Iron Man vs Watchmen

I’d give Shellhead2 a higher rating than the first installment, mainly on the strength of the performances, which transcend the odds by holding their own against the utterly massive layers of visual FX.

Mickey Rourke follows up his Award-driven Wrestler role with an attention to detail that went as far as choosing the designs for his full-body prison tattoos and even creating a hitherto unscripted film role for an avian cockatoo sidekick (which itself steals a scene or three).

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Downey as Iron Man inventor Tony Stark refuses to be sunk by his character’s many, many flaws, essaying his performance with an air of “My work will redeem my lousy personality” that recalls his virtuoso performance in his earlier Charlie Chaplin bio flick. Cheadle handles his reluctant/replacement hero role with aplomb, appropriating one of the Iron Man suits in the name of some “greater good,” which of course proves to instead be an even greater evil (operating within the machinations of the military industrial War Machine).

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The unfortunately-named Pepper Potts, as played by Gwyneth Paltrow, holds her own against Downey as her boss-slash-love interest, matching and even usurping his boxing-style banter in all their scenes together.

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Samuel L. Jackson is clearly just warming up his role as former soldier-turned-super-spy Nick Fury, agent of SHIELD, a character surely destined to appear in virtually all the future Marvel Comics films being set up in Iron Man 2.

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About those setups: News footage from the Hulk movie appears on one of Tony Stark’s lab monitors, a busted Captain America shield is used as a construction prop, the mysterious appearance of Thor’s hammer takes one character offscreen until the final post-credits roll, a map in the SHIELD office indicates the Black Panther’s activities being tracked in Africa...they're building a whole 'nother Marvel universe up there in Hollywood!

Stan Lee -- who walked away from Marvel and later sued over rights 'n' royalties RE his co-creations -- must be having a cow.

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Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow rocks that leather jumpsuit (her stunts being done mostly on wires, rather than CGI generated as insinuated by the Reader's longtime resident reviewer Duncan Shepherd, tho a stunt double does indeed handle a few seconds of the more ambidextrous maneuvers).

All in all, I'd give Shellhead2 two solid stars, on a ratings curve of one (echhh) to four (wow!), as in Mr. Shepherd's original four-star chart (he only gave in to a five star scale after several years of coaxing).

Now, on the OTHER side of the boxing ring....

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Realize that I’m a guy whose entire adult career has involved comics. I worked my way up from retail comic shops (most notably Comics Etc. in the Mira Mesa mall), to wholesale distribution (Pacific Comics, then Diamond Distribution, then Bud Plant), and then I became a comic book creator (around 200 comics, so far) and, eventually, a comic publisher, to some fair measure of success, albeit very little acclaim (Rock 'N' Roll Comics, Carnal Comics). Reader readers know me as the guy behind Overheard In San Diego and Famous Former Neighbors ---

So I’m a big believer in the power of comics, to entertain, to inform, and -- at their best -- to engage.

Watchmen: The Movie was the most engaging comic book-related movie I’ve seen. And the most entertaining. AND -- as I'll get to when I talk about my fellow moviegoers -- it most certainly informed. Most amazingly, against all odds, the film did indeed manage to capture a lot of the storytelling form and underlying heart pioneered so successfully by the original Watchmen comic creators.

Which is not to say it was a perfect movie...

For one thing, the music misfires. Frequently. Songs by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and – gawd help us – Nena (“99 Luftballoons,” fer chrissakes), are far too fixed in our real world recollections to be anything but jarring in the Watchmen universe.

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Never mind that songs like Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” are 10 or 15 years mistimed for the film’s setting in a wonky “alternate timeline” ‘80s.

Yeah, yeah, Luftballoons is about nuclear war, one of the movie’s “big” themes, and Hendrix sings “Two riders were approaching” just as Owl Man and Rorschach are staggering thru the snow to Ozymandias’ arctic hideaway (having ridden there in the Owl Ship). =chuckle chuckle= Now get back to the movie ---

The performances (all but one) are pitch perfect.

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They would/will be, I think, even to most people who HAVEN’T read the source comics. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach in particular. It’s hard to believe that he's the grown-up geeky kid from Breaking Away (a 1979 fave of mine).

