Friday, May 2, 2008

Iron Man

“I want to protect the people I put in harm’s way.”

The film follows the life-changing events of weapons manufacturer and wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). After performing a weapons demonstration in the Middle East Stark is captured by terrorists and forced to design new weapons for their use. In a last-ditch effort to save his life, Stark creates a armored suit, powered by the small power source keeping him alive, to escape and make his way home.

On arriving back in the states Stark proceeds to shut down the weapons manufacturing part of Stark Industries (which is most of the company), to the displeasure of longtime friend and business parter Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges), and begins a new project - one which will eventually be tabbed by local media as Iron Man.

Directed by Jon Favreau, who also has a small role casting himself as Happy Hogan, the film mixes action, state of the art special effects, humor, and drama to give us one of the better comic book films ever made. This is a fanboy’s wet dream come to life.

Downey is perfect as the smarmy rich death merchant forced to reexamine his life and come to terms with the danger he himself has unleashed into the world. The film takes its time with presenting who Stark is before his abduction and the long process of transforming him into someone new. The downside is Iron Man himself won’t appear until well into the film; the upside, however, is that by the time he does appear you are completely invested in this character and the struggles he will face throughout the rest of the film.

Gwyneth Paltrow provides some nice moments as well in her role as Stark’s executive assistant Pepper Potts. The banter between the pair is wonderful and I praise the screenwriters for making her a smart and complete character who adds another layer to the film. Terrence Howard is Terrence Howard (what more do you have to say?), and provides a strong supporting performance as the man we might get to see as War Machine in a future film.

The special effects, done by ILM, are amazing and provided many moments of applause from the audience throughout the film. Iron Man himself is simply awesome whether standing or flying into action. Favreau also adds light touches of humor through Stark’s construction of the final suit. Although not necessary to the overall plot, they give the story a balance to the film’s darker moments and Favreau is careful never to go too far in keeping the film, almost completely, cheese free.

The film does have a few flaws. The largest of which is a shaky final act between Iron Man and the Iron Monger. Although well done, the sight of two CGI robots battling it out isn’t as fun as Iron Man’s other adventures in the film. Part of the problem is the other elements of the film are simply superior to this final big budget throwdown, and part of the problem is the lumbering Iron Monger armor itself. Although it exudes danger and power, in the end it comes off as a slow and ungainly robot. The battle also includes one of the few groan moments of the film when the story incorporates a much over-used horror flick plot device. Elements to the big climactic fight are also left unresolved, and the head scratching ending isn’t so much glossed over as completely ignored (though the film’s final sequence does end on a high note).

Although Iron Man isn’t a perfect film, it is very, very cool. It earns points for me in terms of story, keeping true to the origin of the character, a good mix of drama and humor, and some kick ass fight scenes and special effects (even if it does struggle at times during the final act). The film does an excellent job in handling the origin of the hero, bringing it into the 21st Century, and incorporating the Iron Monger storyline to create something which honors the original and gives us something new as well. If Marvel Studios can keep producing films of this quality then comic book geeks are going to be happy for a long time.

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