Review: "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.
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.