Friday, March 12, 2010

Archive: 'Iron Man'

Movie Review
Iron Man (2008)

The unusual thing about "Iron Man" is how it doesn't feel like the traditional superhero movie. Many superhero movies split themselves between a story about a regular guy who is endowed with spectacular powers and the special effect sequences that have little to do with this so-called regular guy we've been watching. The success of this movie is in its ability to blur the line between these two halves and create one fully integrated experience following a sole organically driven hero. It's not necessarily the story being told but just exactly how the story is presented. There's some class to "Iron Man," and it's definitely a great way to kick off the summer movie season that dares the competition to step up.

The choice of giving the role of the man in the metal suit to Robert Downey Jr. is truly inspired as he redefines what it takes to be a superhero. As the boozing, high-class weapons manufacturer Tony Stark, he carries a mocking and arrogant charm that's magnetic. He commands the screen with his manic energy and pumps enough juice into Stark to make him a fully charismatic presence. His performance alone is what fuels the movie in it's rather slow beginning. Throughout the course of everything he goes through, Stark makes a psychological journey from being an ignorant and carefree businessman to an aware and concerned individual whose eyes have been opened to the truth. This transformation comes along completely naturally thanks to Downey Jr., and he pulls it off with his signature attitude and biting sense of humor.

Instead of lengthy exposition, the story plunges us into a surprisingly relatable real world where we find Tony Stark in Afghanistan enjoying a scotch sitting in the back of an armored American military vehicle. After just having introduced a new missile called the Jericho, Stark gets attacked by one of his own bombs and gets dragged to a vile insurgent's cave. He's implanted with an electromagnetic device that keeps shrapnel from entering his heart, and it is also what eventually fuels his metal suit. With the help of a doctor (Shaun Toub) who saves his life, Stark outsmarts his captors by constructing the first very crude version of his metal suit rather than building the missile that is demanded of him. He bursts out in armor shooting flames out of his metal hands and then flies away to escape.

Back in America, Stark is a changed man announcing that he wants to get out of the weapon manufacturing business. In the basement of his massive hillside mansion, he begins construction on the new and improved version of his original armored suit. He tosses in some hotrod red for good taste and finally completes the suit we've come to recognize. His personal mission is to destroy all of his own weapons he once created for good but now have gotten into the wrong hands. There are some humorous testing sequences in the laboratory as we watch Stark's first attempts at flying. When he does finally take off for good, though, you can feel the powerful smoky thrust of his engines.

The casting is top notch. Terrence Howard plays Rhodney, an Air Force officer who's always weary of Stark. Gwenyth Paltrow gives her character Pepper Potts, Stark's super reliable assistant, an added twinkle with acting that's in perfect good humor. There's a clever love scene of sorts between Pepper and Stark when she helps him with an ooey-gooey procedure involving his glowing heart device. Then there's Stark's partner and mentor Obadiah Stane who's played with devious excellence by a bald and bearded Jeff Bridges. He exudes an exuberance that is the perfect match for Downey Jr., and what's even better is the numerous twists and turns involving the villain. The villain's path is refreshingly nonlinear and unpredictable.

Director Jon Favreau ("Elf") doesn't have a big background with sci-fi flicks, but he does an admirable job here of staying true to the rules of the superhero genre while improvising enough to keep things interesting. The writing by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby ("Children of Men") is polished work as the majority of the movie focuses on developing the characters. There are some stunning CGI sequences, but they are in tasteful scarcity. Whether it's watching the glowing red suit zipping around clear skies or watching the climactic brawl between two robotic creations, they are both something special. Instead of the mind-numbing amount of constant carnage in "Transformers," the action sequences here are something to savor.

"Iron Man" proves that it's possible to release yet another Hollywood big budget (this one cost $265 million to make) movie of this genre and still have it feel fresh and alive with excitement. It reminded me of "Batman Begins" in the way both retool a hero we all know, stripping away the legend and rebuilding it from scratch for a new audience. With "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Dark Knight" right on its tail, "Iron Man" had to make such a statement as the first of the bunch. And without giving too much away, be sure to stay for the credits for a very special appearance. This little bonus not only promises a sequel but guarantees that it's going to be something worth waiting for.

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