04 May 2013

Exotic Alloy of Ferrous Oxide Man

... or, in Sherlock Holmes terms, "The Case of the Egregiously Misallocated Budget."

This particular filmgoing experience was a rollercoaster ride... and not necessarily in a good way. It started badly, stalled thanks to the bad start, got a bit more comfortable, and then ran through the puke-inducing part of the ride — all before the feature. And the feature was a severe disappointment after the first third, thanks to that egregiously misallocated budget.

Things started off badly with incompetent theater management. The first "early bird" showing was supposed to be at 0900, followed by another at 0930 and a third at 1000. I showed up at 0855... and the box office was not open; neither was the entry to the concourse for the fools who bought their tickets online and swallowed the 15% "service fee." And so it rolled past 0900. And it rolled out to 0915... at which time the janitor unlocked the outer door (this is a mall location) to allow the box office personnel in, who promptly unlocked things in precisely the reverse order necessary to allow the crowd of approximately 30 people who clearly already had tickets for one of those early-bird shows to get into the theaters. Then, on top of everything else, one of the two ticket-sellers was clearly in training on the first summer blockbuster weekend. It's not her fault: It's management's.

So I ended up with a ticket to the 1000 show, and wandered around the food court (this mall's stores don't open until 1000, even on weekends) with my overpriced coffee. I then went into the theater and found that — unlike virtually every theater I've sat in in this country — the seats actually had decent back support and were clean. (Well, they bloody well should be clean for the first showing of the day, but they usually aren't.) Things were looking up! Until I looked up and saw the trailers. I've never before sat through seven trailers for tent-pole films and had each one make me less likely to see the films being advertised... thus, the puke-inducing part of the ride. These trailers were desperate; I predict that Disney is in for a disappointing summer... or I would if film quality above the level of Gigli and Batman & Robin made a credible, predictable difference to box-office receipts.

And now, it's time for Sherlock Holmes Tony Stark to make his entrance. If you're looking for spoilers, this isn't the place — this is a meta- and process-oriented review. From the meta perspective, the frame sort of works... for a different film entirely. The first third of the film actually sets up a decent situation, at which point the budget misallocation takes over. All scripts were confiscated at the Tennessee border, and were not returned for the remainder of the shoot. Hell, I don't think anyone was even looking for them: All the money that should have gone into continuity and the script went into a forty-second special effects sequence. Just pick one — virtually every special-effects sequence in the last two thirds of the film is entirely disposable, even for a comic-book-superhero film! Then, too, a little continuity would be nice, such as deciding whether Rhodes is a lieutenant colonel or a colonel, or whether the car windows are up or down. It's also entirely possible that some emergency response units would have begun converging on the big explosions beginning about twenty minutes before the end of the film; oops, there's that real world intruding again. Finally, it was a huge narrative error to try to return to the initial frame for the post-credits sequence... especially considering what was left out of that post-credits sequence. It was overobvious sketch comedy and nothing more, unlike the other corresponding sequences in Avengers-related films over the past few years.

A deeper, script-related problem was that the psychological and character setup of the first third of the film was thrown away at the Tennessee border. It had no bloody consequences; instead, we were stuck with Evil Supergenius Plot #2 Variant C, accompanied by credulousness entirely inconsistent with Tony Stark's and James Rhodes's characters and previous (that is, previous to this film) uses of technology, recordings, surveillance, etc. The internal-betrayal-in-politics variant undermined anything else that could have been done, particularly after its endgame was telegraphed so stereotypically (and so early).

And thus, the egregious budgetary misallocation. The filmmakers should have cut $2.5 million from the special effects budget, added $200k to the budget for continuity checkers, and added $2.3 million to the script budget... for a single scriptwriter, not a team or sequential polishing effort. It also would have helped if, instead of just having the idea to confront post-event wobblies (which is the closest I'm going to get to a spoiler), the script had actually done so; it's not like there's a shortage of real people who know something about this. Oh, there's my problem: I expected H'wood, the world of superhero comics, and most especially Disney to reach outside of themselves to bloody learn something, and then apply it to the bloody product.

The cast generally did what it could with the crap it was handed, but there were too many noticeable moments that were a beat off as the actors waited for the director's promised off-set event to happen. Iron Man 3 is not as bad as X-Men Origins: Wolverine... but it's not inappropriate to mention them in the same sentence, and for many of the same reasons.