The problem with Rorschach, in the film AND the comics, is the apparent celebration of his sociopathic actions/dialogue/costuming/worldview, which is taken a step further yet in the film than in the comics (especially the revolting movie sound FX, all the more quease-inducing in perfect 21st century Hollywood S-T-E-R-E-O-ON-S-T-E-R-O-I-D-S).

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This becomes doubly troubly when one is surrounded by a theater audience peppered with enough sociopaths that Rorschach’s MOST abhorrent actions, and his sickest inner monologues, were greeted with hoots and cheers that didn’t indicate the slightest trace of irony, let alone what should pass as "humor."

Real people will always be scarier than the worst of movie mustache twirlers --

BUT, to accept Watchmen as alternate reality -- something that could REALLY be real, in a really real world -- for real -- one must accept the premise that there HAS to be a Rorschach in a Watchmen world. As dark is to light, as night to day, yin to yang, frick to frack, Beavis to Butthead...you know what I mean.

The Watchmen world NEEDS Rorschach, like it needs air, earth, and water, if only to counterbalance the childlike, chimerical (and ultimately idiotic) optimism at the other end of the superhero spectrum, the shallow end of the pool. Where costumed heroes pose for newspaper photos with their leather hip boots planted heavily atop the unconscious head of a fallen evil-doer.

Where the good guys always win.

When the stars always -- eventually -- align, for even the most starcrossed of lovers.

Where, to paraphrase Kink-y Ray Davies, heroes never feel pain, and heroes never die.

Rorschach is the deep end of the pool. WAY deep. OFF the deep end, in fact, and falling fast toward bottomless --

The other characters all ring fairly true to their comic counterparts, and I think they’ll feel real to non-comic fans too. Despite (and sometimes thanks-to) the often silly costuming (superheroes, by definition as much as by design, dress funny).

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I mean, great moviemaking transcends genre, and everything about Watchmen: The Movie is pretty great, from the performances to the costumes, the tech, the script, and the minute set details. Even Doc Manhattan’s otherworldly blue glow and his occasionally 50-foot blue penis --

There are so many amazing and striking visuals that I could spend the next ten hours just listing the ones I noticed -- like how the Comedian's teardrops roll down the contour of a jagged facial scar he suffered at the hands of the pregnant mistress he was murdering, with said teardrops then disappearing like phantoms into the graying grizzle of his unshaven (but still cleft and manly) chin.

There’s a much bigger story being told in Watchmen than the end of superheroes, or even the end of the world --

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Bigger even than the various love stories that unfold (a couple of the movie’s other rare misfires happen during the “sex” scenes, even/especially when suddenly there are at least FIVE blue penises flopping around Doc Manhattan's very flustered young girlfriend).

The big picture is the one of humanity itself. Watchmen holds up all the ugly, for all to see, side-by-side with all the love, the power, the piety, and all the other messy ingredients that make up mankind. Holds them up and presents them as one long unchanging, unending sequence ("sequential art" is a phrase commonly -- perhaps wistfully -- used to describe comics), ie one of those old “infinity cover” comics, where someone is holding a comic with a cover of them holding the comic, with a cover of them holding the comic, with a cover of them holding the comic, the same image repeated again and again, unto infinity, with no indication that one image is greater or less - or first or last - compared to the others.

Watchmen: The Movie holds all of this up before us, (im)perfectly framed within the felt trim that surrounds the movie screen, with no one facet of mankind deemed greater, or lesser, or more or less important than any other. Each ingredient that makes us the malicious, miraculous, bug-fuggen crazy mofos we are, each is necessary, in equal measure, to what we were, are, and will ever be. For better or worse.

Which is depressing.

And joyous.

As is Watchmen: The movie.

Me, I give three and a half stars.

Now when I get around to watching Watchmen on DVD, without those idiot Rorschach "fans" (???) who verbally orgasmed around me when he killed the midget -- sorry, little person -- from Seinfeld (the film’s only casting/acting misfire...I kept expecting Kramer to stumble in).

THEN I'll probably give it a four -- just watch, man --

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