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Iron Man (2008) -vs- Batman Begins (2005)

Beau DeMayoThe Smackdown

It’s been a dark time for comic book movies since Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.”  Over the past two years, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and “Spider-Man 3” raised red flags with audiences and critics alike: is the comic book movie Golden Age finally imploding upon itself?  If Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics newly-launched production company, has an answer, it’s “NO!”  Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” marks Marvel Studios first independently-owned production (distributed by Paramount).  It follows the high-tech adventures of billionaire Tony Stark, as he soars into the world as the red and gold avenger, Iron Man.  Amongst us comic book nerds, when we’re not debating if Wolverine could take Superman, a frequent discussions is how Iron Man is Marvel’s Batman.  So in honor of us comic nerds’ long-standing debates, we’ll see how Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” stands against the high-flying, repulsor-blasting “Iron Man.”

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The Challenger

Meet Tony Stark: womanizer, billionaire, alcoholic, genius.  A child prodigy, Tony Stark is responsible for the world’s most deadly military weapons, developing and funding his inventions via Stark Industries.  Robert Downey Jr. plays our hero, a self-absorbed braggart who suffers a mid-life crisis after being abducted by Middle East terrorists and barely escaping with his life.  Determined to make a difference in this dangerous world he’s help create, Downey’s Stark takes to building a suit capable of mitigating the disasters in the world.  Surprisingly funny and well-acted, but also with its serious moments, “Iron Man” is a testament to movie audiences that comic book movies are not dying.  Jon Favreau’s sharp direction and Downey’s well-thought acting clearly form the backbone of this avenger’s journey, an adventure that sometimes suffers from clunky pacing and unsure character moments.

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The Defending Champion

As a movie icon, Batman was all but dead following Joel Schumacher’s nipple-clad, hyper-colored “Batman & Robin.”  Somehow, Christopher Nolan relaunched this franchise by tossing aside the previous films and starting from scratch.  And when we say scratch, we mean scratch — a young, vengeful Bruce Wayne wandering the world, lost in his own misery.  There is no Batman.  Nolan’s psychological action-thriller traces Wayne’s journey in becoming the legendary Dark Knight, and his first attempt to defeat a overzealous terrorist mastermind who shares Batman’s hate of corruption but wishes to eradicate it using genocide.  Complex and a tad heavy-handed, “Batman Begins” captivates audiences with great casting, amazing action set pieces, and a darker tone that encourages a contemplative movie-going experience.

The Scorecard

Believe it or not, this is actually a hard one.  As comic book adaptations go, “Iron Man” is perhaps the most faithful comic book adaptation ever made.  Favreau’s attention to the Iron Man mythos is impressive — from Tony’s technological prowess, his building of the suit, his arrival as Iron Man.  You actually feel like you’re watching a comic book on film. But faithful adapting does not alone make a superior film.

While “Batman Begins” makes significant alterations to the mythos, its exploration of Bruce Wayne’s psyche is more well-rounded and fulfilling.  This is due to the simple choice of what the audience gets to see on screen.  In “Iron Man,” Tony Stark suffers at the hand of his kidnappers and then returns to the United States, and announces that he’s shutting down Stark Industries’ weapon developing sections.  This announcement, occurring at a press conference, is just as much a surprise to the press as it is to the audience — who really hasn’t been prepared for this selfish egomaniac’s massive character shift.  On the other hand, Bruce Wayne is already yearning for a change in his life and the audience watches discovering the morality and the philosophy of his mission.  We see it develop, unlike Tony Stark’s sudden “weapons are bad and must be stopped.”

In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne’s mental and physical transformation occur on screen and pay off thematically with the film’s end — which has Bruce facing a villain whose goals are similar, but whose means are much more extreme.  This symmetry is lacking when Tony Stark goes up against the film’s villain, a stereotypical corrupt businessman who just feels like the obligatory third-act challenger. That, and the excessive use of one-liners during the film’s overly bombastic climax, steals some of the class and sophistication that “Iron Man”‘s first two acts mastered so well.

