Saturday, April 7, 2012

Green Lantern

Year 4, Day 98 - 4/7/12 - Movie #1,097

BEFORE: Moving on to DC heroes, I don't read Green Lantern comics, but I do read Justice League, and there's usually one of the Green Lanterns on that team at any given time.  Though I haven't checked in since the recent reboot, the New 52.  Linking from "Green Hornet", Cameron Diaz was in "Knight and Day" with Peter Sarsgaard.

THE PLOT: A test pilot is granted an alien ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers, as well as membership into an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe.

AFTER: This film was generally regarded as one of the financial boondoggles of 2011 - technically it made money, but it cost over $200 million to produce, and earned $222 million worldwide.  Some might call that a success, but it wasn't as profitable as Warner Bros. would have liked.

What went wrong?  From where I sit, it's a script problem.  The story is too cosmic - the recent failure of "John Carter" (of Mars) would suggest that audiences aren't looking for storylines that take place on other planets.  But there's something else:

Back in 1983, DC Comics scrapped almost 50 years of continuity, and started their comic line over, to attract new readers.  They started with the origin of Superman and Batman, and spread out from there - this happened to be around the time that I was looking to expand my comic-book interests, so I jumped on board.  They risked alienating older readers, but the benefit came in gaining new readers, who didn't want to get bogged down in decades of old story issues.  (Wait, is this the Superman from Earth-2?  Why is he getting married to the Lois Lane from Earth-47?)  

Comic-book legend John Byrne was tasked with re-telling Superman's origin, and he did what just about any writer would have done - he started with the destruction of Krypton, and Jor-El placing his child on board a rocket at the last minute, sending baby Superman on a course for Earth.  Cue the crash landing, the baby was found by the Kents, raised as a human, and Bob's your uncle.  Years later, however, he admitted he'd fallen into a trap - since he knew the story going in, and he knew where the story began, he just started it there.

But he wondered how much cooler it might have been if he'd started with Clark Kent as a teenager, learning about his powers for the first time.  Why are red beams coming out of his eyes?  How come he can lift up a tractor?  What the heck is going on?  New readers might not already know about Krypton, so the story would have an air of mystery about it.  Eventually Pa Kent would show his son the rocket, there would be a message from Jor-El and a flashback sequence, and all would be explained.  This is one of the rare times where linear storytelling should have been shelved, in order to build up some suspense.

In a similar fashion, the "Green Lantern" film starts with the creation of the universe, the role of the Guardians, and the exact nature of the intergalactic Lantern Corps.  So, when Hal Jordan finds the crashed alien spaceship, the audience already knows the deal.  How much cooler would it have been for us to be in the dark along with him?  What's the deal with this ring?  Why does it give me the ability to bring my thoughts to life?  Why is it dressing me so funny?  We should have learned the answers at the same time as the main character.

Simply put, the movie tipped its hand way too early.  They knew where Hal Jordan had to end up, and they went directly there.  They could have saved Hal's induction to the Corps for a sequel - but I guess they figured if they didn't wow the audience with the interstellar stuff, there might not BE a sequel.  But I stand by my ruling - after all, there is an art to the building up of suspense.

There are other ways that the film took shortcuts - like in the reveal of Jordan's secret identity to his girlfriend.  Yeah, we all know that a small strip of fabric around the eyes doesn't really change the overall look of someone's face, but you just can't come out and SAY that.  It's a little cool because I haven't seen that referenced before in a superhero film, but it's still a shortcut.

Magically knowing the oath?  Shortcut.  Getting trained in about 5 minutes?  Shortcut.

NITPICK POINT: If green = will, and yellow = fear, and willpower is greater than fear, why would the Corps even consider making yellow rings?  By definition, they'd be inferior, right?  I know, that's where the story has to go to set up Sinestro as a villain, but it's another convenient shortcut.

NITPICK POINT #2: Using the power of the universe to power a lantern, then using the lantern to re-charge a ring seems like a very inefficient energy delivery system.  I'm just sayin'.

Starring Ryan Reynolds (last seen in "Adventureland"), Blake Lively, Mark Strong (last seen in "Robin Hood"), Tim Robbins (last seen in "Top Gun"), F.O.T.B. Jay O. Sanders (last seen in "Edge of Darkness"), with cameos from Angela Bassett, Temuera Morrison, and the voices of Geoffrey Rush (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides") and Michael Clarke Duncan (last heard in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore")

RATING: 4 out of 10 barrel rolls

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Green Hornet

Year 4, Day 97 - 4/6/12 - Movie #1,096

BEFORE: OK, preachy part of the blog over, back to fictional superheroes.

