Have You Read… ‘Iron Man: Extremis’?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out…

Iron Man Extremis

Art by Adi Granov (image credit: Marvel Comics).

Written by:  Warren Ellis / art by:  Adi Granov

What’s it about?

Tony Stark faces a new and deadly threat as he dons his Iron Man armour to stop a biologically enhanced terrorist from destroying the U.S. government…

In review

Originally published as the first six-issue storyline for Marvel Comics’ 2005 relaunch of The Invincible Iron Man (recently re-issued in a new hardcover edition as part of the comic book publisher’s ‘Marvel Select’ line), Iron Man: Extremis is a benchmark in modern Iron Man comics.  Extremis can be read as a self-contained, standalone story without the need for any familiarity with the decades-long history of Iron Man.  With a sharp and exciting script, British comic book writer Warren Ellis (The Authority) crafts an intelligent science fiction bio-tech thriller with an intriguing, thought provoking concept at its core complemented by solid characterisation, a touch of horror and blockbuster action – brought to life by artist Adi Granov’s unique visuals.

Extremis is a story that’s conscious of the war on terror and the technological explosion of the early 21st Century.  It sees an experimental biological enhancile known as ‘Extremis’ fall into the hands of domestic terrorists who test it on one of their number – a dangerous and radical low-life named Mallen.  Utilising deadly superhuman powers bestowed upon him by Extremis, including enhanced healing and strength together with the ability to unleash searing blasts of flames, Mallen wreaks havok as he sets about his anti-U.S. government agenda.  Maya Hansen, an old acquaintance of Tony Stark and one of the creators of Extremis enlists the help of the Stark Industries CEO in stopping the terror but a brutal confrontation with Mallen ends with the Iron Man armour being severely damaged and Tony Stark critically injured.  The only hope of Stark making a quick recovery and being able to match Mallen leads to him risking the use of Extremis on himself.

The Extremis process itself, the ability to essentially unlock and manipulate the human body’s (essentially hack its ‘operating system’) repair centre is a fascinating idea and Ellis explores it in a philosophical and also ethical manner as its military applications, and the risks thereof, are debated.  It also presents an evolution for Tony Stark/Iron Man as the marriage between the two is deepened to the biological level, increasing the powers and abilities of the Iron Man armour and its user – providing a new and exciting modern status-quo for the enduring Marvel character.

This is pre-MCU Iron Man and those only familiar with Robert Downey Jr’s more light-hearted and quippy portrayal of Tony Stark (which is enjoyable in itself) may be surprised to find that this version of the character is quite different.  In keeping with previous interpretations in the comics, the Tony Stark in Extremis is a billionaire philanthropist (the ‘playboy’ aspect isn’t really on display here), a genius almost constantly thinking of the next innovation who is somewhat insular and broody yet well-intentioned – driven to ensure that his company moves away from its past identity as a weapons manufacturer – despite grappling with personal demons, finding a true sense of purpose and self-worth when he dons his revolutionary Iron Man armour – the world at large unaware that Stark himself is the Iron Avenger.  Despite some of the more troubled elements of the main character, Warren Ellis injects a smattering of humour where it’s appropriate and Stark isn’t without some charm but it’s generally a darker and more mature realisation in-line with earlier iterations of Iron Man whilst being resonant in a post 9/11 world.

Warren Ellis deftly weaves an updated but faithful recounting of the Stark/Iron Man origin story into the narrative via a media interview and flashbacks – modernising it by transposing the setting from during the Vietnam War to the conflict against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (much like we saw on film in 2008’s Iron Man), where Stark, gravely injured by one of his own weapons is captured by Afghan terrorists and with the help of fellow captive, Doctor Ho Yinsen builds his first Iron Man suit as a means to both keep him alive and fight his way to an escape.

The digital art by the Bosnian-American illustrator Adi Granov is excellent, some may find it unusual or an acquired taste with its computer-generated look, but it produces clean and realistic visuals that are somewhat filmic with its muted colouring.  There are several striking single page spreads, boldly presenting the Iron Man suit in all its glory and the action is equally impressive – especially in the origin story flashbacks.  Granov also proves himself adept at the flourishes of horror in Ellis’s script with the startling and gross Extremis transformations.

