Tuesday, May 27, 2008
He Said: IRON MAN
Iron Man rocks!
I refrain from using such otherwise immature, unprofessional terms like “rocks” in any of my writing. It just reflects badly on me as a writer. But in the case of this film, there is no other word to use. From its perfect, AC/DC-fueled opening frames to its juicy P.S. after the end credits roll, everything about Iron Man simply rocks. There is no better way to start the summer season, and though there may well be a few overall “better” films, there will probably not be any more knowingly witty, consistently funny, and sufficiently rollicking cinematic experiences in all of the 2008 Summer Movie Season.
The film is the latest comic in the Marvel vault to be adapted for the big screen, and it is one of the very best comic book adaptations to come from Marvel or any other name. It is the most joyous trip down superhero lane since Spiderman 2, a movie that so exceedingly surpasses audience expectations that the sneak preview crowd I viewed the film with was cheering and screaming from beginning to end. We are witnessing the beginning of the next big franchise.
The story is fairly simple, yet filled with typical origin-story minutiae: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is an incredibly intelligent but ridiculously arrogant weapons manufacturer and chauvinistic womanizer whose caddish charms have made him a celebrity, even though his only claims to fame are providing weapons that perpetuate foreign wars, and bedding every woman he sets his sights on. As the film begins, Stark is in Afghanistan to unveil his latest work of destruction, but his world changes when terrorists invade the ceremony, capturing Stark and holding him to build a new missile for their own sinister purposes. Instead, Stark builds an armored suit that helps him escape his captors. Upon returning to the U.S., he ceases weapons manufacturing and begins revamping his suit…Iron Man is born.
It is hard to produce a brilliant, hilarious, star-making performance in a big-budget superhero film, where the effects are supposed to take center stage. But Downey’s work in Iron Man is exactly that—this is a star re-making performance, one that completely and effortlessly centers the film on Downey’s charm and magnetism. He is reason alone to see this film, but he is joined by one of the best supporting casts a comic book adaptation has ever been graced with: Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s loyal assistant and witty love interest, Pepper Potts; Terrence Howard as Stark’s best friend, Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes; and Jeff Bridges, bearded and bald, looking brilliantly Marvel-ian as Obadiah Stane, second-in-command at Stark industries and eventual ubervillain. These actors, all of whom are generally known for more serious roles, sink their teeth into the giddy fun of playing these iconic characters, and in so doing refresh both our expectations of their acting talent, as well as our expectations of stereotypical popcorn movie casting.
Iron Man was directed by Jon Favreau, who started as a struggling actor, then broke through with his script for Swingers, and after making his directorial debut with Made, moved almost directly into making big movies. He made the delightful Elf, then the surprisingly effective Zathura, and now this. The common thread in all of Favreau’s films is the old-school willingness to leave all inhibitions at the door and just have fun. In Elf, the North Pole resembled the beautifully artificial worlds of the stop-motion versions of Frosty and Rudolph from the 60s. Zathura delicately toed the line between being identifiable for kids and being just a little too prickly, much like the children’s films of the 70s and 80s. And now, with Iron Man, Favreau makes a forceful, razor-sharp superhero film that nails every signature moment with heedless joy. Favreau has approached this material as a fan first—he understands exactly how to please the audience, and knocks every last stand-up-and-cheer moment right out of the park.
The filmmakers approach the material with such cheer that the same abandon that infuses the film’s best scenes with such joy also creates the film’s few missteps. Tony Stark is obviously supposed to be a charming cad, but Favreau and Co. adore him a little too much to make his ultimate ascendance from selfish prig to selfless hero as harsh and revelatory as it could be. I would have liked the film to go a little deeper and darker to fully mine the destructive nature of the pre-superhero Stark. Nonetheless, any film in America’s war-torn climate that tells the story of how an arrogant weapons manufacturer decides to dedicate his life to stopping the crimes he previously subsidized is laudable, whether the shift is sharp-edged or not.
So, quite a long-winded dissection of what would seem just your typical, bone-headed summer blockbuster. But there is a lot more going on in Iron Man than just blockbuster action…more to absorb, more to discuss, and more to love.
About halfway into Iron Man, I briefly snapped out of my concentration on the film. I stopped and took note of the fact that I, normally one whose brain is on hyperdrive even in the middle of a great film, was completely entranced in the world of the movie. It was in that moment that I realized what unadulterated fun it all was. “Wow,” I thought, “this is one hell of a great ride.”