The summer movie season is upon us again, and unless you count Harold and Kumar (and let’s be honest, who does), Iron Man will be the first summer blockbuster of the year. It seems like every time May rolls around we’re inundated with adaptations of books, comics, video games, remakes, and all other kinds of mindless cash-cow ideas thought up by some studio executive. So far this century has been very big on the comic book adaptations, giving us 3 Spiderman movies, 3 X-Men movies, 2 Fantastic Four movies, a Punisher movie, and soon to be 2 Hulk and Batman movies.
But the big one coming out this weekend is of course, Iron Man. Even from the get go, this movie seems to be a bit different from it’s predecessors. From the cast to the director to the special effects team, Iron Man is overflowing with talent. So will this movie equal the sum of its parts? Or will we have another neutered franchise to wash out the name of a classic comic book superhero? Click the Read More link to check out my full, in-depth, SPOILER FREE review of Iron Man.
First, let me preface this review with my own bias. I grew up on comic books. I was a big Marvel fan when I was younger and started reading comics again a few years back, so the subject of comic book movie adaptations is very close to my heart. I have hotly anticipated past Marvel outings like Spiderman and X-Men, both of which disappointed me. I know, I know, a lot of you love those movies, and don’t get me wrong, the first one or two in the trilogies aren’t that bad. In fact, they’re kind of enjoyable, but they didn’t wow me, they didn’t give me that child-like excitement the comics always have, and the plots, characters, production design, and casting was all cut off from the knees. They’re not great movies. They made all the safe choices, making sure they didn’t get too creative or risky, just to ensure a large box office return. That, as I see it, is the inherent problem of adapting comic book characters and story arcs to films. Comics have always taken chances, challenged their readers, and done things mainstream story-telling media would never do. When you attempt to adapt that into a world that is solely based on the bottom line, you often lose the originality and whimsy of the source material.
And then there was Iron Man.
I got to see this film at a press screening on Tuesday. After waiting in line for 2 hours and the movie starting a half hour later because too many people snuck into the theater, the ride began. First of all, the movie begins with a cold open that not only is funny, enjoyable, and brilliantly executed, but it’s incredibly ballsy. If you saw the moments of this film that play out before the title screen, you would have no idea this was a superhero movie. It’s casual, real, entertaining, and finally dark and almost upsetting. These few bits of conversation and set up ground the film, and from the very start put you in the headspace that this is taking place right now in your world. Plus, you fall in love with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark within seconds.
One of the major achievements of this film is the comedy. Most action/hero movies have jokes worked into the story to lighten the mood a bit in between the action sequences. You can usually set your watch to exactly how often and when they’ll appear in the script. Iron Man doesn’t do that at all. You will be laughing pretty much non-stop through out the entire movie and you’ll hardly realize it. The laugh lines come quickly and organically, feeling just like they were a part of the conversations you’ve been privy to. Never does a laugh feel forced or misplaced, it just so happens that Tony Stark is a pretty funny guy.
Now, of course if you’re talking about a big budget, summer blockbuster action movie there’s going to be a ton of special effects, and Iron Man is no exception. What will really blow your mind is how good they look. Director John Favereau paid very close attention to the visual effects of the film, combining practical and digital technologies. His single goal was to use both to create a seamless transition from real people on real sets to full on CGI sequences. Combined with the fact that the practical effects were done by the great Stan Winston, Industrial Light and Magic did the digital effects, and the film was lensed by Matthew Libatique, the Director of Photography from Everything is Illuminated, Inside Man, and The Fountain, you have one of the best looking movies to date. There is never a moment in the film where you’ll look up and think “That looks fake.”
Another place where Iron Man shines is in the depth of the characters. Tony Stark is played perfectly by Robert Downey Jr. In fact, one could argue that he has actually improved the character of Tony Stark from the original comics. I, personally, never read any Iron Man books, but from all the Marvel books I did/do read, he shows up fairly regularly. I always read Tony as a snooty, elitist, New York socialite who’s fairly high on himself. Now, Stark is still that way in the film, but instead of giving him the air of New York old money, they moved him to Los Angeles and gave him a slicker, snarky, more likable personality. You almost hate to love Tony Stark; with his womanizing, war profiteering, and “I bring the party” attitude he would sound unlikable, but through the body of Mr. Downey, he’s the kind of guy you really want to party with at 30,000 feet.
The supporting cast is just as note perfect. Not being a fan of Gwyneth Palthrow, I was shocked at how much I truly loved her performance as Pepper Potts. She’s strong, intelligent, competent, lovable, and the perfect companion character to Stark in the film. Jeff Bridges shows off his seasoned acting skills as Obadiah Stane, Tony’s surrogate second father and business partner in Stark Industries. Terrance Howard as Stark's best friend in the military, Jim “Rhodie” Rhodes, seems a bit out of his league in terms of acting prowess, but is something of a palette cleanser through his fun, jokey relationship with the great Mr. Stark.
Of course, no super hero movie would be complete without villains. Iron Man has no shortage of the bad guys, and the best thing about them is that they’re totally believable. No longer do we get some random character who gets super powers and decides to take over the world. We get serious, truthful characters that naturally move in a direction that is the polar opposite to our hero. You understand their mentality; you see the reasoning they follow to their evil demise.
And what would a comic book movie be without Easter Eggs and hints towards sequels? If you pay close attention, and know your Iron Man mythology, you might catch a small clue as to who the next villain will be. There’s also a great moment in reference to the possible future appearance of War Machine, Tony Stark owns a Wii, AND there’s an additional scene after the credits roll. I didn’t get to see it, as it was only added to the film as of the theatrical release date, but I know it’s there and I know what it is, and it’s worth sticking around for.
Bottom line, this movie is amazing. It’s great in every aspect. You will love it, your mom will love it, your girlfriend will love it, your little brother will love it, and you’ll want to see it again pretty much as soon as it’s over. I’m going for the second time on Sunday. It’s worth the price of admission twice over, and I can’t wait until it’s out on Bluray. Make sure Iron Man has a great opening weekend, not only so that we can guarantee a sequel, but so that we can show the film industry that a comic book movie can and SHOULD be well written, deep, challenging, and artistic as well as awesome, action packed, fast paced, and non-stop fun. Go buy your ticket. Go. Now.