THE PLOT: Britt Reid, heir to his father's large company, teams up with his late dad's assistant Kato to become a masked crime fighting team.

AFTER: What's funny about the development of superheroes in the 20th century is that the first few were positioned as perfect idols.  Superman, who could change the course of mighty rivers, able to leap tall buildings, more powerful than a locomotive, etc. etc.  Batman - he's a billionaire, genius with computers and gadgets, master of every fighting style in the world.  Guys wanna be him, and gals wanna get with him.  This worked for a few decades, but at some point comic books lost some cred because the heroes were just a bit TOO perfect.

Enter the development of the nebbishy Clark Kent - Superman pretending to be a nerd so he can hide in plain sight.  Then along came Spider-Man, a complete loser in his Peter Parker identity, with more personal problems than you, BUT he gets to be Spider-Man.  The Marvel heroes of the 1970's and 80's were far from perfect, Tony Stark was an alcoholic, Thor was an arrogant god who needed to learn humility, even Captain America wasn't perfect, since he still had the morals of a man from the 1940's, and was out of touch with current politics.  They each had some kind of personality flaw, which seemed to give them more believability in the long run.

Carry the trend even further, and you end up with heroes like Wolverine (animal-like rages), Deadpool (split personality, suicidal tendencies), the modern Hulk (split personality AND rage).  Even the modern Batman is now pitched as something of a psychological mess.  And the Watchmen were all kinds of messed up -

Which brings me to the re-imagining of the Green Hornet.  They did something very clever here, and they split the positive attributes among two less-than-perfect people.  One is the entitled rich kid who has the resources and desire to get out and fight injustice, and the other has the fighting ability and the technical wizardry to make it happen.  The term "sidekick" seems to have fallen out of favor and "partner" seems more appropriate here, but for anyone who knows the old TV show, Green Hornet is still the star.

Well, OK, really the car (Black Beauty) is the star here, at least as far as the action sequences are concerned.  There's a lot of gadgetry involved here, but that's also part of the fun.  A more cynical person might point out that whatever gadget is needed was conveniently installed in the car just yesterday, but I digress.

I thought there was some really good stuff here, but it's a little lame to depict heroes who don't know exactly what they're doing, so they have to ask for advice and help to plan their next moves.  How can they know they want to be heroes if they don't know exactly what that entails?  OK, so they're playing it by ear, but then how did they know which equipment they were going to need?

I could get all nitpicky about the action sequences, but the Mythbusters have already debunked the two biggest ones, so that's a lot of work I don't have to do here.  Still, it's a fun ride mostly, if you can ignore Seth Rogen getting way too, um, Seth Rogen-y at times.

NITPICK POINT: When Britt and Kato were disagreeing and fighting each other all over the mansion, it was too reminiscent of the old Pink Panther movies, where Inspector Clouseau would be attacked by his man-servant (with a very similar name, Cato).

NITPICK POINT #2: A turntable?  In a car?  I get that you want to rock things old-school, but how would that work?  Wouldn't the record just skip constantly?

NITPICK POINT #3: These days, I doubt that many newspaper offices would have their printing presses in the same building as their editorial offices.  

Starring Seth Rogen (last seen in "Fanboys"), Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz (last heard in "Shrek Forever After"), Christoph Waltz (last seen in "Inglourious Basterds"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "The Ghost and the Darkness"), Edward James Olmos (last seen in "Stand and Deliver"), with cameos from James Franco (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Edward Furlong (last seen in "Before and After").

RATING: 7 out of 10 cappuccinos

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Year 4, Day 96 - 4/5/12 - Movie #1,095

BEFORE: Well, this is where I would have preferred to watch the film "Kick-Ass", but no premium channel has run it yet - is it because of the word "Ass" in the title?  Because I've seen movies airing with saltier language in their titles...  Anyway, I'm dropping this documentary in as a substitute and suspending the linking for today.

THE PLOT: A journey inside the world of real life caped crusaders. From all over America, these self-proclaimed crime fighters don masks, homemade costumes and elaborate utility belts in an attempt to bring justice to evildoers.

AFTER: This will be my 10th year working at San Diego Comic-Con, so I know a thing or two about the world of costuming, and its connection with comic book and sci-fi fans.  And often there is a charitable element involved - the 501st Legion is one group of Star Wars fans who do a lot of charity work while dressed as Imperial stormtroopers and officers.  More power to them.

