May 4, 2008

Movie Review: Iron Man

Only time will tell just where Iron Man will fall within the pantheon of comic book superhero flicks. However, basking in the warm afterglow of my screening, I can only surmise that it will rank pretty highly among origin films, not to mention among the overall library of superhero flicks. To say that Iron Man flies high and sticks the landing would be an understatement. There is a strong undercurrent of energy, realism, and just plain old fun. The bottom line is that Iron Man delivers on the potential that superhero films contain. It pushes the boundaries of what a superhero film can be in much the same way that Batman Begins did, bringing a maturity to the material and allowing it to develop in an organic manner.

Iron ManAs Iron Man opens Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is being transported via Hum Vee back to a military base in Afghanistan, they never make it. The convoy comes under attack and Stark is taken captive. Flashback to 36 hours prior to the attack and we catch up with Stark, learning about his past and being taken into his present. Stark is revealed to be some sort of fusion of Bill Gates, Hugh Hefner, and Howard Hughes (whom Stan Lee has stated was a big influence on the creation of the character). He is a brilliant scientist, a hard drinker, and a womanizer, making him a pseudo-celebrity who always has an in to the hottest parties. As the head of Stark Industries, he is one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the world stage. We follow Stark as he is seen doing his thing in Hollywood, working in his shop at his home, and being shipped off to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest weapons breakthrough, the Jericho missile. It is after this demo that the attack happens.

Back to the present, we catch up with Stark and another prisoner, Yensin (Shaun Toub), held inside a cave deep in the Afghani mountains. He awakens to find his chest wrapped in gauze and hooked to a car battery. The attack leading to his capture resulted in shrapnel becoming embedded in his chest that cannot be removed, requiring a specially designed electromagnet to be implanted in his chest to keep the metallic barbs from entering his heart and killing him. Raza (Faran Tahir) is forcing the scientist to construct a Jericho missile for his nefarious use. Rather than comply with this request, Stark takes the available materials and crafts a weaponized, bulletproof suit of armor that allows for his escape, not to mention a more efficient power supply for his chest magnet. And so Iron Man is born in a dark cave, not out of genuine desire to create such a suit, but as a necessity to escape.

IRON MANOnce back in the states, Stark takes to his workshop where he works on perfecting his armored suit. The womanizing, sarcastic, don't care about the consequences version of Stark is being replaced by a man whose eyes have been opened to the atrocities that are being committed with the weapons that he helped devise. He has a desire to turn around and defend the innocents that have been endangered by his prior self. Of course, not everyone is happy to see this new Stark. At the top of the opposing list is Stark's second in command Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). This builds towards an explosive finale that introduces a new hero to the world born from the ashes of a seriously flawed man.

On the surface, this is just another superhero origin tale, the likes of which we have seen time and time again, with the main difference being the costumes used in the end. In the past few years we have had Batman, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, X-Men, Hulk, and others. They all have the same basic structure, but Iron Man successfully stands out from the pack in much the same way Batman Begins. One of the reasons for this is the creative team understanding the heart of the character and tailoring a screenplay to who the character is without dumbing it down for the mass audience.

Iron ManThe screenplay by the teams of Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (Children of Men) and Art Marcum & Dan Holloway understands what makes Stark tick. These two teams have crafted a screenplay that centers completely on the Stark character, laying the entire weight of the film on the shoulders of a single character. However, while it is a strong in the character department, it is also mature in its plot execution. There are the requisite action scenes, but the plot ties in nicely with current events as well as touches of corporate issues concerning his position as the head of Stark Industries. It is little touches like this that help the bigger picture feel more real.

This is easily the biggest film of Jon Favreau's career, and while his style is not flashy or even terribly distinctive, he does a fine of job of keeping it grounded in reality. Above everything else, Iron Man has fantastic pacing. This is not really an effects extravaganza that is filled with wall to wall action, no, the effects are definitely there and play an important role, but the emerge from the plot development, they are not there for the sake of being there. It is filled with plot and character, it is not always exciting, but the pacing keeps everything moving along at a brisk pace so that when the end is reached you do not realize that more than two hours have passed. I know I was left wanting more.

Iron ManWhat really makes this movie work, even more than the screenplay or the direction, is the cast. Specifically, the casting of Robert Downey Jr. is a thing of brilliance. I remember thinking his casting was a bit of an odd choice for a superhero, but he has proven to be one of the best superhero castings of all time. He perfectly captures the seriously flawed character of Tony Stark, making his conversion all the more believable. Watching Downey work here is something special, he takes everyone to the next level.

None of the other characters get quite the full rounded treatment that Stark gets, but they all fill their roles admirably. Terrence Howard does a fine job as Jim Rhodes, even though he is another actor I did not really see in the role. I look forward to the potential of him playing War Machine, alluded to within the film as Rhodes looks at an unfinished suit in Stark's workshop. Gwyneth Paltrow steps into the shoes of Stark's assistant, Pepper Potts, she does a fine job. She displays a sly understanding of how to deal with her overbearing boss, as well as some romantic interest. Paltrow and Downey display good chemistry on the screen, growing the tension, yet never becoming corny. Jeff Bridges rounds out the recognizable cast, playing the bald-headed Obadiah Stane. I like what he did here, although I think that he could have used a little more development, although this is a minor quibble.

Bottomline. I have a feeling that time will look down upon Iron Man favorably and it will be remembered as one of the top comic book hero adaptations. It comes out firing on all cylinders, telling a solid origin story as well as being a complete film unto itself. It features a good script, strong performances, and is just a lot of fun to sit through.

One last note, be sure to sit through the credits for a great post-credit cookie.

Highly Recommended.


Anonymous said...

Now here I can fully agree with you, this is a must see movie. Probably one of the best action flicks out right now, and one of the better Super Hero movies.

Post a Comment