NR: Avengers… Assemble, I Guess?

James here with Wednesday’s News Reflections.

More Jon Favreau related news, and this time it’s bad… maybe.  The ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Iron Man 2’ director has decided, with good reason, to leave the franchise.  I learned of this from this article.

Photo from Paramount Pictures

Favreau left because Marvel Studios is, apparently, unfocused and confused.  As he said,

“In theory, Iron Man 3 is going to be a sequel or continuation of Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Avengers… This whole world… I have no idea what it is. I don’t think they do either, from conversations I’ve had with those guys.”

I’m sure they can rustle up a good director of ‘Iron Man 3’, but that’s hardly the issue.  If Marvel’s suits don’t really know what they’re doing, if in fact they are unaware of what direction this boulder this roll, they’re in big trouble.  There’s no stopping the ‘Avengers’ behemoth now.  If it fails creatively, people will still go see it, if only to see what kind of damage the giant boulder can do.  I don’t think Favreau’s departure from the undeveloped sequel project is a death knell, per se, but I hope it convinces the execs to find greater focus.

But wait! Favreau has more to say, as found in this LA Times article.  He says, among other things,

“Marvel and I both came of age together. The years that we shared were a pivotal experience. Kevin has a firm grasp on the many franchises and how they all interweave and I am happy that I had the opportunity to establish the world that these characters can now play in…. ‘Iron Man’ has given me tremendous opportunities and Kevin and I are enjoying a lot of momentum in our careers thanks to the ‘Iron Man’ films. I look forward to seeing what others can do playing in the same world.”

He also says that basically he’s switching his focus to Disney’s ‘Magic Kingdom’ film, and that’s the real reason for his departure, not a creative dissatisfaction with Marvel.  That would seem to directly contradict his earlier statement.  It could be because he was angry about something and spoke too soon or perhaps too honestly, and his interview with the LA Times is a political move just to smooth things over and make it all look positive and professional.  Though I’m sure that if Favreau wanted to direct ‘Iron Man 3’, Marvel could accommodate his ‘Magic Kingdom’ schedule because he already gave them two big hits.

I don’t doubt that Favreau’s decision comes from creative passion for his Disney project, but such passion is a double-edged sword, and I have a feeling that he really did mean his earlier statement.  Of course, just because one director expresses disappointment with Marvel’s grand scheme does not mean it will fail, or be anywhere as bad as I said it could be.  The Favreau situation is really interesting because of the director/studio dynamic at play.  The truth of the situation is left to the future and our best guess.

NR: Finding The Magic In The Kingdom

James here with Wednesday’s News Reflections.

Screenrant recently posted a piece on ‘Iron Man’ director Jon Favreau and his work on Disney’s new ‘Magic Kingdom’ project.  The article is definitely worth a read, so head on over to Screenrant and give it your attention.  Then come back, for I have a few words to add.

Director Jon Favreau

Magic Kingdom's Centerpiece

There are rough waters ahead for Mr. Favreau. ‘Magic Kingdom’, a film based on a theme park, could all too easily be a shallow spectacle, a comedy misfire, a self-indulgent debacle or worse. But it’s clear Favreau believes that there’s potential for a rich, exciting narrative. I quote Mr. Favreau via Screenrant (emphasis mine):

“When Walt first set out to do it there was something very nostalgic and forward looking at the same time about Disneyland. When you went down Main Street it was the turn of the century, it was days gone by and Tomorrowland was the future. There is such a weird shared experience that any of us who’s ever gone to Disneyland feels that I don’t think has really been mined yet. It’s this collective subconscious that we have and there are these archetypes that are so strong that there’s a fun way to present something that is family entertainment but still will take you through the experience that you had [growing up].”

