Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Review: "Iron Man"

Iron Man
Starring: Rober Downey, Jr., Terence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Released by: Marvel Studios
Theatrical Release Date: 5/2/2008
Run Time: 126 min.
Rating: PG-13

It is truly a golden age for geeks right now.

Thanks mainly to the unreal successes of the Spider-Man, X-Men and Lord of the Rings film franchises, all the cool stuff I loved growing up and have rediscovered in my adult years has become mainstream Americana, loved by critics and public alike. It’s now just par for the course that the summer movie season would kick off with the screen adaptation of a B-plus-list superhero adventure.

But it’s not par for the course for me, not this time. Because this time it’s Iron Man, my favorite hero and my favorite fictional character of all time.

Of course, for every Spider-Man 2 there's a Punisher, for every Batman Begins there's an Elektra, for every X-Men 2 there's an X-Men 3. So I tend to go into these things with extremely low expectations; I assumed Transformers was going to be a glorious train wreck and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the screenplay, the acting, and the storytelling.

But for Iron Man, I can't help myself. Tony Stark is, in my opinion, the most complex and interesting character in all of mainstream comics (only Batman is comparable), and the material is far more big-screen-friendly than even Spider-Man or X-Men. The last time I was this excited about a movie was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s not just that I really wanted Fellowship to be good, it’s that I knew it could and should be far beyond just "good." With source material and a director of this quality, it should be one of the great films of all time.

Just as with all three LotR films, Iron Man has met my high expectations and hopes and surpassed them. This isn't just a great superhero movie, the best since Spider-Man 2, it's just a great movie by any measure, with masterful acting, a fantastic screenplay, great twists and turns, and a plenty of BTUs (units of Blowing Things Up).

As with Spider-Man's Tobey Maguire, Iron Man is powered by its lead actor, Robert Downey, Jr. Downey surprised me in his portrayal of billionaire genius industrialist Tony Stark; I have always envisioned him as a more hard-edged, intense and direct individual than Downey and director Jon Favreau portray. It's a good thing they made this movie and not me. Downey's Stark is so brilliant he can be casual and sarcastic about it, which not only sets his moments of intensity in great contrast but makes for perhaps the funniest superhero we've yet seen. All of Stark's facets are on display in Downey's performance: his intelligence, his capriciousness, his addictive and obsessive nature, his reckless need for speed, and all of his self-loathing.

And Downey's might not even be the best performance of the bunch. When your supporting cast--for a superhero movie, mind you--involves Oscar nominees and winners like Jeff Bridges, Terence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow, you know this is a special project. Bridges stands out in particular; the film's portrayal of Obadiah Stane is not at all what I was expecting, and I barely recognized the bald, bearded Bridges in the part. Howard and Paltrow simply refuse to allow their characters to vanish into the background, and both cast Stark in sharp relief where he would be much less clear alone. It's great news that these actors have apparently signed on for the sequel, and I'm hoping to see other memorable Stark Industries employees like Bambi Arbogast, Abe Zimmer, and Marcy Pearson show up, as well.

There are great shout-outs to Iron Man fanboys like myself: the Ten Rings, Happy Hogan (played by Favreau, who I hope will make a longer appearance in IM2), Tony's Pacific mansion looking like his late-80s comic book digs (from the era when I was first reading the book), and a Stark-against-the-man vibe reminiscent of the seminal Armor Wars storyline of the same time period. Like the great tiny details in the other successful fanboy franchises we've seen succeed, these tell the discriminating geek audience member, "Yes, I love this as much as you do. If I cut something you love, I loved it too, and it hurt me too. trust me, your favorite hero is safe in my hands."

Iron Man also manages the difficult task of making social commentary without being preachy or coming down hard on one side of the political spectrum. Favreau wisely recognizes that we can pretty much all get behind the ideas that collateral damage, double-dealing, and war profiteering are bad things, and Stark's conversion from soulless arms dealer to defender of innocents is portrayed as a deeply personal one, not a political one.

Last week on Doctor Who, David Tennant's Doctor said something that has stuck with me ever since: "Not easy, is it? Being clever. You look at the world and you connect things, random things, and think, 'Why can’t anyone else see it?' The rest of the world is so slow. You’re on your own." In Downey and Favreau's Tony Stark, we see a man with vision so clear and intense that it hurts him; he has to dull it with alcohol, feed it with sexual and expensive thrills, and finally assuage it with actions so big they can only be described as superheroic. Like Batman, Iron Man is chased by personal demons he can never completely escape, but he can't live without perpetually striving against them. Iron Man is a lot more fun to come along for the ride with than Batman, though.