Also, Nolan seemed to have a better handle on the development of the hero’s arsenal.  Favreau nearly copies it, and it feels as such.  We spend nearly a half-hour watching Stark build things… and it’s really not all that interesting.  As Bruce Wayne builds his arsenal, he struggles with forming allies, reclaiming a lost love interest, and deciding the morality of his quest.  For Stark, he’s dealing with a talking computer who makes sarcastic quips back to him. One of the thing that both these films have going for them are their action sequences, with “Iron Man” being the clear superior in terms of orchestrated action set-pieces in terms of just choreography and special effects.

The Decision

Whether or not “Iron Man” succeeds by virtue of being better than the crap produced in the past two years is up for debate. Listen, the movie’s fun, well-executed, and is certainly worth the rising cost of a movie ticket. However, it hasn’t broken into the sacred movie realm that the first two “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” movies created, and that “Batman Begins” so ably joined. Favreau struggles with giving us on-screen character development instead of obligatory character waypoints. Fixing that, and a little restraint in the cheesy bad guy dialogue, would have easily pushed “Iron Man” into one of the best comic book movies ever made, and not simply the best comic adaptation. When looking for a superhero, I’d rely on the avenger whose put a bit more thought into his personal mission and taken the time to fashion himself as something more than a red and gold hot rod. For this reason, “Batman Begins” smelts “Iron Man” with a superior script and better character development.


6 Comments on Iron Man (2008) -vs- Batman Begins (2005)

  1. To have had Tony Stark ponder the decision to end weapons sales would have been at odds with his character. Recall the words Stane said to Tony when they stood by the arc reactor: “No more of this ready-fire-aim business.” Tony’s comment was that was the same thing his father used to tell him. Tony’s radical declaration at the press conference was perfectly in keeping with his self-indulgent and attention-deficient personality.

  2. Batman Begins is in a league completely it’s own in my opinion. But if you want to compare these two movies’ quality, start with the villains in each film. Begins has three major villains, all of which are dynamic and interesting in their own unique way. They are woven into the script flawlessly and interact with one another realistically. With Iron Man, they had the opportunity to create at least one dynamic villain in the terrorist. But instead we get a dumpy business man bent on Stark’s death. Besides, you simply can’t beat Liam Neeson. Period.

  3. Iron man was a good movie probably best Marvel movie since spiderman. It was good in some ways but after a while cheesy lines a sarcastism got a little boring. Also batman begins was able to tell enough orgin w/ an eqaul amount of action. Also unlike Batman which goes full smooth full sircle with him going agaisnt the man who trained him (Ra’s al Ghul) Wile iron mans villians had speed bumps of transacting from terroist to his buisness partner. Also personally i felt batmans villians held a more threat and also connects to the next movies of the joker and releasing inmates. So the victor is batman begins.

  4. No way. Iron Man delivers non-stop entertainment with NO long lags. I’m a huge fan of Batman and wasn’t familiar with Iron Man comics, and as much as I liked Batman Begins, it did drags in spots, particularly in the beginning. I bought the DVD and rarely look at it. But I’ll be at the earliest showing of the new Batman movie.
    Iron Man delivers in spades and is never boring. Plenty of laughs and Robert Downey Jr. is an amazing actor.
    I’d give it to Iron Man.

  5. I gotta agree. Batman Begins trumps Iron Man for exactly the reasons you said. The sudden press conference announcement was a slap … I really felt like we should have seen him coming to that decision and grappling with it.
    Still… Spider-man 2 reigns supreme… 🙂

  6. This is a tough one, but I’d have to give the decision to “Iron Man.” I just saw it and was thoroughly entertained and thought it kept on an even keel all the way through. Let me put it this way: in the Smackdown between millionaire playboys, you gotta go with Tony Stark over Bruce Wayne — he’s way more fun!

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