But some people apparently take it to the next level, they see a gap in what the police can and should be doing in their neighborhoods, and find a way to don a costume and mask and go out on patrol.  Sometimes they're armed with a taser or pepper spray and are aware of the civil rights of ordinary citizens, other times, not so much.  In many of these cases they cite the loss of a family member, or the bad experience of a friend in trouble to justify their vigilantism, but if all else fails, they can fall back on the Kitty Genovese story.  (A NYC woman who was murdered in 1964 while people within hearing distance did nothing, giving all New Yorkers a bad rap)

This film focuses on those people who, whatever their reasoning or excuse, adopt superhero personas and go out at night and fight crime at street level.  You could say that they're doing what every person should be doing - giving help where it's needed, helping other humans who are down on their luck, or trying to stop (or at least move) the selling of illegal drugs.  For the most part, these seem to be highly motivated and (more or less) athletic people who believe they can make a difference, upholding the law while also acting outside of it. 

The downside is, they're also putting themselves in harm's way.  From what I hear, drug dealers might be people that you don't want to mess with.  Drunk and disorderly people, same deal, especially if they're behind the wheel of a large automobile.  And I get the reasoning here, the only thing worse than saying "Someone should DO something!" is to have to say that in past tense - "Someone should have done something."  But there's also a liability issue, as seen in recent news stories like the Trayvon Martin case, where a neighborhood watch volunteer shot an unarmed teen and felt he was doing "the right thing".  One of the worst things I usually say about people - "he meant well", which really means "he screwed up".

However, there are many, many ways to make a difference in this world.  You can pick a charity, there are hundreds of them, and send them a check twice a year or whenever you can.  You can volunteer at a hospital or rest home, deliver meals to the home-bound, or donate your time to a cause that you feel strongly about.  You can donate blood, or hair, or just check that organ donor box on your driver's license - it takes almost no effort, and it won't even hurt. 

There are many religious and non-religious organizations which could use your help - the Red Cross, Meals-on-Wheels, and a foundation for any organ or disease you can think of.   But maybe, like me, you tend to avoid organized religion (I still haven't forgiven the church for the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and the persecution of Galileo) or you may feel that charities devote too much money to their overhead and fund-raising costs and are essentially ineffective.  In that case, you can give food to a stray animal, or a homeless person, or donate to a food bank or clothing drive.

My dad used to collect furniture for the poor (after driving a truck all week for his job, he drove on the weekends for charity) and, in addition to his church-work, has gone to disaster areas to help rebuild homes, and I greatly admire that.  I know that my parents tithe, which is admirable, but I wish they wouldn't give it to the church, which I think is rich enough already.  I've tried to give food to hungry street-people, and sometimes that works and sometimes it's been problematic.  My support of charities these days is mostly financial - last weekend I attended Beer For Beasts, a beer festival that raised money for the Humane Society.  Hey, if there are walk-a-thons and dance-a-thons, why can't there be drink-a-thons?

My point is, you don't have to put on a costume to be a hero.  I almost want to question the people who think that you do - it makes me wonder if they're doing it for the right reasons, with egomania being one of the wronger reasons.  Sure, we look up to Spider-Man and Superman, who operate on one level.  But you can give your time and resources on YOUR level.  So please do what you can.

RATING: (and this is purely based on whether the subject matter makes for a good film, I'm not judging the efforts of the people profiled)  4 out of 10 skateboards

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Year 4, Day 95 - 4/4/12 - Movie #1,094

BEFORE: Riffing on the theme of ordinary Joes becoming superheroes.  I'd link from Tommy Lee Jones to Kevin Bacon since they co-starred in "JFK", but isn't linking via Kevin Bacon a cop-out?  Oh, what the heck.   Jeez, have I really not seen Kevin Bacon in a film since "Frost/Nixon", back in December 2009?  That doesn't seem possible...

THE PLOT:  After his wife falls under the influence of a drug dealer, an everyday guy transforms himself into Crimson Bolt, a superhero with the best intentions, though he lacks for heroic skills.

AFTER: Damn, but it's hard to get a reading on this film.  Was it meant to be a spoof of the superhero genre?  Because there are some funny elements to it, but they're sort of dark humor.  Is this what an indie-superhero film looks like?  Because it's kind of got that low-budget film festival feel to it.  Or is it just meant to be a portrait of a deranged man, some kind of comment on society at large?

