Way back in my wanton, TV-saturated childhood, there was a low-rent cartoon series that featured the Marvel superheroes (the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Invincible Iron Man, the Very-Nordic Thor – OK, I don’t remember all their adjectives). The production qualities of this show were cheesier than Wisconsin: the animation was so un-animated as to intermittently become a slideshow of stills, with only the actors’ voices to clarify the action ("I better web-sling over to that balcony right now!"). But there were a few standout details to the old show. First was the introduction to my furtive little mind of Loki, the God of Mischief in the Thor cartoon. (Granted, this was not a creation of the cartoon, but I wasn’t reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology at age 6.)
The concept of a god dedicated to mischief – hmmm. I dredged out the idea a few presidential elections ago to describe Ross Perot, whose purpose in life seemed to be solely to serve as some force of mischief in a campaign process that was already mottled. The Loki idea once again comes to mind when I think of this Rev. Wright, whose singular mission seems to be the sabotage of Barack Obama’s trajectory. I also tend to ponder a certain Lokitude (Lokura?) when I think of the media handling of this election. Have they got nothing better to do than make dire proclamations and dwell on flag pins? (And who knew we’d get to the point where asking that question seems naive?)
The other salient feature I gleaned from that old Marvel series was some rooty-tooty theme songs. Not all of the heroes had good themes, mind you, just Spider-Man (recently celebrated via pork products in #The Simpsons Movie#) and Iron Man. What I loved best about the Iron Man theme were the first two lines: "Tony Stark makes you squeal/He’s the coolest cat/With a heart of steel."
I’ve always considered Robert Downey, Jr., to be a pretty cool cat, albeit one with the most profound and self-destructive addiction pattern I had ever experienced (in third-hand media observation). Apparently, though, some steely component has entered into Mr. Downey’s arsenal, which has hopefully not affected his heart but seems to have transformed his work discipline. I won’t get all Access Hollywood-conjecture-y about what’s changed, but will simply acknowledge what appears to be a newfound focus, and wish the cat well.
The recently released Iron Man movie is a cool cat, too. Except for a monotonous and annoying musical score, this is a near-perfect adventure in superheroism. This big-screen Iron Man bites off a certain moral ambiguity in its central conceit, with Downey – at the top of his game, emotionally and bicep-wise – starting off as a glib and ambivalent billionaire weapons manufacturer. His exploits evolve him into something different, in a fully actualized screenplay that works at every beat. Since a good superhero story also serves as topical allegory, Iron Man cunningly builds a villain that looks less like an insane lunatic and more a hyper-aggressive neo-con (I won’t name which politico he resembles, but see what rhymes with Prick Cheney). Mortality is a central theme of Iron Man, and a final message of not wasting a life is handled with energy and resonance.
Interestingly, there is another current film that deals with the same themes of mortality and living life to the fullest. It is called Young @ Heart, and please let me be clear: This is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. It is possibly the most entertaining – and probably the most enriching – movie experience you will have all year. The subjects of this documentary are 24 Massachusetts senior citizens who sing punk and rock songs in concert, locally and abroad. The film features several hysterical music videos; a true standout is their interpretation of the Ramones’ "I Wanna Be Sedated." And songs like "Forever Young," "Staying Alive" and "Golden Years" take on entirely new connotations when sung by this group. Watching these intrepid but fragile old people deal with both their passion and their mortality with such clarity and focus is a transformative experience. If the whole thing sounds a bit precious, it isn’t. You will laugh, you will cry, you will de-bullshit your life. And if enough people see it, perhaps a critical mass of this country will start looking wider and deeper than lapel flag pins.
Scott Patrick Wagner can be contacted at www.scottpatrickwagner.com.