Superhero Movies: Where Does Iron Man Rank?

With the release this weekend of Marvel Studio’s Iron Man I can be certain of two things: Comic book movies are here to stay and Iron Man is among the best of them. That thought right there inspired us Rejects. In cinematic terms, comic adaptations have met with great acclaim (Batman Begins), tremendous fan support (Spider-Man), and nearly universal drubbings (Daredevil). With all the support and love floating around Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau’s newest, sleekest actioner, we started thinking: How does Iron Man compare to the rest of the adaptations? It’s Super Brawl time. Below you will find my take on the big names of comic adaptations and how ol’ shellhead matches up with them. We start by examining Iron Man itself, its strengths and weaknesses. Then each of the heavy hitting adaptations and how they compare to Favreau’s. Finally, we throw down and flat out say which is the better film. Ding Ding!

Iron Man

Iron Man Movie PosterThe Comic Factor: If there is one thing Iron Man really does well, it’s capture a lot of the great things about the comic book. Robert Downey Jr. portrays all the aspects of of Stark that we know, love, and loath. He is brash, egotistical, womanizing, and he drinks hard. His wit is sharp and his intelligence nearly elevates him to boredom with everyone around him. Right off the page. The armor, spot on not once, but twice. The original bucket head Iron Man Mark 1 armor has been updated for the modern age, but still harkens back to its glorious retro looks. The Mark 2 is just plain sexy. Right out of current Iron Man comic designs, it is really a thing of beauty.

The Film Factor: A great comic book doesn’t make a great movie if the actual execution is lackluster. Thankfully, Iron Man fires on all cylinders and features strong acting, great characters, tremendous action, and fantastic special effects. The direction is smooth and rarely hiccups and while the score isn’t memorable, the rocking sound track makes up for it.

The Fanboy Factor: The real reward of any comic book movie is what they slip in for the fans. Iron Man gives us perhaps the funniest Stan Lee cameo yet, teases us with War Machine, promises a sequel, introduces SHIELD, slips in a surprise cameo, and manages to slip in a modernized reference to the Ten Rings of Mandarin! Plus, Black Sabbath’s Iron Man plays.

The Fun Factor: Some great movies aren’t fun and some fun movies aren’t “great.” Iron Man ups the action and the wit to manage both. It never becomes preachy on its message, nor does it become too campy.

The Overall Experience: From start to finish Iron Man delivers. Whether you’re a die hard fan or someone new to the series, you’ll immediately be welcomed into the fold, entertained and enlightened. There is no elitism, nothing hidden from the average viewer. That said, comic fans will find plenty of winks and nods to them. One of the best comic movie adaptations of all time.

The Fantastic Four (2005)

Fantastic Four PosterThe Comic Factor: The Fantastic Four immediately dives head first into a bad start. Sue Storm was completely miscast and the treatment given to Dr. Doom was laughable. In a sad way. The characterizations were ok, again except for Doom. The movie stays true, almost, to some of the earlier, campy works. Iron Man Domination.

The Film Factor: The special effects are almost laughable when Reed Richards pulls his Stretch Armstrong act. The thing looks a bit like rubber popcorn, but at least they went practical. Story wise, the film is utterly disappointing, with poor dialog, lackluster delivery, and enough cheese to feed the cast of Ratatouille. Iron Man Domination.

The Fanboy Factor: I’m not sure there was a great demand for a Fantastic Four movie, but it at least delivered a Stan Lee cameo. Other than that, there were a few shots reminiscent of famous covers thrown into the first one, but it lacked a lot of the winks and nods we’d have gone nuts over. Iron Man Domination.

The Fun Factor: While making a decent amount of scratch, The Fantastic Four simply manages to be “not bad” without ever coming close to greatness, or even goodness. Iron Man Domination.

The Overall Experience: Fantastic Four was a disappointment that was only worth watching to see Dr. Doom on the big screen. And then he slapped me in the face. Iron Man Domination.