There does seem to be something of an attempt here to get inside the mind of someone who wants to dress in tights and fight crime, without any super-powers, financial resources, or formal training.  Some comic-book writers "get" Batman, and some don't.  He's obsessive to the nth degree, driven by his compulsions, and sometimes he's shown as the walking psychological mess that he must be.  Same goes for the Punisher - the theory is that if you take away a man's family, he'll either break down or demand revenge, or both.  How messed up does the Punisher have to be, to do what he does?

Which brings us to the main character of "Super", Frank D'Arbo, who is driven to fight crime when his wife gets mixed up with the wrong crowd, and falls off the wagon.  It's tough to say whether she left of her own accord or not - but Frank believes that she's a noble person who's been corrupted by evil people, so he sets out to take the law into his own hands.

First he has something akin to a revelation, and a dream/visitation/abduction that is quite graphic and disturbing.  Is it the Hand of God, or aliens, or just a mental delusion?  I suppose that's really up to the viewer.  But it puts him on the path to designing a costume and patrolling the streets.

Without the resources of a Bruce Wayne or a Tony Stark, there's a tough learning curve.  His first attempts at vigilante justice go poorly, as you might expect.  But he learns from his mistakes, and some things then do go his way - but maybe those successes only prevent him from seeing the overall downward spiral that he's really on.

Unfortunately, it seems Frank has never even read a comic-book, or he'd know some of the more obvious no-nos in maintaining a secret identity.  The man drives his own civilian car while on patrol, for example.  He picks a fight, lets people see his face, changes into costume, and then re-appears fully dressed and armed.  Anyone with half a brain would figure out who the Crimson Bolt was right away - again, I don't know if this sort of thing is meant to be comic or tragic.

Rainn Wilson (last seen in "America's Sweethearts") was a good casting choice here, because he's played this type of socially awkward, dysfunctional, unattractive yet narcissistic egomaniac before. Like as in, all the time.  Basically, it's Dwight Schrutte as a superhero, in all the ways that count.

I won't talk about the details of final acts of the film, no spoilers, but I will say that there's some original stuff here, and also some stuff that's very messed up.  And I don't usually like the ultra-violence.  The director came out of the Troma Films stable, so make of that what you will.  (Yes, I noticed Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman in a cameo role)

Also starring Ellen Page (last seen in "Inception"), Liv Tyler (last seen in "The Incredible Hulk"), Michael Rooker (last seen in "Jumper"), with cameos from Gregg Henry, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Steve Agee, and William Katt (the original clueless superhero from "The Greatest American Hero")

RATING: 5 out of 10 crayon drawings

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger

Year 4, Day 94 - 4/3/12 - Movie #1,093

BEFORE: Capping off the trilogy of "Avengers" prequels, I'm definitely in my wheelhouse.  Better yet, I'm excited to watch these, and I'm happy to be excited about movies again. There were some real low points in late Feb. and early March -

For purposes of organization, there are some films that can serve two purposes - this would count as both a superhero movie and a war movie, for example.  I tend to use such films to transition between two topics, or link two chains.  While I'm not using this film for such a purpose, I recently added a couple films to the list that bridge some gaps - so as a result I've got a (more or less) continuous chain planned that's about 150 movies long - so it could be another 5 months until I'm not sure what to watch.

Linking tonight once again provided by Samuel L. Jackson -

THE PLOT: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending the USA's ideals.

AFTER: The story here is familiar to any true comic-book fan - an experiment turns a 90-pound weakling into a super-soldier, who gets frozen after WW2, and thawed out in modern times.  Of course in the comic books he was thawed out in 1964 - but due to the weird way that comic-book time works (like in soap operas, the characters don't age) so even in today's Marvel comics, Captain America was thawed out "a few years ago".  This enables the filmmakers to allow Capt. America to sleep for 70 years (instead of the original 18) and become a walking anachronistic symbol.  There's an added bonus here, with global warming contributing to Cap's thawing out.

Most of this film takes place during World War II, of course, and the movie does a fair job of explaining WHY Steve Rogers was selected for the Super-Soldier program - in addition to being the one who would show the greatest improvement in muscle mass, it's shown here that he developed a friendship with the head scientist on the project, Dr. Erskine.  Additionally, he shows that he's got the heart of a soldier, the willingness to sacrifice himself, and a head for military strategy.

The World War 2 scenes start with a reference to Norse mythology, so that helped carry the story over from "Thor".  This links up with the other recent Marvel films in another way, by including scenes after the credits roll (I always watch to the very end, just in case).  If you watch the final, post-credit scenes from "The Incredible Hulk", "Iron Man 2", "Thor" and this one, you'll really be prepared for the formation of the team in the "Avengers" film.  Trailers for the film are JUST starting to air on TV, and the film opens in a month, so I feel really good about my timing.