The “Extremis” storyline would later form part of the plot for Marvel Studios’ 2013 big screen smash Iron Man Three but the comic book source by Messrs. Ellis and Granov is more like a Christopher Nolan film or a HBO production of Iron Man and is all the more attractive for it, making for a highly recommended read.

Geek fact!

Adi Granov helped to design the Iron Man and Iron Monger armours for Marvel Studios’ Iron Man as well as providing key-frame illustrations for the film.

Iron Man: Extremis is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘The Predator’

Shane Black takes the reigns for the newest addition to the ‘Predator’ franchise…

 

The Predator

One of cinema’s most lethal creations returns in ‘The Predator’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane

Directed by:  Shane Black / written by:  Shane Black & Fred Dekker/ 107 minutes

What’s it about?

The crash-landing of an alien spacecraft leads to a fight for survival as a rag-tag group of ex-military personnel find themselves being hunted by a dangerous and lethal extra-terrestrial…

In review

Along with the Alien and Terminator series, Predator is another franchise that refuses to die despite diminishing returns.  Having said that, Predator 2 and Predators are actually pretty good so far as sequels go but a pair of underwhelming Alien vs Predator films sullies the overall quality.

Enlisting Iron Man Three director Shane Black to helm a new Predator instalment would surely give it instant potential, then?  Sadly, The Predator proves more of a low point for the franchise than a triumphant return, a promising set-up and an interesting creative approach let down by a weak script and messy final act.

Boyd Holbrook (Logan) and Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) are capable leads, the former as sniper Quinn McKenna – bringing the requisite dose of gruff alpha male – and the latter, convincingly, as biologist Dr. Casey Brackett.  Joining them is a group of kooky military misfits, amongst them Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s-inflicted Baxley, the endlessly profane Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and the surprisingly stable ‘Nebraska’ Williams (Trevante Rhodes).  Adding a touch of villainy is Black Panther’s Sterling K. Brown as Traeger, an oddly comical government agent with special interest in the mysterious Predators.

By giving us a set of oddball characters, The Predator seeks to draw the audience in and have viewers become emotionally invested and to a degree it works, proving most effective with an endearing performance by Jacob Tremblay as McKenna’s autistic son, Rory, who may hold the key to defeating their enemy.

There’s some misjudged (though perhaps necessary at this point) attempts to broaden the mythology of the Predators themselves which some may be receptive to and others may not as it removes some of the mystique surrounding the iconic alien hunters.  Disappointingly, the ‘Super’ Predator seen in the pre-release trailers is nothing more than an oversized version of the original creature, although it does raise the stakes as the film progresses toward its denouement.

Making full use of its ‘R’ rating (certified ’15’ in the U.K.), The Predator is fairly bloody at times and its language littered with profanity which fans of the franchise would rightly expect.  The film’s action is satisfying in places but, bar one or two moments, there’s a lack of tension – especially during the rushed finale that feels generic, choppy and uninventive.

It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity and a genuine shame given Black’s history with the franchise, having played the part of Hawkins in the classic 1987 original as well as providing uncredited contributions to the script.  The screenplay for The Predator, co-written by Black with Fred Dekker (RoboCop 3) is a little clichéd, with some embarrassing and dumb dialogue and an overreliance on humour – some of which provide genuine laughs but too much of which feels stilted.

The direction is fairly competent and it’s commendable that a slightly different approach for The Predator was sought, but ultimately the fusion of action, horror and humour doesn’t quite gel as successfully as it could have with stronger writing and better editing.  As a result, The Predator is best watched more as a straight forward, slightly cheap action horror flick than a notable and essential continuation of the franchise.

The bottom line:  A flawed sequel to a beloved classic, there’s some fun to be had with The Predator but its creative potential is squandered by some weak execution.

The Predator is in cinemas now.

Five worthy ‘threequels’

The third entry in any film series is by large considered a disappointment and whilst in some cases this is certainly true (“hello” to Superman III and Jurassic Park III), there are some ‘threequels’ that threaten to stand toe to toe with numbers one and two.

