Iron Man – Movie Review

Will the Incredible Hulk smash Iron Man this Summer? it seems unlikely.

It would seem moot to write a review of this film now, thanks to commitments in the “Real World” I wasn’t able to see the film until a week after its release date, by which time of course the majority of the known universe has gorged on its CGI treats, and is hungrily anticipating “Robot Monkey 7 and the Snails of Doom” or whatever massively hyped new product is being pushed onto the market. Despite that, I’m inclined to share my thoughts anyway..

As a fan of MOVIES as well as film, I’m always ready to get excited about a big budget blockbuster stomping its way into town, and indeed this summer, there appear to be so many tentpoles, the next three months are shaping up into one massive marquee of computer generated roller-coasters of idiocy. Personally, I have no problem with that whatsoever – I relish the chance for brainless escapism, and fully recognise that they do not embody high art, or possess oscar winning drama. To judge trashy movies as anything but that seems belligerently blinkered in my opinion – you wouldn’t order a Big Mac and get angry that it’s not Kobe beef.

Anyway, I digress.

There’s little point in me explaining the plot, suffice to say it’s a superhero movie, based on one of Marvel’s biggest comic book franchises, and being the first in what will no doubt be a long series of films, its about billionaire playboy and arrogant genius Tony Stark “discovering” his powers and becoming the titular hero.

Iron Man is the first big blockbuster of Summer ’08, its also the first film produced entirely by Marvel Studios, which means the characters and director have been granted permission to have the original comic book hero transferred to screen in his purest form, sidestepping the traditional Big Hollywood Studio Meddling which often results in fan-baiting touches like plastic bat-nipples or flames on Optimus. This can only be a good thing, and from the outset it is reflected well on the screen – Robert Downey Jr has an off-screen notoriety and a troubled past that the audience is no doubt familiar with. Consequently, we can instantly accept Jr’s Stark imbued with these negative qualities and the director is allowed to build on them…

This may be a kid’s film, but within minutes we see him as a substance abusing, womanizing lothario. What first sprung to mind upon watching this was how much emphasis is always put on the Dark element of Batman – even in 1989 when Tim Burton’s film came out, there was endless hyperbole about how sinister and adult in nature the film was. Looking back at that film now, it seems strangely twee and innocent! Stark / Downey Jr / Iron Man is indisputably more grown up, but he can only be so because of the path paved before by other comic book movies – Bryan Singer’s X-Men films and Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins for example have consciously and vocally made an effort to have their protagonists rooted in a real world where actions have reactions, characters have motivations, and quite often the dust is still settling in the inevitable sequel.

Patronising though it may sound, this means that Iron Man has pulled off no mean feat of feeling like an actual Film, and not just a trashy Movie – there is a fantastic cast here, comprising of genuine actors, as opposed to pretty looking him-bots and fem-bots who can enunciate. Not only that, but there’s enjoyable dialogue between them, and not just verbatim exposition. Gwyneth Paltrow is surprisingly engaging as Stark’s PA, and Jeff Bridges is a menacing joy as the least Lebowsk-ian character I’ve seen him portray in a long time, no doubt thanks to his polished baldy-beardy head, and a nice line in sharply cut suits.

Naturally, its Downey Jr’s show and he steals it – there seems to be a lot of anti-Downey sentiment and several people I know have said they won’t go to see this film because he’s the star. A few years ago I would have instantly agreed and dismissed him as one of those annoying Hollywood stars who hasn’t really done anything of note other than get caught falling out of nightclubs and into addiction, but ever since I saw him in the sadly underrated “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” I’ve found myself looking forward to whatever he does next (in this instance – a big name ensemble comedy set in Vietnam – “Tropic Thunder“..). His neurotic performance in “A Scanner Darkly” is excellent, and I even found myself willingly sitting down to watch “Chaplin” recently (I know he got an oscar for it, but I was 15 when it came out and it was directed by Luvvie Darling Richard Attenborough, which to me at that age meant there was inevitably going to be onscreen crying and self-flaggelation involved).

There can be no doubt that this franchise will elevate Downey Jr from a “big name” to a “justifiably big name with box office draw” and I think that is something long overdue.

Back to the film, and one thing that is overwhelming in this movie is the vast amount of Gadget Porn going on – Stark is a multi-billionaire technical wizard, so it’s only fitting that every aspect of his life is filled with shiny, touch-screeny gizmos that all seem to debate the weather with him in a posh English butler’s voice. Jolly good show say I! Of course, what this means is that the final, Mark 3 suit is essentially just his shiniest sexiest new gadget, but this seems to befit the context – a lot of superheroes are shown to display a Jeckyll and Hyde style schizophrenia as soon as they don their cape or spandex pants. Stark has such a brash, bold personality, that the iron suit is just another executive jet plane, sports car or war machine to him, and he revels in playing with his new toy just as much as the audience does watching it.

It’s hard to deny that I greatly enjoyed this film. My one criticism though would have to be the trailer. If you have seen the trailer, you have essentially seen the film. This isn’t exactly the first time this has happened in cinematic history, but it was slightly disappointing that so much was given away months before the film came out, that by the time I sat down to watch it, it almost felt like I was waiting for Those Moments, and by the time the credits rolled there had been no genuine surprises or revelations. Inevitably, when I sit down to watch this a 2nd time when the dvd comes out, that will be irrelevant anyway, but hopefully when Iron Man 2 is on its way, the concept itself will have been successfully sold to an audience, so that the marketing can afford to be slightly more cagey and teasing.

Marvel Studios has managed to start out on a very strong footing, and it is one that I slightly anxiously fear might waver a bit in the coming months with the Please-God-Let-It-Not-Suck “Incredible Hulk” and the Meh-Whatever “Punisher 2.” Whatever happens over the course of the rest of this year, we can be sure that Iron Man will rank highly in end of year lists of ticket sales, and crowd pleasing fun. Let’s look forward to the next one in 2 years’ time, and the probable advent of War Machine . . oh, and go rent Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. It’s great.

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