Monday, May 26, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Iron Man

Iron Man (2008) 7/10
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a boy-genius weapons developer and one of the richest men in the world. In Afghanistan to demonstrate a new missile, he is kidnapped and ordered to build the missile for his kidnappers. With the equipment his captors provide and the assistance of another imprisoned scientist (Shaun Taub), he invents a device to keep the shrapnel in his chest from invading his heart and killing him, and creates an Iron Man suit to effect his escape. Directed by John Favreau.

I could totally review The Apartment, but here I have that rare occasion when I've actually gone to a blockbustery movie on a holiday weekend, and okay, not "the" blockbustery movie, but whatever. So I feel obligated to review Iron Man.

There is something about the Iron Man comics that has always been a little stiff, a little stodgy, a little "establishment." Tony Stark is that rare creature among superheroes; his job is basically not threatened by his secret, nor is his day to day life made particularly more difficult. Okay, sure, heart condition. But the iron suit helps that, it doesn't cause it. Iron Man comics, even when they were a brand new thing, somehow seemed Old Guard; he's about America and Industry and he's got that kind of Bruce Wayne wealth and power and butler and women, and all of that adds up to, "They made a movie? Really? What for?"

On the other side of the equation is Robert Downey, Jr. Hollywood was clamoring to Give That Man a Franchise, which was a damn good idea. Downey is at the peak of his watchability in this film, he is infinitely entertaining to just slap up on the screen and let him do his thing, which Favreau (a talented director who tends towards the very-good-but-not-great) is smart enough to let him do.

Most first superhero movies have 3 parts; the origin, the becoming a hero, and the actual adventure. And most such movies spend too little time on the actual adventure. Iron Man definitely suffers here; the origin in Afghanistan could easily lose twenty percent; the invention of the super-sophisticated suit back home could lose thirty. But for all of those scenes, Downey is on-screen approximately one hundred percent of the time, and every time your mind wanders he pulls you back.

This is a good cast; Terence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow are both far better than they have the right or reason to be, Jeff Bridges phones it in, but his telephone work is better than most actors live. Shaun Taub is wonderful. But this is a one-man show and the movie would, in a word, stink without Downey.

Everything that isn't Downey is technology and effects, and they are damn good. The suit both looks like the comic book version and is believable; it blends with the rest of the action, and that's not easy; we've seen plenty of movies screw that up. The script avoids several clichés that had me cringing when I thought I saw them coming; only the villain is cardboard.

There's an ending that kind of irritated me and charmed me in equal parts, and then a post-credits bonus ending that is delightful. So stick around for the very end.

(Is it better to be cross-posted or respected?)