I was lucky enough to find myself in a packed theater catching an elusive early glimpse of one of the summer’s most anticipated films: Iron Man. A few early reviews have been popping up on the internet, mostly offering lavish praise and orgasmic like reactions to director Jon Favreau’s interpretation of Marvel’s premier Shellhead. Are they warranted? Well, yes and no. Yes in that the movie is very good. No in that some reviews seem to elevate this movie to the second coming of Jesus Christ. I will grant that is indeed the second coming of Robert Downey Jr., who does a fantastic job. The movie itself is also terrific. I went in expecting a great movie, which can often be the death knell for a film when it comes to hype. I was satisfied, which says a lot coming from me.
It’s no secret what goes on during Iron Man. Smart alecky weapons designer and industrialist Tony Stark peddles the finest in destructive technology but is blind to the human cost of making killing machines easily accessible. Circumstances involving explosions and bullets soon put Stark on the opposite side of the rifle, serving as his wake up call. Without giving away too much, of course, Stark decides to put his genius and his flair for destruction to work on improving the world.
There is a lot riding on this film for Marvel. This is their first venture into really producing a movie, rather than just licensing it, and it paid off. You get a feel that many of the people behind this film really knew about the character and how to stay true to the stories, while still allowing the story to move into the modern era. Comic fans can take solace that Stark is every bit the womanizing, hard drinking, ass that we know him to be from some of his more recent incarnations in the book. Direction wise, the film is pretty well balanced. There aren’t too many gimmick shots, and when they happen they’re not out of place. The film balances bits of humor and humanity very well. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, many of them involving Stark in pain or some surprisingly hilarious robots. No, not like dancing Jarvis robots or anything ridiculous, but robots. When switching from a punch line to an emotional moment, Iron Man transitions smoothly and effortlessly. Once the message has been communicated, no worries, its time for an explosion or two. Hell yeah.
Much has been made of Robert Downey Jr.’s performance already, and its well deserved. Right off the bat we’re given a few doses of the Stark smarm and it totally vibes with the character; plus the audience loved it. Downey’s Stark has a fairly normal character arc, but the ride is fun and believable. There is no point where the playboy hotshot suddenly morphs into the most compassionate person in the world. Instead, Downey gives us a Stark that undergoes a realistic change of attitude without a change of character. He ends just as likable and entertaining as he begins. Downey also gets to deliver all of the best lines in the film with a razors edge so sharp it cuts right to the heart of each comedic interaction. Really a bit of gold coming out of Stark’s mouth on more than one occasion. But if the question where posed, who has the best performance in the film, well, I’d probably have to think about it a moment. Jeff Bridges is a scene stealer. His portrayal of the two-faced Obediah Stane is note perfect. It’s a toss-up between him and Downey as to who nailed their character better. Bridges’ Stane gets the always entertaining role of being able to play the charmer, the confidant, and the snake all in the same flick. And just for kicks, he gets to strap on his own set of armor and stomp around town.
Rounding out the principle cast are Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow. Howard’s turn as James Rhodes (the future War Machine) is welcome, but not outstanding. His character lacks the presence that Rhodes had in the comics and he is certainly less than intimidating. Paltrow, on the other hand, is given less to do than the others, but really comes into her element. She plays Pepper Potts with the same kind of attention given to a more serious dramatic romance, which is almost out of place in a summer blockbuster. But it works. Her chemistry and interaction with Downey are borderline mesmerizing. Yes, there is a touch of romance here but it feels natural and unobtrusive.
Iron Man is a badass. No doubt about it. He would bash Robocop any day of the week and probably even give any number of Transformers a run for their money. Seeing the “Mark 1” version come stomping out of a cave was a cinematic experience. The design both made sense and hearkened back to the original buckethead version of Iron Man. Though I have a feeling the original Iron Man whipped less terrorist ass. But the real payoff comes in the Mark 2 armor, obviously. With or without paint, the updated armor has a serious bad ass quality to it. It has the sleekness of a fighter jet combined with the menace of a terminator. A really great design. And all he had to do was throw some hot rod red in there. The Mark 2 also has a lot of sweet weaponry added, some of which was shown in the trailers, some which is known to comic fans, and one awesome surprise weapon that got a good rise out of the audience. Nice.
War Monger makes a good villain. Sort of a Mark 1 suit on steroids, its the classic battle of power verse agility and strength verse determination. Of course, since War Monger is the bad guy he does get some pretty heavy artillery that made me wish the climax lasted long enough for him to shoot it all off.
As for the technical aspects of all this CGI armor, it looks great. The special effects overall are good. There was one instance that looked kind of off to me and a few areas that just looked a touch “too CGI” but the armor and the F-22s all look fantastic. It was awesome to see ol’ Shellhead dance with top of the line aircraft.
Without spoiling anything, there are a lot of nods to the comic books at various points. From famous fictional government agencies to shimmers of characters lined up for the sequel it’s a great joy to watch it all come together. Of course, Stan ‘The Man’ Lee gets a funny cameo, perhaps his best yet in any Marvel movie. Keep an eye out during the end credits for a version of the Mark 2 armor with an attached cannon that looks very much like War Machine!
Odds & Ends
Sound track – awesome. There are a few good songs in here that definitely set the mood. The bookend pieces are especially rocking. We of course get Ozzy’s Iron Man but for those who really like to rock, salute some AC/DC.
Possible Sequel? – At my screening I had the chance to hear from a few people at Paramount and the basic idea is that barring any sort of monumental flop, a sequel is almost assuredly going to happen. There are hints about whats to come scattered through the movie, but straight from the studios mouth is if it performs, more are on the way.
Production Time – Also overheard was the production time on Iron Man. Over two years from start to finish, with many different hiccups along the way. But everyone seemed very proud of the final product, with good reason.
Summer Blockbuster – Is this the best movie of the summer? Iron Man will of course face some really stiff competition from The Dark Knight and Indiana Jones, but the opening volley of the summer movie rush is a strong one. I’d say that in terms of comparing it to other comic movies, its on par with Batman Begins, though a bit more light hearted and entertaining; which makes sense considering the differing characters. One thing is for sure – it blows garbage like Spider-Man 3 out of the water with a well placed repulsor blast.
May Be Spoilerish
There were a couple of things I really loved in this movie, and I’ll try not to be specific, but give you a general idea of whats ahead and after you see the film, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Tony Stark vs Reporter Christine Everhart. Detailed somewhat in the trailer, Downey gets to deliver some of his best lines here.
Rock & Roll Opening. Right off the bat we get some good tunes and some hilarious Robert Downey Jr.
Iron Fist. Anytime Iron Man punches anything, it looks and sounds awesome.
Attitude. In the trailer, we witness Iron Man blowing up a tank. His whole demeanor during this battle scene is awesome.
Street Fighter. Some of the moves are so awesome its like they’re right out of a video game street brawler. Flying Punches are the future of warfare.
End Credits. They just look really awesome. They almost feel like a James Bond intro they’re so stylish and well done. Really enjoyed that, a great way to part with the film.
While it may not be perfect and it may not be the best film of the summer, Iron Man doesn’t disappoint. If there is a flaw, it’s that it ends much too soon. I really loved seeing shellhead toss terrorists around and listening to Stark egotistically talk his way through just about anything. Iron Man is a really well put together package from any angle and is definitely on the list of required viewing for this summer. Hell, I’ll probably go see it again. And who knows, it just may well end up being the best of the summer.