At first the army doesn't know what to do with Captain America, so they send him on tour to raise money via war bonds - so it's sort of like the reverse of "Flags of Our Fathers", where the soldiers from Iwo Jima were used for the same purpose.  Eventually Cap realizes that his unique talents are best used in the field, and the battle scenes alone were worth the price of the DVD.

I liked the look of Cap's costume here, they borrowed from another Marvel line called "The Ultimates", with Cap wearing an army helmet, goggles, and a sort of pocketed flak vest.  It looks cool, and helps set the tone for the period.  However, I'm not sure about the decision to age James "Bucky" Barnes from Cap's teen sidekick to a full adult, and to make them pre-war friends.  Perhaps the filmmakers were nervous about showing a teenager fighting in a war?  Still, it's not true to the comic.

Also sacrificed was Nick Fury's WW2 service - in the Marvel comics, he led the Howling Commandos, and became another link between the 1940's and modern times thanks to something called the Infinity Formula.  I guess someone felt that would make Capt. America less special if he wasn't the only one to make it to the modern day.  So Cap leads the infamous group of ragtag soldiers, OK, I guess that can work too.

Starring Chris Evans (last seen in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), Haley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "The Missing"), Hugo Weaving (last heard in "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole"), Stanley Tucci (last seen in "The Lovely Bones"), Toby Jones (last heard in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"), Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough (last seen in "Minority Report").

RATING: 9 out of 10 syringes

Monday, April 2, 2012


Year 4, Day 93 - 4/2/12 - Movie #1,092

BEFORE:  The last few seconds of "Iron Man 2" (after the credits) led directly into this story - so I'm awfully glad I put the recent Marvel films in this order.  And I think by now everyone realizes that Samuel L. Jackson made an appearance in all of these, so that makes the linking a snap.

THE PLOT: The powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.

AFTER: I dozed off a couple of times during this one, but I don't think it's the movie's fault.  I hit another Beerfest on Saturday, and went right to sleep when I got home, and it takes a few days for me to get back on a (semi-)regular sleeping schedule.  

Visually, comic-book movies don't get any better than this, with sweeping vistas of the giant golden city of Asgard, the ice planet of Jotunheim, and the desert wasteland of New Mexico - throw in some storm FX, some hammer lightning, and a rainbow bridge, and it's one big treat for the eyes.  The people all look great too, where they found this giant muscle-bound actor is anyone's guess, but the costumes also look very shiny and textured.  Maybe the guy looks extra big next to Natalie Portman, she is kinda short.

But the inherit problem in adapting a Marvel comic is the same as the one that arises when adapting a work of classic literature - what to leave in, and what to leave out?  Thor's been around as a comic-book character for almost 50 years, and you can't shoehorn in all of his best enemies, like Surtur, Hela, Ymir and Ulik the troll - or even the Midgard Serpent.  This turns out to be the story that you HAVE to tell when introducing the character to U.S. audiences.

You've got to work in Loki, since he's the Number 1 Thor villain, and you've got to get Odin, Sif and the Warriors Three, of course.  And Jane Foster, a nurse in the comic books but an astrophysicist here.  That's where they mostly stopped, which is good because you don't want to throw too much out there in the first go.

And Asgard has nine (count 'em) worlds, with Earth (Midgard) being one, plus we also see Asgard and Jotunheim.  That leaves 6 more worlds to explore in any potential sequels, so it's a big sandbox to play in later, I'm fine with that.  They should at least do a story where Thor goes to Hel and back.  Even the comic books don't spend much time in Svartalfheim or Vanaheim - Thor mostly divides his time between Asgard and Earth.

Visually, the transport between the worlds, via the Rainbow Bridge, is depicted here like a giant teleportation tube that goes from planet to planet.  Which is a little interesting - are the 9 Worlds of Norse mythology really worlds?  There are (OK, were) 9 planets in our solar system - is there a connection there?  Pluto = Hel, Muspelheim = Mercury, Jupiter = Jotunheim?  Or is there not meant to be a physical, tangible connection between them, do they exist in other dimensions?

Again, I'm just treating this film as an introduction to the character, and as a lead-in to "The Avengers" (2 cameos/plot points are, I assume, direct precursors to the upcoming film's plot).  But I'm not sure there's enough here to stand on its own, or to serve any other practical purpose.  I'm assuming that true comic book geeks just treated this like eye candy, because there's so much much more they could have done with this character.  Thor goes to Hel should be movie #2, and Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, would nicely wrap up a trilogy.