With the recent Blu-ray release of Iron Man Three, I thought I’d look at a selection of five other noteworthy threequels that are far from disappointing…

ONE:  ALIEN 3 (1991)

Follows:  Aliens (1986)

Lt. Ellen Ripley crash lands on the Weyland Yutani prison colony “Fury” 161.  Although her companions are killed in the crash, Ripley is not the only survivor…

Aliens would always have been a tough act to follow but Alien 3 was definitely a step in the right direction, not bigger in an attempt to outdo James Cameron’s blockbuster, but much smaller and more claustrophobic and visceral in the same vein as the franchise’s 1979 progenitor (Ridley Scott’s Alien of course).  Directed with a smattering of art house flair by the then 20-something David Fincher, the Alien 3 that audiences eventually saw had risen from the ashes of a troubled production but stands as an underrated piece of cinematic SF horror that’s oozing with atmospheric chills and should really have been a conclusion to the Alien film series.

Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon aside, Sigourney Weaver is supported by a wealth of British acting talent – Brian Glover, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb and Paul McGann.  Coupled with Fincher’s youthfully artistic direction Alien 3 has its own distinct flavour.

What came next:  Alien Resurrection (1997) – a sequel too far?  Whilst Alien 3 was ‘arty’ in the best possible sense, Resurrection overstepped the mark and resulted in a poorly conceived and over ambitious mess that lead to the guilty pleasures of two Alien vs. Predator films.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare - again - in 'Alien 3', directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare – again – in ‘Alien 3’, directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

TWO:  STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)

Follows:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The crew of the Enterprise are mourning the loss of their shipmate, Captain Spock but when Doctor McCoy begins exhibiting strange behaviour, Admiral Kirk is compelled to defy orders and return to the Genesis Planet…

As established Star Trek fans will know, the most recent J.J. Abrams film is not the first time the franchise ventured “into darkness”.  Both Star Trek II and Star Trek III dealt with some dark yet mature themes including regret and loss, whilst still retaining the core ideals of hope and humanity that Gene Rodenberry had envisioned.  It made sense that the franchise grew with its audience and had relevance in the often dark 1980s.  The Search for Spock – despite relatively little screen-time for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (he was busy behind the camera this time out) – showed us that Star Trek had matured without forgetting those afore-mentioned ideals that made it so appealing.  A large part of what makes it work so well is that you cared about those original characters and rooted for them as they banded together at the risk of losing everything for the sake of their friend and comrade.

The Search for Spock also features a (just) pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd as the enjoyably maniacal Klingon Commander, Kruge.

What came next:  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – “the one with the whales” ranks as one of the most commercially and critically successful of all the Star Trek feature films (and the second to be directed by Leonard Nimoy), it brought levity in spades and upheld the key elements of Gene Rodenberry’s vision whilst paving the way for the franchise’s return to the small screen with the immensely successful Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one...

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one…

THREE:  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Follows:  The Dark Knight (2008)

Bruce Wayne must once again don the cape and cowl to prevent the terrorist Bane from fulfilling the League of Shadow’s plan to destroy Gotham City…

Whilst many will argue that The Dark Knight is the best of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect conclusion and brought the focus back to Bruce Wayne’s story (despite less actual screen time for the Batman himself), bringing everything neatly full circle.

The film features arguably the strongest cast performances of the trilogy and a villain that literally stood toe to toe with Gotham’s Dark Knight and high stakes throughout to the spectacular and gripping finale.

For more on the Dark Knight Rises, check out the GBUK retrospective here.

What came next:  Man of Steel (2013) – although Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga concluded with The Dark Knight Rises his creative presence is felt in the recent Superman reboot, having served as producer and sharing a ‘story by’ credit with screenwriter David S. Goyer.

Another superbly cast ensemble  for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's well crafted Batman film trilogy.

Another superbly cast ensemble for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s well crafted Batman film trilogy.

FOUR:  GOLDFINGER (1964)

Follows:  From Russia With Love (1963)

007 must foil gold magnate Auric Goldfinger’s plot to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold reserve…

Goldfinger is generally regarded as the finest of all Bond films (for me it’s in contention with From Russia With Love) and identified as the point where Bond-mania truly exploded.  It established the template from which (for better or worse) all future Bond films would follow:  the pre-credits mission, a grand and operatic theme song, the gadgets, a compelling villain and an action packed climax as 007 leads a final assault to thwart the plans of said villain.