Favreau wants to mine nostalgia, which when properly harnessed is a powerful cinematic force.  Many of the great films of the late 20th century run on nostalgia fuel.  ‘Star Wars’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Dark City’ — all mined from the cinematic and cultural heritage of their creators.  All of them present worlds that fuse the auteur’s nostalgia with their unique vision.  Favreau’s opportunity is to reinterpret Disney’s legacy in his own image, which, if it works, could deeply influence its future.  ‘Magic Kingdom’ is not just another theme park ride adaptation ala ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.  It’s the whole park, and therefore symbolic of Disney’s heart and soul.  The tactile juxtaposition of the mystical past and the incredible future, with today’s family caught in the middle, has delighted and inspired millions.  There’s obviously a great story there.  How does a filmmaker turn this into an emotional arc complete with action and suspense without succumbing to cliché?  It’s a daunting, though tempting challenge.

I believe Favreau is up to it.  He has the arms and the oars for this whitewater ride.  His ‘Iron Man 2’ could serve as the proof.  Not for the film’s main story, which suffers from Marvel’s insistence on setting up ‘The Avengers’, but for the Stark Expo that anchors it.  With music and production design deliberately reminiscent of the World’s Fair and the Magic Kingdom’s own Tomorrowland, there is exactly that same nostalgia-future collision that so attracts Favreau to this new project.  He can now fully explore this concept and hopefully conjure up the cinematic magic necessary to save Disney’s kingdom from ending up on the rocks.  I wish Favreau, his team, and Disney the very best of luck.

 

Iron Man

Stars:  ★★★☆

Summary:  A fantastic and dramatically credible way to set up Marvel’s ironclad hero.

Review:  The superhero genre on film seems to be in the middle of a Renaissance.  Rival companies Marvel and DC, both plagued by bad renditions of their characters, seem to be trying harder and mustering greater creative forces to realize their iconography on screen.  ‘Iron Man’ could be considered, after a mixed third ‘Spider-Man’ and two disliked ‘X-Men’ installments, to be Marvel’s comeback.  It has invigorated mainstream interest into Marvel’s great selection of “unknown” characters, and is the first in a series of films to set up 2012’s destruction of the world via Joss Whedon crossover extravaganza ‘The Avengers’.

So here’s why it works.  The heart of it is a redemption story.  Billionaire genius Tony Stark, played with originality by Robert Downey, Jr. in a comeback role, is a real jerkass who follows a mythic story arc into a modern hell — a cave in Afghanistan — where he is confronted with the knowledge that his company’s weapons are being used by terrorists.  They try to force him to build them a WMD, but he instead builds himself a suit of armor and escapes with extreme prejudice.  Because of his ordeal, he is being kept alive by a power core, which is analogous to his new heart.  His new appreciation for life and sense of responsibility clash with his company’s double-dealing.  The classic path into hell and subsequent rebirth is a story as old as humanity.  A confrontation with suffering, one’s own sins, and a need for empathy is setup for a successful hero, both in fiction and in true life.  The film never loses steam, per se, but the strength of the picture is in Stark’s metaphorical resurrection as a hero, and when it diverts from this in the second and third acts it loses some of its punch.

From an Orthodox Christian perspective, the film works brilliantly because it taps into the redemptive relationship between God and man.  Contrary to popular and misguided opinion in Christian circles, the point of the faith is not to escape hell, but to confront it directly.  The human race is inexorably tied into an ontological relationship with Christ.  By this I mean, where He goes, we ought to go.  This is what Christians (should) mean when they say salvation is in Christ.  It’s not only in His name, like “Here’s your membership card with Christ’s signature on it”, but directly united with His specific actions.  Namely, death and resurrection.  Through and after his ordeal, Tony Stark acts as, in the best sense of the word, a Christian.  Like the Christ.  That’s not to say he’s a perfect character — that was never the question.  The question was whether he would go through hell and emerge a different man.  In a broad sense, we all go through the fire, and we all have a choice: Refuse it and be destroyed, or accept it and change it into a vehicle of metamorphosis.

A great film with a few weak points.  Here’s to Marvel’s Renaissance.