Monday, May 05, 2008

Iron Man

There's been a long period of relative inactivity here at TMBC, partly due to sickness, partly due to school, and partly because.....nothing really notable has been out. But we're out of the horse latitudes at last, since the summer movie season began, and it does so in fine form with Iron Man, the best Marvel Comics movie made thus far, in my opinion.
Iron Man follows the story of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., in the most high profile role of this career thus far), a genuine prodigy, and head of Stark Industries, a company known mostly for its weapons manufacturing. The film begins in Afghanistan, where Stark is giving a demonstration of his company's deadly new missile. On the way back, the convoy is ambushed, and one of Stark's own weapons blows up in his face. When he comes to, he finds himself in the clutches of the "Ten Rings" terrorist organization, who demand that he build them a version of his new missile. Tony was badly injured in the explosion, and is being kept alive by a jury-rigged pacemaker/electromagnet powered by a car battery made by Stark's fellow captive Yinsen (an excellent Shaun Toub). Stark reflects on his life's work, and proceeds to build his new legacy, a suit of mechanized armor. Once back in America, he continues his moral re-evaluation, flirts with his assistant 'Pepper' Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and clashes with his war-mongering partner Obidiah Stane (an unrecognizable Jeff Bridges).
One thing I've been saying to people for a while is that I suspected this film would do for Robert Downey, Jr what the Pirates of the Caribbean films did for Johnny Depp, and I think the stellar opening weekend gross of Iron Man goes a long way towards proving me right....but he had it coming. As troubled visionary Tony Stark, Downey turns in the single best performance as a hero anybody has turned in since the new wave of comic book films began with the first X-Men film in 1998. He is the complete package, able to handle romance, action, suspense, and comedy with equal virtuosity. The comic beats, in particular, are wonderful and quick-paced without dipping into Jim Carrey-esque wackiness. Watching Downey in Iron Man crashing through walls and monologuing to his workshop droids, one can see why Richard Attenborough cast him as Charlie Chaplin. The other important thing Downey does in his performance is completely sell Stark's manic genius, which other actors have had varying levels of success playing similarly super-intelligent characters (looking at you, Ioan Gruffid.....thanks for screwing Reed Richards up so badly. Next time, do your damn character research.) Even though there are strong performances throughout the film, Downey basically carries it himself. Terence Howard turns in a strong yet quiet performance as Stark's pilot/friend/future War Machine James Rhodes, and Jeff Bridges gives a competent yet unremarkable rendering of the malevolent Obidiah Stane.
The beauty of Iron Man is how it has ground-level accessibility for those unfamiliar with the source material, remains faithful to said material, and manages to get in sly nods and foreshadows for those in the know. As far as the overall package, Iron Man is a hell of a summer film. It moves quickly despite it's two hour, ten minute running time, maintains energy even during talky bits, and rocks like crazy compared to many other stiff Marvel entries. It is artfully, yet appropriately shot by (future) cinematographic legend Matthew Libatique (Pi, Requiem For A Dream), and skillfully directed by Jon Favreau, building on the promise he showed with Elf. There are some sly nods to Robocop in there, for the observant. I consider Iron Man the strongest adaptation of a Marvel comic character yet, just barely edging out Spider-Man 2.
So, stop reading this, don't do that yet. MAKE SURE you stay past the credits to catch an extra scene featuring the appearance of a major player in the Marvel Universe (and a high-profile actor, for you non-Marvel Zombies out there), and portents of things to come. I give Iron Man a titanium-alloy clad 16 out of 22 on the 22 scale.

Memorable Quotes:

Tony Stark: "They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire. I prefer the weapon you only need to fire once. That's how dad did it, that's how America does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far."

James Rhodes (looking wistfully at a spare set of armor): "Next time, baby."

Tony Stark (testing flight capacity of the suit): "Day 11, Test 37, Configuration 2.0....(looks at droid)...For lack of a better option, Dummy is still on fire safety. (Points at droid) If you douse me again, and I am NOT on fire, I'm donating you to a city college."


Wicked Little Critta said...

I've heard good things about this so far...looking forward to seeing it.

In your opinion, how does this film compare to Batman Begins? I think that's my favorite comic book movie so far.

Your Racist Friend said...

Iron Man is excellent, but I don't think it's quite as deep or intense as Batman Begins, nor as artsy. It's brighter, funnier, and more....joyful, I guess, of a film. Tony Stark is a lighter hero than Batman, but he doesn't seem to have a problem with killing when lives are at stake.....he definitely doesn't have Batman's rigid code against killing. Both films take the boring origin story and do good stuff with it. I think Iron Man is the closest thing that Marvel has done, thus far, to Batman Begins. I'm hoping that this December's Punisher: War Zone surprises a lot of people....that might end up being the closest thing in tone to Batman Begins/The Dark Knight (well, it'll be a lot darker, obviously), which is ironic because
Marvel heroes, and the universe they inhabit is a hell of a lot darker than DC.

BTW, has anybody seen those Two-Face concept photos floating around the net? I don't know if they're legitimate or not, but if they