Something Completely Different: Iron Man (Spoiler Free)

Genre: Sci-Fi Action Adventure

Rated: PG-13

Conceit: The Man In The Iron Mask

Disclaimer: I am a large comic book fan.  Have always been.  This makes me more inclined to see a comic book movie.  It makes me more inclined to appreciate the nuances that others may miss.  And it makes me more inclined to be critical of a comic book movie.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark.  Absolutely.  The way that Patrick Stewart is Professor X (and hopefully Heath Ledger will be Joker), Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark.  He absolutely makes this movie.  Downey captures every nuance that makes the comic book Stark such a compelling character and he is a pleasure to watch.  The movie makes sure it conveys two important characteristics of Stark: his quick witted sarcasm and his genius.  A lesser movie would sacrifice one for the other, but Iron Man manages to show both sides perfectly.  A genius playboy and CEO of Stark Industries, Tony owns the weapons company he inherited from his father and co-runs with Obadiah Stane.  While demonstrating a new weapons system in Afghanistan, Stark is kidnapped by terrorists.  (Side Note: I’m pretty sure in years to come, we’ll view the current usage of Middle-Eastern Terrorists as the all-purpose enemy the same way we view 80’s movies always casting the good guys against communism)  Needless to say this opens Stark’s eyes to what his weapons really do.  This is an aspect that the movie gets completely right.  Downey plays Stark’s fears and regrets perfectly.  We really believe he rides the iron because he wants to make up for what he’s put out there.  And the evolution fromt Tony Stark to Iron Man feels organic.  Its not that he puts on the armor and kicks butt.  There are several violent (and comedic) crashes before (and during) the butt kicking.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane is a mixed bag.  Bridges himself is excellent.  He captures Stane perfectly and is a pleasure to watch.  The problem is with Stane himself.  The character is such a cliche and follows such a cliched path that it really does detract from the movie itself.  All of Bridges acting ability cannot save a character who follows such a predictable path from beginning to end.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns from movie exile to play Stark’s doting secretary, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, the quintessential “stand by your man” type.  Paltrow is fine as Potts.  That’s all I can really say.  This role ends up being very similar to Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes character in Batman Begins (although Potts exists in comic book continuity, whereas Dawes does not).  She brings what she can to a character that really doesn’t do much in the movie.  Sure Potts runs from here to there, and we know there’s a spark between her and Stark, but there’s really nothing there to praise or criticize.  Potts’ character seems all the more one dimensional when stacked up next to Downey’s multi-faceted portrayal Stark.  Hopefully Paltrow will get a meatier rule when Iron Man 2 (already announced for Summer 2010), before she’s un-ceremonially canned ala Holmes.

Terrence Howard also pops in as James Rhodes, military liaison to Stark Enterprises and Tony’s friend.  Howard does a good job of playing an old friend and advisor in Tony’s life, but like Pepper Potts, there isn’t much there.  Methinks that Howard agreed to this role because of what happens to Rhodes in the comic books, something that the movie alludes to for a moment.

Jon Favreau knows comic books and it shows.  He was able to take the source material and make it accessible.  He also managed to effectively walk the tight rope of making the movie accessible to the general audience while staying in the source material enough to appease the comic shop heads (well, as much as they’re ever appeased).  Favreau also Hitchcock’s himself a cameo.  The clever part of this, and what shows Favreau loves the source material, is that he puts himself in a role that is more important to the Iron Man legacy than this movie would have you believe.

Marvel Studios should be proud.  Their first independently produced comic book movie easily sits amongst the top comic book movies made.  Though it slows down for necessary exposition in the middle after taking off at rocket speed, the pacing of the movie is perfect for a summer popcorn flick.  They made Iron Man a compelling character and even planted seeds for their broader vision. (Hint: Stick around after the credits roll)  

Final Grade: A-


One Response

  1. Iron Man was a practically flawless hero flick; its makers drop some pretty obvious sequel hints too… i’m thinking the next one should be equally great

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