Gert Frobe (despite being dubbed due to his lack of coherent English) brought true presence and gravitas to the role of Goldfinger, a master villain able to match Bond whit for whit.  Sean Connery excels as the iconic super spy, his performance confidently infused with charm and vigour – leaving you in no doubt that (as good as Daniel Craig is) he was and likely always will be the best screen 007.

And of course who can forget that legendary Austin Martin…ejector seat and all.

What came next:  Thunderball (1965) – considered by some to be the downward turn in Sean Connery’s tenure it’s still a top spy adventure bolstered by Academy Award winning effects, another magnificent score from John Barry and yet another sexy Bond girl – this time Claudine Auger’s ‘Domino’.

Expected to die...James Bond (Sean Connery) faces the challenge of one of his greatest foes - Aric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

Expected to die…James Bond (Sean Connery) is challenged by one of his greatest foes – Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

FIVE:  ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)

Follows:  Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a surprising entry in the original Planet of the Apes film series not only in that it’s superior to first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes but also for the fact that it’s a film of two very different halves.  The first ‘half’ is fairly light (even frivolous) as the evolved apes Cornelius (Roddie McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are welcomed with open arms by the media and general public, being treated like celebrities before the sinister workings behind the scenes of the U.S. government lead to a much darker second half as Cornelius and Zira (the latter having just given birth) must run for their lives as they are hunted down.  At this point it’s a film that can be taken much more seriously and throws an uncomfortable spotlight on the uglier, inhumane aspects of human nature.

What came next:  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – arguably the best of the Apes sequels it continues the darker tone of the latter parts of Escape as humanity’s subjugation and mistreatment of apes (a comment on slavery, a subject directly referenced in dialogue by one of the film’s African American characters) leads to a violent revolt by Caesar (another wonderful simian performance from McDowall), the son of Cornelius and Zira.

'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it's tense and shocking climax...

‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it’s tense and shocking climax…

Do you have a favourite threequel?  Share your thoughts below!

Also on Geek Blogger UK:

Blu-ray review: ‘Iron Man Three’

Blu-ray review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

GBUK film classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

 

Blu-ray review: ‘Iron Man Three’

This review contains SPOILERS 

 please don’t read on if you haven’t yet seen Iron Man Three

 

Time for some iron heroics…

 

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall

Directed by:  Shane Black / Written by:  Drew Pearce & Shane Black / 130 minutes

What’s Iron Man Three about?

Struggling to reconcile the events of New York, Tony Stark must grapple with his demons to face the threat of a lethal terrorist and the reprisals of a past acquaintance…

Film review

Hindsight can be sometimes be rewarding.  Given my previous thoughts on Iron Man Three (which I won’t hide away – you can read my rant here) it was with both surprise and delight that second time around I thoroughly enjoyed it!  I’ve been wrong before (Predators) and always happy to admit that I’ve let geek passions blind my enjoyment of an actually solid piece of entertainment.

Admittedly there still are “issues” with Iron Man Three (which I’ll come back to later) that threaten to grate but which I’ve now become more accepting of.  Anyway, on with the review…

Needless to say the success of Marvel Studios was well and truly secured by the positive reception of Avengers Assemble (as it was titled here in the UK) and it’s with respected confidence that whereas other studios would have opted for more of the same, Marvel’s next film would follow its own path.  Perhaps that’s part of what caught me off guard initially as Iron Man Three really is its own beast and (the occasional reference to Avengers and the wider Marvel universe aside) stands on its own feet.

Taking over the reins from Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau is Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black (he also played Hawkins in Predator) who previously teamed up with Robert Downey Jr. for the well-crafted 2005 action crime comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  Black proves to be the perfect successor to Favreau (who returns in front of the camera as Happy Hogan), balancing all the elements with aplomb, from the dialogue driven character moments to the adrenalin inducing action scenes.

