Review: Iron Man (2008)

IRON MAN
Reviewed: 1st May, 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Iron Man is a blast. Jon Favreau has crafted one of the best superhero movies of recent years with this fun flick, and at the same time creating one of the coolest movie heroes we’ve seen in ages.

For the initiated, Iron Man is the story of Tony Stark, a brilliant weapons designer and billionaire playboy who parties hard, schmoozes women and doesn’t show up to anything on time. While showing off his new uber-deadly missile system, the Jericho, to the Air Force in Afghanistan, he’s kidnapped by the Ten Rings terrorist group and forced to build another missile for bad guys. Instead he builds a suit of power armour to escape the terrorists and make his way back to the US. After seeing the atrocities caused by his own weapons, Stark is determined to fix things by building a bigger, better set of armour and fighting bad guys as “Iron Man”.

The heart and soul of the movie is the man himself, Tony Stark, and Favreau could not have found a better man to play the role than Robert Downey Jr. The man can act; the man deserves a frakkin’ Oscar already for some of his performances already. Toss in his personal problems, and Downey is perfect for the role of the drinking, womanising superhero developing a sense of morality. Backing up the brilliant performance is the writing. Stark goes on a fantastic character journey, as the veils over his eyes are lifted one by one, revealing the terrible things he’s ignored and even been complicit in. As more and more of the plot unfolds we can completely understand why Stark would feel an Iron Man suit would be necessary, but he never loses that sense of fun, that “rock-and-roll” that’s going to make Tony Stark the new Captain Jack Sparrow.

Downey is backed up by a great supporting cast. I was prepared to be annoyed by Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s long-suffering personal assistant, Pepper Potts, but she managed to surprise me. Though she slipped more into cliche comic book “damsel in distress” dialogue towards the end, for the most part Pepper comes across as a well rounded character, with Paltrow delivering equal parts of reluctant subservience, sharp wit and genuine affection for her bastard of a boss. Terrence Howard is a solid presence as Stark’s longtime friend Jim Rhodes, but the film never gives the character a chance to develop, not a chance for the actor show his acting chops. To quote Rhodey; “Next time.” Jeff Bridges is having fun as the villainous Obadiah Stane, Stark’s mentor and business partner-cum-nemesis, and the showdown between the two has a brilliant charge to it, but he never gets to be particularly nasty ’till the last half hour/forty-five minutes. It’s a shame, ’cause Jeff Bridges as a bald supervillain is brillaint.

Favreau shows his own skills as an action director. The various action scenes are great to watch, real nail-biters (unlike so many other superhero action scenes), especially the aerial dogfight around the half-way mark. Favreau resists the urge to fall into barf-o-rama, Bourne-style cinematography for the action scenes. Instead he takes a step back and lets the audience see exactly what’s going on; why Iron Man is swooping, where the fighter jets are, what Iron Monger’s picking up, etc. When the audience knows what’s going on during a big action sequence it tends to be all the more thrilling.

But Favreau doesn’t stray too far from his roots (in a good way). The characters and their interactions have that fresh, realistic feel that he injects into projects since back when he did Swingers. Stark and Pepper have a friendly banter with a hint of what could be either sexual tension of annoyance, depending on the scene. Rhodey and Stark couldn’t be more different yet we see them find the middle ground, their ‘bloke-y-ness’, that allows them to connect and be best friends. Stane is every inch the father figure to Stark, even when he’s trying to throw heavy objects at him, talking like the angry dads we all know and roll our eyes out. Favreau also manages to inject character into the tiniest roles within the film, allowing us to care about them. After getting to know those soldiers from the beginning a little bit, we’re really upset when they’re killed even though they only got a minute or two of screentime. Favreau has some fantastic skills as a director, and I can’t wait to see his future projects.

(Side note: a writer – some readers might know of him – once said that men will only ever express their real feelings when the stakes are high and lives are at stake and there’s other things they really should be concentrating on. That theory holds true in Iron Man, with Stark only ever really expressing himself during the really dire situations, such as changing out his pacemaker. It’s a brilliant character thing that I love to bits.)

The film wasn’t perfect, by any means. As previously stated, Terrance Howard was underused and Jeff Bridges didn’t get nearly enough time to play at being the bad guy. The inclusion of SHIELD was quite clumsy, smacking of something Brett Ratner would’ve done in X3: sure, my inner fanboy was squeeing, but the whole “Strategic Homeland Initiative, yada, yada, yada” joke was stretched out entirely too long. And let’s face it: being a comic book adaptation and a big blockbuster flick, there was always going to be something lacking to this film.

But what this film did give us was fantastic: a loveable, interesitng hero, a great supporting cast, genuinely tense action scenes, and a heck of a fun ride. I heartily reccomend this one.

Rating: 8 out of 10

P.S.: Check out director Jon Favreau in a cameo role as Hogan, Stark’s chauffeur.
P.S.S.: There’s a new Indiana Jones IV trailer before the film… and it’s awesome!
P.S.S.S.: Stay after the end credits. There’s an absolutely brilliant cameo that I won’t spoil, and the groundwork for what may be the most awesome superhero film ever. 😀

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