Do NOT leave the theater until after the closing credits. Best. Bonus scene. Ever.

EDIT: Saw it again last night. Still awesome. I'll see it another time or two before it's gone.

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  • At 5/03/2008 2:46 PM , Blogger Mr. Grant Mudge said...

    Even the review doesn't disappoint! Well done, Hamm. Can't wait to see it. -Mudge

  • At 5/03/2008 8:45 PM , Anonymous Phil Hamm said...

    Your gushing sounds like me describing "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" which I rented last weekend.

  • At 5/03/2008 10:37 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Freaking loved it. Thought of you the whole time. Knew you'd dig it, too.

    You should record the old Iron Man theme from the 60's cartoon some day...

  • At 5/09/2008 10:44 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Going this afternoon to see it! Heard the same thing about the closing credits, so I'll hang around to check that out, thanks Whamm!

  • At 5/09/2008 12:41 PM , Anonymous George Bailey said...

    Merry Christmas you beautiful old Building ang Loan!

    Merry Christmas Mister Potter!!!

    Happy New Year To You - In Jail!

  • At 5/09/2008 1:01 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    George Bailey lassoos stork!

    How would you like to--

    You once called me a warped, frustrated old man. What are you but a warped, frustrated young man?

  • At 5/09/2008 1:02 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    (Going to see Iron Man again tonight, by the way.)

  • At 5/12/2008 12:40 PM , Anonymous Phil hamm said...


  • At 5/12/2008 8:43 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    I'm not sure how this thread got off on a George Bailey/Wonderful Life tangent, but I enjoyed it anyway!

    Okay...from a DC guy (Batman-Superman), not a Marvel guy, I have to say in all honesty that Iron Man is probably the best superhero movie I've ever seen overall. The script and dialogue, the acting top to bottom (much as I loathe and detest Gwyneth Paltrow and her pseudo-British left wing antics, I must say she was pretty yummy in this in addition to turning in a fine performance.) Of course, Robert Downey Jr. is probably better suited to this role than ANYONE was suited to a superhero role, with the possible exception of Christopher Reeve as Superman (don't bother comparing characters and acting in this sense, it's impossible). And, I must say - Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman is pretty damn hard to beat.

    The movie just starts out mind-blowing impressive and never lets go of your short and curlies. It's balls to the walls from start to finish and it outstrips the hype by a wide margin. When does THAT ever happen?

    Yeah. I'm going AGAIN!

  • At 5/13/2008 8:25 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Let me know when you want to go and I'll join you for a third helping.

    I did notice a couple rough editing problems the second time: 1) the "flying" scene goes from day to night in an instant, and 2) I'm not sure how Pepper escapes the big explosion.

    But still. Awesome.

  • At 5/20/2008 1:58 PM , Blogger Dave T said...

    Maybe you Ironman devotees can answer me something that befuddles me: so Tony gets shrapnel near his heart and so he needs a magnet in his chest to keep it from flowing to his heart and killing him. There's some explanation of how people like him are called the "walking dead" (or something). However, later, when he is switching out the magnet and requires Gwinith's help, he reacts as if simply removing the magnet will lead to his death. Is the assumption then that the shrapnel's progress is such that any lessening of the magnetic pull will allow it to enter the chambers of his heart and kill him? Since he seems to be on the verge of cardiac arrest when the magnet is pulled, does restoring the magnet actually pull the shrapnel back out of his heart?

    Don't mean to be a stickler but, given how prominent Ironman's glowing blue chest is, it's a detail that seems to beg to be explained.

    Besides that, loved the movie. Downey, Jr. was fabtastic and enjoyed all of the supporting players. Looking forward to a sequel.

  • At 5/21/2008 7:56 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Man - Dave, I'm gonna have to defer to Andrew as resident Ironman expert on the magnetic chest device doo-hinkey. Like I've said before...DC geek, not a Marvel geek here. But, yeah...that was a problem with the flick, and of course when bad ol' Jeff Bridges (ironically, the Starman from a prior film) pulls out his "new" chest device, you KNOW Stark is going to go get the "antique" that Pepper gave him as a gift. Right? But - details, details! It was still freakin' awesome!

    Soon - The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger's incredible final role as a wholly unique (but true to the spirit of the character) Joker to Christian Bale's Batman. What a great summer!


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