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WATCHING THE MOVIES: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Iron Man 3

Two big-name action movies, reviewed just for you.

Well, there’s nothing good in theaters this week unless you really like Kevin Hart or Bryan Cranston. So instead, I watched two movies here at the homestead.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

(Not Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s not the movie’s name.)

I honestly forgot how good this film was. It’s been years since I’ve watched it, and I didn’t remember most of it, just bits and pieces. I saw it on Netflix, decided to give it the ol’ rewatch – and my goodness, does it hold up. Well-written characters, a sensical plot with intelligent themes, and classic action that set the standard for an entire movie genre. That doesn’t mean Raiders isn’t without issues, and we’ll get to those, but let’s keep it positive to start.

The story is a perfect three-act structure brought almost effortlessly to life by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Harrison Ford plays amateur archeologist Indiana Jones with charm, gallantry, and manly swagger. Sure, his day job is university professor, but Ford nails Indy’s mood in those scenes: bored, bemused, clearly not at home. Indy wants to be out finding incredible pieces of history, but whenever he does, he’s dogged by Nazi-allied Belloq – a slimy French rival convinced of his superiority, but haunted by the friends he keeps. “We’re not so different, you and I,” Belloq tells Indy, attempting to justify his compromises.

Then there’s Karen Allen, pitch perfect as Marion Ravenwood. Many current movies attempt to display the strength of their leading ladies by having them stand, unbowed, as the plot rushes over them like a tidal wave. Their stonelike unflappability may appear powerful or inspiring at a surface level, but when subjected to any scrutiny their characters appear static and inhuman – a “Mary Sue.” Marion outclasses the modern epidemic of Strong Female Leads because her biggest character moments all emerge from her choices. She chooses to rebuff Indy due to his past actions when he slouches into her Nepalese bar, trying to wheedle his way to the trinket he needs to find the treasure. Then she chooses to stand up to the Nazis who corner her, chooses to seek the Ark of the Covenant with Indy, and even chooses to match wits with Belloq in a drinking game we’ve already seen her win in a desperate gambit to escape. She’s interesting, hilarious, and capable.

We watch Indy evolve from a lone wolf treasure hunter into a true hero, working to save his friends, “making it up as [he] goes along.” His most important shift in perspective involves his view of the supernatural. He begins by teaching his students that the overlap between myth and history is “dangerous.” Yet by the end he’s seen enough to suspect the power of God held within the fabled Ark is real. When prideful Belloq takes it upon himself to gaze on the Almighty, he tells Marion to close her eyes – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” says Scripture.

RATING: 8/10

IRON MAN 3

As I do every year, I’ve been rewatching all the Marvel movies in chronological order to prep for this summer’s upcoming blockbuster Avengers: Endgame. I started several weeks ago, so let me catch you up with a few one-sentence reviews:

  • CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER: Classy and inspiring if a tad flawed in execution. 7/10
  • IRON MAN: A fascinating origin story of one man trying to atone for his mistakes by making flying robot suits. 8/10
  • THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Wooden acting, cookie-cutter plot, skippable. 3/10
  • IRON MAN 2: Almost good, but overcomplicates itself and can’t stick the landing. 5/10
  • THOR: Shakespeare director Kenneth Branaugh graces us with a corny Shakespeare play disguised as a superhero movie. 6/10
  • THE AVENGERS: A generation-defining instant classic that revitalizes its team of heroes with almost no missteps. 9/10

And now for Iron Man 3, the first and only Marvel Christmas movie! (If you think I’m joking, watch the movie again. Its whole plot centers around the holiday, much like that other holiday staple Die Hard.)

I’ve always had a hard time defining why this isn’t one of my favorite Marvel movies. At surface level, it seems it should be: snappy dialogue, an interesting new story direction, a very well crafted inner struggle for our main man Tony Stark, played with the usual amount of snarky charisma by Robert Downey Jr.

This time around it hit me. This is a good movie, but not a fun one.
When I watch Marvel movies I like to be entertained, to watch a plucky hero struggle against and ultimately overcome an imposing villain in a gratifying and exciting fight to the finish. It’s the most accessible type of storytelling prevalent in mass media throughout our culture, from narrative journalism to professional wrestling.

The head fake involving The Mandarin, which I won’t spoil here other than to say that there is one, didn’t bother me on my first few viewings of Iron Man 3. This time it did, because it removes an element of satisfaction from the film – a new bland (if intimidating) villain sidles into view right when we thought we knew who Tony’s enemies were.

Let’s talk about Tony for a sec, too. His arc here is perfect, with probably the most gut-wrenching portrayal of PTSD I’ve seen in a big name movie. His anxiety strips him all the way back down to basics, forcing him to grow again as a character and use his genius to face his fears rather than hiding from them, tinkering with his Iron Man suit. The completion of his story feels satisfying, and it’s really too bad that Avengers: Age of Ultron undoes it.

Yet Tony’s character is directly affected by Shane Black’s distinctive direction and writing, which turns him into a snarky and unlikeable cad for most of the film. The overwritten, oppressive script Black chose to pen jumbles the film’s tone, and certain plot choices suck the air out of the story. Some characters are just left out to dry. After being built up in Iron Man 2, War Machine (now called Iron Patriot because that happened in the comics once) has next to nothing to do until the climactic action scene. And don’t get me started on the nonsense pulled with Pepper in the last third of the movie.

All that said, it’s still a fine film. RATING: 6/10

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