information.

Murtaugh wants to see his daughter is alive before he agrees to go with Joshua. He specifically says that if they don’t let her go he’ll blow them all up with a grenade.

Joshua, trying to get information out of Riggs about how much he knows, tells him, “Tell me everything and I’ll kill you quickly.”

O is for… One Liners

Murtaugh, after he learns of Riggs’ martial arts skills: I suppose we have to list you as a lethal weapon.

Murtaugh: God hates me, that’s what it is.
Riggs: Hate Him back. That works for me.

Murtaugh: You’re not trying to draw a psycho pension. You really are crazy.

Murtaugh: I’m too old for this shit.

Riggs: I saw this place on Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless.

Murtaugh: You ever meet anybody you didn’t kill?
Riggs: I haven’t killed you yet.
Murtaugh: Don’t do me any favors.

Trish (Darlene Love): Roger, you’re being an asshole.

Murtaugh, after Riggs shows off his skills at the shooting range: You sleep with that thing under your pillow?
Riggs: I would if I slept.

Riggs: We got to get up, catch bad guys.

Riggs: I wonder if there’s an opening in the LA fire department.

Riggs: Two inches lower I’d be a falsetto for life.

Riggs: I never forget an asshole.

The General: There’s no more heroes left in the world.

Murtaugh: Get that shit off my lawn.

P is for… Profession

Both Riggs and Murtaugh were in Vietnam, Riggs in Special Forces in Saigon, and Murtaugh in Drang Valley. They are currently both Sergeants in the LAPD.

Riggs is very unorthodox, and it’s unclear whether he’s brave, crazy, or just doesn’t care about his life. He pretty much walks up to a sniper and waits to get shot (eventually taking out the sniper with far many more bullets than necessary), pretends to try to buy drugs with a hundred dollars and gets taken hostage by one of the dealers until he’s able to turn the weapon around on him, and he handcuffs himself to a guy threatening to jump off a roof, and eventually jumps with him into the air cushion. Murtaugh tells Riggs he’s a “psycho son of a bitch. But you’re good.” Riggs is clearly not a team player as he confronts the sniper alone, handles the drug dealers alone (with backup some distance away, anyway), and he enjoys Stooges’ slapstick. Another coworker describes him as a “real burn-out, on the ragged edge.” He’s self-described as martial arts expert and one of the best snipers in the world.

In contrast, Murtaugh seems very by-the-book, as he’s working cases with other officers, and dresses appropriately for work.

Q is for… Quagmire

Joshua has Riggs’ hands bound and looped over a hook, from which he’s hanging, and swinging, through a stream of water, while Endo does some shock therapy on him.

Meanwhile, Murtaugh is tied to a chair and beaten, and doesn’t know if his daughter is alive. She’s eventually brought in which may just distract him more.

Fortunately Riggs is able to break free and rescue them.

R is for… Reality/Suspension of Disbelief

Everything in the film pretty much seems plausible. There are no huge, outlandish action sequences to really question.

S is for… Sidekicks

Because Lethal Weapon is a buddy cop movie, Riggs and Murtaugh are each other’s sidekicks. Murtaugh is more sarcastic, but he’s also depicted as more wise. Riggs is younger, but has had a harder life.

T is for… Technology

Another movie that looks incredibly old because of the 1980s technology.

Murtaugh uses a portable phone that attaches to a huge battery.

He’s also sent a VHS tape of Amanda (which was high technology back then).

Riggs watches his tube TV, which takes up a lot of space in his little trailer.

No technology at all is used on their cases, which is interesting because you know in any movie made nowadays the computer is the first place anyone checks for anything.

U is for… Unexpected Romance

Other than Rianne’s crush on Riggs, there is no romance in the film. It wouldn’t make sense for there to be, considering Murtaugh is married and Riggs is obviously still in love with his late wife.

V is for… Vehicles as Weapons

The helicopter is used to nudge Rianne’s car off the road, or at least scare her into driving off the road.

As he’s making his escape, the General smashes into a bus, which causes his car to flip and its grenades to explode.

Riggs and Murtaugh rig a cop car to crash through Murtuagh’s front window to attack/distract Joshua.

W is for… Winning

Riggs and Murtaugh are able to escape from the clutches of the General and Joshua. The General tries to escape in a car, but crashes into a bus, and the grenades in the car explode, killing him. Joshua is also in a car, and Riggs chases him on foot. Eventually Joshua makes it to Murtaugh’s house, where he wants to cause more damage to his family, but no one is there. Riggs is able to get him outside, where they engage in a fistfight on the front lawn. The fight rages on as cops and Murtaugh show up, and Murtaugh tells everyone to let Riggs keep fighting. Eventually Riggs is able to subdue Joshua. However, when Joshua rises up to shoot them, both Riggs and Murtaugh fire back, killing him.

X is for… X-rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor

Riggs is shot while wearing a bullet-proof vest, and falls through the plate-glass store window. The bullets won’t kill him, but they’ll have left a bruise.

After he’s beaten, Riggs does tell Murtaugh he should go to a doctor. Murtaugh is even hurt enough that he lets Riggs drive, when he wouldn’t let the suicidal Riggs drive at the beginning of the film.

Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem

Hunsaker’s silence sets everything into motion, and by the time he asks Murtaugh for help, it’s too late.

Z is for… Zone, In The

Riggs takes obvious pleasure in his fistfight with Joshua, using him as a means to express all of his anger. Joshua puts up a good fight, but there’s no way he’d win. Murtaugh understands, and lets the fight rage on in his front yard.

So that’s Lethal Weapon. Obviously a classic. It’s got some fun scenes, some action, no useless characters to slow it down.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is very slow. Slow enough that it wouldn’t be acceptable to a modern audience expecting lots of gunshots and explosions and quick cuts. The opening scene alone, which consists of Amanda slowly moving around and leaping off the balcony, is three minutes long. The lengthy shots and tone definitely lend the film more of a “drama” feel.

The movie may as well have been called The Odd Couple Fights Crime, considering how different Riggs and Murtaugh are. Murtaugh is introduced with his family and home, while Riggs has his trailer and a dog that may or may not be his. Murtaugh seems content and happy, while Riggs seems to want to kill himself but is never quite able to do it. It explains why he’s always doing crazy things—he doesn’t care if he dies.

What’s interesting is that despite their differences, both characters are introduced nude, with Murtaugh in the bathtub and Riggs sleeping (then standing) while naked.

A lot of licensed television footage stuck out to me for some reason, such as Riggs watching Bugs Bunny and Family Feud, and shots of A Christmas Carol showing at one point.

There are many details in the film that make me think of Die Hard, which is strange considering Lethal Weapon was released a year before Die Hard. But it’s hard to escape: both films take place during Christmas; Al Seong (Endo) is the Crunch Bar eating terrorist in Die Hard, Riggs is shoeless at one point, there are references to Saigon, the musical score sounds similar, both films take place in Los Angeles, there’s a lot of language, and maybe there are others I didn’t catch. Not a bad thing of course, just interesting.

All that said, obviously Lethal Weapon will stay a classic, no matter how far into lunacy Mel Gibson descends. The film has just about anything a fan could want. It’s a little slow for my modern taste, but that’s not the film’s fault.

And I’m sure everyone can appreciate Mel’s mullet.

I also cannot finish the review without mentioning the song that plays during the end credits, Honeymoon Suite’s “Lethal Weapon.” I watched this two days ago and the song is still stuck in my head. Looking at the lyrics, it’s a pretty depressing song.