NITPICK POINT: The Norse gods were worshipped by Scandinavians for centuries - and in this film, they are depicted protecting the faithful (presumably Norsemen) from evil.  So why does the portal from Asgard dump Thor in the New Mexico desert, and not, say, Norway?  Seems awfully inconvenient.  Sure, the simple answer is that it's easier for an L.A. film crew to get to a desert shoot.  But do the portals change over time, or was this an accident?  Who's in charge here?

Starring Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Star Trek"), Natalie Portman (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Meet Joe Black"), Stellan Skarsgard (last seen in "Angels & Demons"), Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba (last seen in "American Gangster"), Colm Feore (last seen in "Changeling"), with cameos from Rene Russo (last seen in "Lethal Weapon 4"), Ray Stevenson (last seen in "Cirque du Freak"), Samuel L. Jackson and of course Stan Lee.

RATING: 7 out of 10 frost giants

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Iron Man 2

Year 4, Day 92 - 4/1/12 - Movie #1,091

BEFORE: I suppose it could have made sense to follow up "The Phantom" with "The Mask of Zorro", since both films star Catherine Zeta-Jones.  But I'm anxious to get to the superhero movies, since the release of "Avengers" film is coming up in about a month.  And fortunately, Billy Zane was in a film called "Danger Zone" with Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes")

THE PLOT: Because of his superhero alter ego, Tony Stark must contend with deadly issues involving the government, his own friends and new enemies.

AFTER: I think I'm very comfortable with the direction they've been moving the "Iron Man" franchise - they got a lot more right than wrong.  Tony Stark's arrogant attitude is spot on - this may not be a guy you want to hang out with, but it is the guy you want building a machine that's going to solve a problem or protect the country.

There's always been a bit of a disconnect with the character in the comic books, since he started out as an arms dealer, and then later made a point of making sure his company was not in the business of selling weapons - yet he creates and regularly updates the Iron Man armor, which is at heart a very sophisticated weapon.  Even if you use it only for defense or to subdue enemies, it's still a weapon.  This film addresses that by showing that Stark considers the armor as the ultimate deterrent - he built the world's greatest weapon so that no one else could.

The problem with that theory is that if he chooses not to design weapons for the U.S. military, someone else will come forward and fulfill that need.  In this case, it's Justin Hammer (another legit character from the comic books), and it makes sense that his company would be in competition with Stark Industries, and it makes sense that he'd be the one to further weaponize a spare set of Iron Man armor, and turn it into War Machine.

I could get all nitpicky and point out that in the comics, James Rhodes took over as Iron Man when Tony Stark was dealing with alcoholism, and then again later when Stark was believed to be dead, so he really was the substitute Iron Man before becoming War Machine - but the movies don't have to mirror the comic books exactly.  This way of getting there is just as logical and may in fact be quicker and neater.

Another slick move was to have "stock footage" of Tony's father, and get one of those "Mad Men" actors to play him, lending it a real 1960's vibe.  Howard Stark was limited by the technology of his time, so he could only assume that his son's inventions would surpass his own.  However, I have to call a NITPICK POINT on the method he used to leave his son a message that led to a major discovery in this film.  I suppose it works if you want it to, but it contradicts the previous stated fact - an inventor in the 1960's couldn't have known something that was unknowable at the time.  Also, he wouldn't have been able to predict the NEED for said discovery, so how did he?

They never really said exactly what Whiplash's beef with Iron Man was - I guess we can fill in the story gaps and say that his father might have helped developed the arc reactor, and didn't get any credit for it - but wouldn't this have been during the Cold War, when U.S. and Soviet scientists weren't likely to work together?

They could have given Black Widow more to do - if she's such a great spy, why not put her to use.  Mostly we just see her giving Iron Man information by computer, and that's not very exciting.  Are they saving her real talents for the "Avengers" movie?

Also starring Don Cheadle (last seen in "Out of Sight"), Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "Shallow Hal"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "He's Just Not That Into You"), Mickey Rourke (last seen in "The Wrestler"), Sam Rockwell (last heard in "G-Force"), Samuel L. Jackson (also last seen in "Out of Sight"), Jon Favreau, with cameos from Garry Shandling, John Slattery (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), Clark Gregg, and the voice of Paul Betthany (last seen in "Legion").

RATING: 8 out of 10 repulsor beams