X-Men (2000)

X-MenThe Comic Factor: While many probably don’t hold it against them, the black pleather costumes immediately turned off anyone who had been reading since anytime before 1998 or so. The castings were strong, and fans even forgave Hugh Jackman’s height. The only real slap to comic fans was the team dynamic which obviously favored Storm because of Halle Berry’s “star appeal.” Edge to Iron Man.

The Film Factor: Bryan Singer pleased a lot of people with this effort, though it was far from perfect. The mutant powers were surprisingly well executed, but any time a character had to jump through the air, the wire work was too apparent. An entertaining but somewhat rushed feeling dominated the film. Edge to Iron Man.

The Fanboy Factor: While we got a good share of comic cameos, fans were really disappointed with the team choice. Easy characters to nail like Gambit were left off the team and Toad was a villain. Really, Toad? We got some good Wolverine moments, his use of the word “bub” and the “snikt” of his claws. Jackman’s constant cigar chomping was pleasing, as was the dynamic between Wolvie and Cyclops. Even.

The Fun Factor: X-Men never strove to be great, but it did manage to be fun, for the most part. I believe that the enthusiasm surrounding this film was mostly thanks to it just being a competent X-Men film, which fans had long wanted. There may be slightly more action here, but I feel it pales in comparison to the stunning spectacle of Iron Man. Edge to Iron Man.

The Overall Experience: I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed in the X-Men movie, but I recognize a lot of fans enjoy it. I still believe this may be just because it’s an X-Men movie. For what it’s worth, I’d rather watch Iron Man over and over again, as its a more complete and put together flick. Iron Man Wins.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 Movie PosterThe Comic Factor: Right off the bat, Spider-Man 2 is a better film than the first one, so I chose it. We get good characterizations of Peter, but he whines far more in the movies than in comics. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane is possibly the worst casting I’ve ever seen. From super model to gawky teen. Also changed was Spider-Man’s webbing, which became organic, leaving behind a lot of Peter’s science and nerd background. A lot of little things were changed and not just updated. Slight Edge to Iron Man.

The Film Factor: Sam Raimi made a great flick that had varying directorial styles and played with different genres. Doc Ock’s tentacle scene was actually kind of scary. The big problem comes in the camp factor, which is essential to a Spider-Man movie, but that became overwhelming and redundant. Many of the shots felt reused (flag shot, poor CGI jumping shots) and the “If you mess with one New Yorker…” bit got tired fast. Plus, poor CGI at times was just embarrassing. Iron Man.

The Fanboy Factor: Spider-Man hit all his poses, which was great. A lot of memorable scenes from comics were also reenacted, we got a lot of familiar set pieces that were very subtle, a few character cameos, and again, the great Stan Lee. One thing that was lame though, was the teasing of Curt Connors, who would become the lizard in the comics, but never in the movies. Edge to Spider-Man 2.

The Fun Factor: Parker’s angst and Tobey Maguire’s facial expressions, as well as the forced acceptance and love story between him and MJ put a damper on the fun. Even the battle scenes lacked Spider-Man’s classic witty banter and his trademark fighting styles. The bank battle was the best in the film, but the climax was played too much for drama rather than the witty, acrobatic, hyper style Spider-Man should be about. And who would have thought Tony Stark is wittier and funnier than Spider-Man? Iron Man.

The Overall Experience: First walking out of Spider-Man 2, I thought it was fantastic. Sadly it has not held up. The “love America” and “accept those who are different” messages are like Acme Mallets to the forehead, and Maguire’s performance slowly transformed into a whiny, odd facial expression having repetition of previous scenes. While it’s uncertain if Iron Man will hold up, I believe it has a much better chance. Iron Man Wins.

Superman (1978)

Superman Movie PosterThe Comic Factor: You will believe a man can fly. And he sure did. Many of the Superman powers we wanted to see showed up. In one of the first, and still one of the best, adaptations, Christopher Reeve perfectly portrayed both Clark Kent and Superman, approaching them as if they were two separate characters. It really worked and captured the spirit of the dual identities the comic presented. We also got a great looking suit and the same backstory without much fiddling. Slight Edge Superman.

