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Iron Man 3: Tony Stark to Face Real World Baddies…

You know what? I was sad to hear that Jon Favreau wasn’t coming back to direct Iron Man 3, especially after Marvel so thoroughly mucked with his vision of Iron Man 2 – turning the second act into an extended infomercial for The Avengers. However, I was kinda glad to see Shane Black come on board, if only because his last collaboration with Robert Downey Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was pure gold. Anyway, Black – as a screenwriter – will be writing the new Iron Man film, and he’s promising a Tom Clancy plot and “real world villains.” So what exactly does that mean?

The other "Man of Steel" (well, gold-titanium alloy)...

There is some other good news out there. For example, Black assures us that Tony Stark and his supporting cast will be back on their own again. They won’t have to deal with blow-ins from The Avengers like Nick Fury or the Black Widow. I remember when we were all excited by that Samuel L. Jackson cameo at the end of the original Iron Man, and it’s strange how things turn – it’s now a relief that none of the larger Marvel Universe will be intruding on Tony and Pepper.

The fact that Tom Clancy will serve as an influence on the latest movie doesn’t surprise me too much – in fact, I welcome it. I’ve always pictured Tony Stark as something of an American James Bond for the corporate age. He’s a suave womanising lout who masks his base instincts and addictions under a charming veneer – but is capable of being downright sociopathic if the situation calls for it. Stark wouldn’t blink if he was forced to kill somebody in his way, just like Bond wouldn’t. His addictive personality expresses itself throught he compulsive risk taking. And he looks damn good in a tuxedo.

Can we find a suitable match for Tony?

It helps that Stark reflects the ideal of corporate America. While Bond clings to outdated British nationalism, Stark is a champion of unrestricted American capitalism. He’s powered by a selection of cool gadgets and gizmos and his plots frequently revolve around corporate espionage. I do like the idea that the next Iron Man film will involve more than two guys in metal suits hitting one another for over two hours. Okay, that was a little unfair. I already feel guilty about it.

Anyway, so what of these “real world villains”? I have to admit, I’m not delighted at the idea of “Tony Stark punching the recession in the face or something”, but it’s better than the alternative. You see, Stark has appeared in exactly two films and he’s pretty much exhausted his viable selection of comic book supervillains. See, Tony Stark isn’t exactly blessed with the deepest collection of bad guys in the history of superheroes.

The outlook is Stark...

You see, most heroes face villains on a theme. Sure, there are one or two exceptions, but most heroes will find themselves pitted against adversaries which resonate with them on some thematic level. So, for example, Spider-Man’s foes consist mainly of animal-themed baddies (Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, the Jackal) and science gone wrong (Electro, Sandman, the Spot). Captain America goes up against characters philosophically opposed to his ideals (nazis, anarchists, communists and so on)… and occasionally a bunch of snake-themed baddies. The X-Men typically fight other evil mutants, or racist and intolerant humans. It’s just the way that these things work out.

Anyway, Iron Man’s core selection of villains can be broken down into three distinct categories: people who fly around in armoured suits, evil billionaire arms dealers and evil billionaire arms dealers who fly around in armoured suits. There isn’t a lot of room for variations on a theme there, to be honest. In the first two movies, we’ve passed through each of those three archetypes. There are exceptions to the theme, of course – rumour had it Favreau’s third film would feature The Mandarin, a Chinese counterbalance to the American dream, and then there’s also that dragon Iron Man has faced on occasion – but that’s pretty much the range in Iron Man’s foes, right there.

It’s telling that some of Iron Man’s greatest stories eitehr don’t feature traditional villains or focus on bad guys created just for the story. After all, Obadiah Stane (the villain of the first film) appeared in a single classic Iron Man story (Iron Monger) before killing himself at the end of it. And he was felt to be the best choice of foe for Tony’s first big screen adventure. Similarly, classic Iron Man stories like Armour Wars, Extremis, and Demon in a Bottle don’t directly pit Tony against any of his established villains (though they do feature his supporting cast, they are more focused on Tony himself).

We need a villain who won't phone it in...

This fact has been tacitly acknowledged by current writer of The Invincible Iron Man, Matt Fraction. In fact, if you pick up an issue of the flagship Iron Man title this month, you’ll see that Fraction has resorted to borrowing a selection of bad guys from Spider-Man in order to do something interesting with the character and surroundings. Indeed, Fraction’s run – while introducing new villains and reimagining old ones – has been pretty strongly focused on Stark himself rather than any of his traditional opponents.

In fairness, I’m pretty cool if Black doesn’t want to bring an Iron Man baddie to the big screen. Some superheroes are tied to their strong selection of bad guys. I’d be disappointed, for example, to see a Batman film which didn’t draw from the hero’s rich rogues’ gallery – there’s just too many good options in there to ignore, to be honest. However, there’s no point having a comic book villain for the sake of having a comic book villain. This was the problem with Spider-Man III, with neither bad guy really working too well with the film they were in – and ultimately detracting from the film.

We just want to watch Tony have a blast...

Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are populated with superb villains – we all loved Heath Ledger – but they work so well because they serve the movie rather than bending it to their will. I joked that I would watch a Nolan Batman movie featuring Crazy Quilt, and – to a large extent – I would. However, a good supervillain can – to some extent – elevate a regular superhero film. Take Jack Nicholson’s superb performance in the original Batman.

The most interesting facet of the Iron Man movies is Tony Stark himself. If you can find a villain in the character’s comic book adventures which reflects the facet you want to explore, then go right ahead – but don’t do it for the sake of doing it. If you can’t find one that fits, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. After all, we’re there for Robert Downey Jr. He’s the appeal, and he’s the one that the movie is built around. After all, the original Iron Man didn’t really have a villain, at least not as much as most other comic book villains (and Jeff Bridges was just… sorta thrown on in there) – and we still loved it.

So, I’m interested. Which is quite something this early in the game. So, what do you think? Is a comic book villain a huge part of the appeal for a comic book film? Or should they be organic and fit the story? Is it possible to have a comic book movie without a comic book villain?

2 Responses

  1. You know what, that’s exactly I have been wishing to see in all of them superhero franchises. I think sometimes, those short little sequences of Spider-Man catching the petty thieves are the most fun so I wouldn’t mind if they delved a bit deeper with that concept.

    • Yep, that’s the fun of Spider-Man. He’s just a regular joe, and it’s the petty robberies at the most inconvenient times which are jsut as frustrating as “oh man, Doc Ock’s on a rampage again.” But I think that characters with fairly shallow pools of villains (without meaning to cause offense, include Superman, Captain America and Thor) really need to stop depending on the bad guys for drama. You could make 20 Batman and Spider-Man movies and not use the same villain(s) twice, but not every hero has that luxury.

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