Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"E" for Effort?

As good as it was, everyone pretty much knew that Iron Man was just something to hold people over until The Dark Knight finally showed up. Even Robert Downey Jr. was willing to make fun of this fact. But it’s only one point behind The Dark Knight on Rotten Tomatoes. Is it just as good?

Immediately after seeing The Dark Knight, I had a short conversation with some friends about which of the films I enjoyed more. While I ultimately sided with the latter due to Heath Ledger’s captivating performance, the enjoyment level was negligible.

One was obviously much darker (It’s even in the title.), but actually keeping a film light-hearted makes it easier to enjoy. A screenwriting professor one told me “don’t take the audience through hell unless you’re going to bring them back out of it.” I don’t necessarily agree with that because I have enjoyed some films with extremely bleak endings. For me, quality of filmmaking matters much more than the tone.

This isn’t to say that I would have necessarily disliked Iron Man had it been more serious. One of the critiques I’ve heard is that Tony Stark never really felt any consequences for his involvement with the weapons corporation. It was addressed but not really focused on. Speculation is that the sequel might delve into this more as well as focus on his alcoholism, which was a major storyline in the comics. (Hopefully they don’t let the somewhat similar theme in Hancock scare them off because, as good as Will Smith’s performance was, I’d still love to see Downey play such a character.)

So while it could have been more dramatic, I don’t mind that it wasn’t. In fact, there’s nothing worse than a dramatic moment that doesn’t work in an otherwise entertaining but not serious film.

That said, I also find it annoying when a film tries so hard to be dramatic that it becomes tedious. Even if it has some great moments, that desire to be taken as higher art and not quite achieving it might even be worse than never striving for it in the first place.

The question is: Should films be judged solely on what they are or on what they aim to be? If a film tries to explore an important issue but comes across heavy-handed, should it be given more credit than a crude sex comedy that makes you laugh over and over again?

I base how good I consider a film by how well it achieves (or how close it comes to achieving) what it sets out to do. Dumb & Dumber couldn’t be a better version of what it is. Yet I probably wouldn’t discuss it on the same plain as Rain Man or Ghandi. That’s not to say it couldn’t be argued, but it’s not an argument you’re likely to win.

This does not, however, mean I wouldn’t vehemently defend it if someone tried to pass it off as just a stupid comedy. (For one thing, the two actors in it have shown that they are AMAZING performers, which just makes them that much more entertaining to watch.)

Can goofy comedies and rousing dramas be judged against each other, or is that comparing apples and oranges?

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