Saturday, May 3, 2008

Review - IRON MAN

Well, after a lengthy absence, I've finally resurfaced to offer my thoughts on the latest Hollywood has to offer. For those who're interested, care, or for the uninitiated, I've been off trying to balance finding a way to make money and developing my first feature film. That's coming okay, and I'm gaining more and more confidence in myself as the weeks progress.

But that's not why you came here, and that's for another blog on another page. Now, on to Iron Man.

I'd been following this film since it was first announced. Me, being an out and confirmed comics geek (who's never bought a comic, mind you, save for a few graphic novels, but has vast comic knowledge beyond that of mere mortals), I was excited to see what Marvel, in their first self-financed feature, would do with a character that is definitely top tier as far as storytelling potential, but doesn't have the overall notoriety of Spider-Man, Hulk, or even Captain America. Once I heard Jon Favreau was not only directing, but a fan of the material, I was stoked. I firmly believe that the best superhero films come from directors who are fans of the characters. They seem to care more and put more into the movies. Then came the first promo shot of the Iron Man armor. I was in geek heaven. "At least they cared enough to make Iron Man look like Iron Man," was my thought. "Maybe they'll hit this out of the park. For God's sake, I hope they do."

Well, true believers, THEY DID. Iron Man is everything a comics fan, an action fan, or just a fan of plain ol' good storytelling could want in a summer flick. Funny, well paced and exciting, Favreau (my new favorite director of the moment) delivers the goods in heaps. The film's got the action that the X-Men films lacked, the humor that Hulk was sorely missing, and the character development sans pulpy over-sentimentalism that over took the Spider-Man trilogy. My previous favorite superhero film was a practical dead heat between X2 and Batman Begins. I think I now have a new 1. It's that damn good (BTW, you might want to stay until the end of the credits for an additional scene featuring a VERY SPECIAL CAMEO. If you don't understand the implications of what's said in this short bit, ask somebody who does. Trust me, it's HUGE).

Let's talk acting. There's not a single weak performance in the film. I had always respected Robert Downey Jr.'s ability, but I couldn't say he was one of my favorite actors. His whole history with drug addiction was a big turn-off for me. But Hera help us, the man is Tony Stark. The quick wit, arrogant swagger, womanizing ways and the ever-present alcoholic drink are all there, as it should be. But also there is Stark's deep-down goodness. I was wondering how Stark's transformation from smug weapons designer and entrepreneur to savior of lives would be handled in the film, but Downey makes you feel every beat, every thought as a man who's had his "eyes opened" to his legacy of dealing death masqueraded as defense. When Stark makes the decision to stand against those using the weapons he designed for purposes he never did, you just know some major ass is about to be kicked. Between this, and the previews for Tropic Thunder, featuring Downey playing an actor so into his role as a Black man he undergoes medical treatments to actually become one, this man's firmly entrenched himself on my favorite actors list.

But a hero is only as good as his villain. Enter Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark's business partner, who's none too interested in Stark's desire to get out of the weapons game. I've never thought of Bridges as a badass, but that's changed after this film. I loved his character, from the slimy backroom dealing to his imposing appearance, the man just exuded power. If Lex Luthor in the Superman movies was more like "Obi" Stane, maybe those movies would be better. Yeah, I said it.

I'll admit, I wasn't in love with Terrance Howard's first scene as James Rhodes, Stark's good friend and a future hero in his own right. I got a sense of softness from him, which I attribute to his voice. It's just not very heavy or possessing of authority, which his character wields. But as the movie went on, he really settled in, and that amazing acting ability I've seen time and time again came through. He made the most of his scenes and is a great foil to Stark, and his offhand comment to a certain unmanned suit of armor in Stark's lab reeks of promise for the inevitable sequel(s).

And finally, Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's long-suffering personal assistant, Pepper Potts. I was SO glad to finally have a female character in one of these films, a non-hero, who didn't annoy the stuffing out of me. No, dear reader, there's no Rachel Dawes type of chicanery here. Pepper is strong, smart, and capable of holding her own in a match of wits, even with her boss Stark. Without her around, he wouldn't even remember his own Social Security number. Literally. And she's more than just a supremely-organized multi-tasker; without her help (directly or indirectly) in at least three key moments of the film, Stark would not be the last armored man standing.

The visuals are amazing, the action on point, the humor spot on - Iron Man is an all-around fun time at the theater. And, in the tradition of fellow Marvel offerings X-Men and Spider-Man, Iron Man leaves hints to where it can go in future installments, including subtle hints at the existence of Stark's arch nemesis, The Mandarin. The highest compliment I can pay the film is that it doesn't feel as long as its 2 hour, 6 minute running time. When the climax was upon us, I was like "Already? No! I want more!"

If the $60,429,393 one-day worldwide gross is any indicator, it won't be long before I get it.