The Film Factor: Superman plays very well for most of its runtime. For its release date, it had great special effects, which still look better than say, Daredevil. As mentioned, Reeve is spectacular, Hackman is good, and across the board the acting is entertaining. Where the film fails is the humor injected into the Lex Luthor moments, which take away from his being evil, and the climax of the film. Wow. Talk about a deus ex machina moment. Turning the world backwards? Time travel? What an ultimate cop out. Edge to Iron Man.

The Fanboy Factor: Superman delivers. We get to see him race a train, proving he’s “faster than a locomotive” and, if you look closely, the passengers on the train are the original Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen from the TV show. Supes fights for “truth, justice, and the American way” in a classic nod. And who can forget the joke of Clark Kent looking at a payphone (not a phone booth) and having to go change in a revolving door instead. Edge to Superman.

The Fun Factor: Superman gave us a fun and lighthearted look at the man in blue. It’s definitely a different kind of fun, more playful and innocent, rather than hyper and kinetic. Older movie goers will probably prefer Superman and its more appropriate for kids. The younger audience will definitely pick Iron Man. Tie.

The Overall Experience: Richard Donner delivers a lighthearted and fun romp through the superhero genre and deserves points for being among the first. However, that climax is just so ridiculous that I can not in good faith put it in the winners circle, which will probably prove unpopular with many people. Iron Man Wins Narrowly.

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins Movie PosterThe Comic Factor: Nailed it. Borrowing from a half dozen or more various Batman stories, Christopher Nolan’s relaunch kept true to the characters and stories while updating them to make sense today. We got a lot of characters from the comics, a plausible reason for more super villains, and a realistic Batsuit. Bale was perfect both as Wayne and Batman and worthy of praise. From utility belts to a slightly un-comic like Batmobile, this film moved smoothly from the comic to the screen. Tie.

The Film Factor: Some fans were upset with the close framing of the action shots, which often cut out a lot of the kick ass detail of Batman whomping on some high-tech ninjas. But there is no arguing the Christopher Nolan weaved a dramatic and entertaining plot together, with great actors, a great look, and really showed what a comic book movie could be. Edge to Batman Begins.

The Fanboy Factor: This Batman flick delivered it all up front. We got batcaves, batmobiles, batsuits, and glimpses into how it all comes about. We also got most of the major characters we wanted, but then again they’re pretty much absolutely necessary. We got teased by the Joker and the promise of more villains down the line, but Nolan and crew missed the boat on slipping in some references to other Bat staples like Selena Kyle. Though maybe this lent it more credibility as a dramatic piece, rather than just a fun jaunt. Edge to Iron Man.

The Fun Factor: There are a few laughs mixed in with some awesome action, but Batman Begins takes itself serious, and rightly so. Batman as we know and love him is not a funny guy in a cheap suit who carries shark repellent. He is a dark, conflicted character, with many facets. While I enjoy this film immensely and think it is a fantastic Batman film, on “fun” points, it scores slightly lower. Edge to Iron Man.

The Overall Experience: If Superman made you believe a man could fly, Batman Begins made you believe a Batman movie could not suck. When I discuss these two films with my friends, I always say they are two completely different movies, which I think is necessary. Batman is a darker, more dramatic piece with moments of levity (which are great), where as Iron Man is a more action orientated witty flick with moments of intensity (which are great). From a “film as art” standpoint, Batman Begin’s decision to tackle and stay with some of the darker elements of the story give it more points. I suspect future Iron Man flicks will deal with his darker side (alcoholism), so we shall see how each film progresses. Slight Edge to Batman Begins.

The Winner?

While Iron Man pretty much trounced the other flicks in my mind, I find this last comparison too close to call. I think they’re both nearly perfect in their own ways. As a dramatic piece, Batman wins. As a summer fun flick, Iron Man wins.

Iron Man and Batman Begins — Tied for Best Comic Adaptation of All Time.

But we can’t leave it at that, now can we? Flood me with comments, criticisms, and complaints! What is your favorite comic book movie? What should have entered the arena? What super hero movie is your absolute favorite?

Let the games begin.

Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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