Thursday, May 8, 2008

Iron Man - Review

So I went to see the "Iron Man" movie Monday night, with Robert Downey Jr. as an inspired choice for Tony Stark (see Stark here in this picture from the comics - Downey looks just like him), Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard. Official synopsis, short version: "Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark builds a high-tech suit of armor and leads a double-life as the superhero, Iron Man." Don't click "Read More" if you don't want spoilers.

I liked it! I liked it a lot! No, it's not great literature, but it's a good move. Very well-cast actors with very good delivery from all (although Howard wasn't in enough of it to get a real sense of him...but I imagine he'll be much bigger in the sequel), a good strong story, great effects, good human interaction as well as great action sequences, plenty of humor...and I'd actually rate it a cut above the generic "yeah this was a good movie and I liked the popcorn too" flick. (That's the kind of movie you enjoy going to see at the movies but it has no deep impact and not much re-watchability.) The movie lightly but definitely asks some troubling questions about weapons development and war profiteering, and the role of U.S. or multi-national corporations in profiting off of weapons trade. (Did you know that, of 25 major conflicts going on in 1999, 20 of them had he U.S. supplying weapons to one or both sides? And that the U.S. creates and exports more than 50% of the world's weapons?)

Iron Man's a classic superhero. *You* might not know that, but he is. He's about 45 years old, contemporary with Spider-Man, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. He's a founding member of the Avengers, alongside the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and neo-founder Captain America. He, Thor, and Captain America are the Avengers "Big 3", and Iron Man is unquestionably one of the big guns of the Marvel Universe, in terms of power, smarts, and influence over other heroes. don't know who the Avengers are? They're equivalent in lots of ways to DC's Justice League. Marvel's Fantastic Four has more name recognition with non-comics fans than the Avengers, but in the comic universe, the Avengers are the premiere super-team.

So Iron Man's big. He's never had much name recognition outside the comics, but he's had his own action figures and appeared in cartoons and video games. Now, he's on the big screen, and doing well.

Doing very well! Robert Downey Jr. was an inspired choice, and not just because of his look. Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark, is a rich playboy who was probably the first superhero to be an alcoholic. Downey (oddly enough) is able to carry off the booze-swilling, womanizing, ultra-rich vibe perfectly - while still having lots of charm and likeability, somehow, just as Stark in the comics manages.

Speaking of the comics, it's nice to see the source material adapted (not slavishly copied) with such respect. Lots of *details* are changed, but everything "feels" right - they've nailed the spirit of Iron Man. A rich womanizer who nevertheless is likeable - and has a sense of responsibility for the common good, and definitely a sense of responsibility for how his inventions get used. The aspect of the plot where he was hunting down and destroying his weapons to prevent others from using them echos the classic "Armor Wars" storyline from the comics. There were lots of other little "Easter eggs" scattered throughout - stuff a comic geek would recognize and be excited about, but that weren't a) stupidly obvious, or b) obscure to non-comics folks. For example, the Asian/Middle-Eastern chr that kidnapped Stark was bent on taking over Asia, and headed an organization called "Ten Rings" - an obvious reference to classic Iron Man foe "the Mandarin", a Yellow Claw variant with ten rings that give him various powers. This guy was "just" a soldier-type, but he was pretty intense - and he seemed set up pretty clearly to be the (or at least "a") villain in the sequel. I think that guy's importance was clear to everyone - he just was a little more significant if you got the comic reference - which is the way it should be with a comic book movie.

Iron Monger was a good choice for villain in this movie. Superhero movies take note - you need a supervillain! Much as I love the original Superman movie *and* Superman Returns, both are marred by not really having real challenges for Superman - not like fighting Zod and co. in Superman II. The Hulk movie was like that, too...of course, that movie was flawed in dozens of other ways too, and the CGI Hulk looked retarded...Spider-Man and the X-Men made great transitions to the movie screen, and part of that was having good villains.

Anyway, Iron Monger was a good choice. Good, fun movie. Iron Man's sort of like James Bond amplified - better gadgets.

Make sure you watch the credits - there's a closing scene that'll excite you if you know enough!

And by the way...tons of comic inspired movies coming out this summer - including a sequel to the best Batman movie of all, Batman Begins, which should be great. And Marvel's announced a sequel to Iron Man already (told you), plus a "Thor" movie (for next summer)? and forthcoming "Captain America" and "Avengers" movies, too. And is the new Hulk movie coming out this year? The last one stunk, imo, but this one is (wisely) ignoring that one and starting from scratch, and Edward Norton is playing Dr. Banner (the Hulk's alter ego), which he should be great at! I hope this movie has some of the "heart" and substance that the old tv show with Bill Bixby did - he was great at communicating the pathos of Banner's Jekyll/Hyde situation. That show also showed the generally non-evil nature of the Hulk, having a creature of rage and destruction that was harmless if left alone...that's always been a part of the Hulk's tragedy, too. Hope the movie will capture some of that...and have better looking CGI!

Go see Iron Man!

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