IRON MAN REVIEW
For the last couple years, it seemed as if the “golden age” of superhero movies was coming to a sad end, with the exception of Christopher Nolanīs highly-anticipated return to the directorīs chair of a Batman movie with The Dark Knight. Even though I didnīt think either X3, Superman Returns or Spider-Man 3 were the train wrecks some fans make them out to be, without a doubt they polarized the fanbase. FF: ROTS was much better than the first, but still not enough to be good. Ghost Rider, letīs face it, was a C-list movie based on a C-list character.
And, of all characters, itīs Iron man the first to bring things back to the right track. A character who many fans consider B-list, whoīs not a superhero the mainstream cultureīs aware of, like Spidey or Bats. But director Jon Favreau pulls it off simply with well-done filmmaking, telling a good story that makes the most of the potential of the franchise. You can clearly see a strong influence of Batman Begins or Singerīs X-Men movies in Favreauīs very real world, no-nonsense approach to this comic book universe. He doesnīt even shy away from touching some gray areas of militarism and war without becoming too preachy or pseudo-intellectual.
But Favreauīs true stroke of genius, as has been stated again and again, was the apparently risky casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. An no, it wasnīt morbid curiosity towards RDJīs well-known real-life similarities to Stark that made it work for me, but simply a performance that adds many layers to a character thatīs tough to make sympathetic and relatable. RDJ gives cockiness, charm, warmth, a quick-witted sense of humor and even a somewhat childlike enthusiasm to Stark. The whole point of the movie is the characterīs figurative, and literal, change of heart, and two of my favorite scenes in the movie deal directly with the question, one with Pepper replacing the chest piece that protects his heart from shrapnels, the other a confrontation with the villain.
As for the rest of the cast, Jeff Bridges is charismatic and gleefully perverse as Obediah, Starkīs deceitful partner turned supervillain as Iron Monger. I was never a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, but Pepper definitely has a more active role in the movie than most superhero girlfriends, and itīs a good change of pace to have this role played by someone whoīs believable as an adult professional woman, instead of the cover of Teen Magazine... The one that didnīt leave much of an impression for me was Terrence Howard, but his role in this is pretty small – heīll have a much bigger chance to shine in the future as War Machine, as a scene suggests.
Some people think origin stories are a drag, that they should cut faster to the fights in tights, but for many of us theyīre some of the best parts of these movies. Thereīs a great mix of fear and exhilaration as you discover to be capable of doing something no one else can. Itīs like finding out you can play guitar like Jimi Hendrix or play basketball like Michael Jordan. The trial-and-error of figuring it out opens a door for a lot of humor and fun, and RDJ has some very entertaining moments as he develops the suit. Itīs especially cool when he first gets to fly, a scene done mostly with wires that really makes you feel like you could be up there with him, instead of fancy CGI stuff. Thereīs plenty of humor in IM and itīs not “dark”, but itīs never dumb or desperately hammered into every frame the way a Michael Bay or a Stephen Sommers does. No, I have nothing against fun, I just donīt need to be treated like I have an IQ of 75 or less or ADD for that sake. The movie finds the right balance between serious and fun mostly, but the action stuff lacked a bit for me. As a moviegoer I was always engaged, but as a comics geek Iīd have liked to see more of IM in the gold and red suit kicking ass, but again, there will be plenty of room for that in a sequel.
One personal gripe with the political aspect of the movie was Shellheadīs intervention in Afghanistan. I know Batman fights street thugs all the time, IM was doing the right thing and correcting a problem his own company created, but still itīs kind of a delicate “break of the fantasy” situation, an American superhero interfering in a very real-looking conflict in a foreign country, which raises quite a few questions, to say the least…
Iron Man may not be one of the genres masterpieces. But it can be said that, in many ways, Favreau did for Shellhead what Singer did for X-Men, Raimi for Spidey or Nolan for Batman. He successfully translated the comic book lore into an interesting and exciting live-action summer film without dumbing it down or losing sight of what made the lore interesting to begin with. I was never a big fan of Iron Man and now I canīt wait for a bigger and better sequel, and I feel pretty confident thereīs going to be one. If The Dark Knight is as awesome as it looks and The Incredible Hulk gets it right this time, this could be the best year ever for superhero movies.
GRADE: 8 OUT OF 10
(an edited version of this review may show up on www.batman-on-film.com