Robert Downey Jr. returns to arguably the biggest and most iconic role of his career and infuses Tony Stark with the charm, wit and flawed humanity audiences have come to expect.  Whilst still not quite the Tony Stark of the comic books, much like Sean Connery did with James Bond, he has made the part his own without dismissing the key elements of the character Stan Lee envisioned.  Whilst there’s more of those sharp witticisms they thankfully don’t become as over indulgent as Iron Man 2.

RDJ continues to share good chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (who is more significant to the story this time out), Don Cheadle is much more settled as Stark’s best buddy Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes aka ‘Iron Patriot’ (the rebranded War Machine) and Rebecca Hall is Maya Hansen – a flame from Stark’s past with questionable allegiances – who (much like Alice Eve’s role in Star Trek Into Darkness) serves the plot and not much more.  This brings us to the villains of the piece, led by the ever excellent Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, seeking reprisal after once being spurned by Stark, with The Pacific’s James Badge Dale appearing as his super-powered right hand man, Savin and the always reliable Ben Kingsley as ‘the Mandarin’.

Overall, the screenplay (co-written by Black) holds up but there are moments where it tries to be more like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with some of the witty dialogue feeling at odds with Stark’s struggle against his post-Avengers anxiety.  RDJ’s ‘team up’ with school kid Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) is heartfelt and fun but threatens to draw out the pace, although it’s also interesting to see a deeper exploration of the man inside the iron suit.  The adaptation of the Extremis storyline (which served as a modern reboot of the Iron Man comics) works – ahem – extremely well and I was fascinated by the ideas posed about unleashing new abilities by tapping into the brain’s ‘operating system’ which goes hand in hand with the technological aspects of the Iron Man universe.  There are also – naturally – a plethora of nods to the comics (the AIM organisation and a suited up Pepper Potts to offer a couple of examples) and the customary cameo from Mr. Marvel himself, Stan Lee.

However, Iron Man Three is not perfect and there is one major element that prevents it from becoming the ultimate Iron Man film – I am indeed referring to that divisive Mandarin twist.  Given the threat built up at the outset I still feel that it was a big mistake not to maintain the Mandarin’s identity as a Bin Laden-esque terrorist.  It would have provided a neat reinvention of the character and much higher stakes for Stark that would have elevated Iron Man Three to a whole other level.  Ben Kingsley serves the part well but the reversal into slapstick comedy upon the revelation that he’s just a washed out actor playing a role is a little jarring – perhaps over time I’ll be more accepting of it but for now it’s a significant flaw that lets the film down.

Iron Man Three boasts some beautiful and sumptuous visuals from Cinematographer John Toll.  It’s certainly the best looking Iron Man film which has a very “wide” feel even in the tighter more static character scenes.  It’s also bolstered by an increased Avengers sized budget that allows for some exhilarating and pulse-pounding action scenes (complemented perfectly by Bryan Tyler’s score) including the decimation of Stark’s mansion, an attack on Air Force One and the effects laden finale where Stark rounds up all of his Iron Man armours for a climactic show down with Killian.

All in all my opinion of Iron Man Three has been elevated from okay to VERY good and although the first Iron Man remains the best of the trilogy (I’m always a sucker for origin stories) it comes highly recommend.

Standout moment

Commandeering the Iron Patriot suit, Savin proceeds with Killian’s plan to attack Air Force One unaware that Stark is not far behind…

The Blu-ray

Slightly more generous than Paramount’s recent release of Star Trek Into Darkness, extras include a trio of short featurettes, a collection of deleted/extended scenes and outtakes, a gag reel and a commentary track with Shane Black and Drew Pearce.

Completing the package is perhaps the best ‘Marvel One Shot’ so far – Agent Carter, which sees Hayley Atwell (as gorgeous as ever) put in a strong yet sensitive performance as she reprises her role from Captain America.

The bottom line:  it required a reassessment but Iron Man Three has turned out to be a much better film than I initially thought.  It’s a consistently entertaining blockbuster with a measure of gusto and heart.

Iron Man Three is out now on Blu-ray (2D and 3D editions) from Paramount Home Entertainment (also available on DVD and digital download).

Another likeable performance form Robert Downey Jr. in Marvel Studios' 'Iron Man Three'.

Another likeable performance form Robert Downey Jr. in Marvel Studios’ ‘Iron Man Three’.