Well, summer is finally here, and with it comes the onslaught of new blockbusters. I'm happy to say that IRON MAN kicks things off with a huge bang, and I really hope the rest of the summer lives up to my geek fantasies, because Jon Favreau has delivered one of the best entries in the superhero genre. In fact, while watching the film, I could already picture about five sequels - all of which would be just as fantastic with all of the same people involved - and the various plots and secrets they could cover. This movie left me wanting, not in a negative way, but in a big, I-can't-get-enough sort of way.

IRON MAN is based on Marvel Comic series, obviously, about genius billionaire arms manufacturer Tony Stark, who, on a sales pitch in a war zone, is abducted by the enemy (Vietcong in the comics, Islamic extremists in the movie) and escapes using a suit of iron that he constructs for himself instead of building weapons for the bad guys. Upon his return home, he decides that he must perfect the suit, and help rid the world of various baddies, thus becoming a de facto superhero. Also, being a comic book superhero, he is kept from dying by an electromagnet placed around his heart (the arc reactor) and which also powers the suit, allowing for his superhuman abilities.

The bulk of the movie is the origin story, with the final version of the suit and the ultimate decision by Tony Stark to devote himself publicly to superheroics being placed about midway through the third act. A lot of superhero movies have origin stories, I know, but IRON MAN never fails to excite, and it subverts some of the tropes of the genre by having a fully adult character who comes into being via his own means and skills rather than some mere freak accident or reaction. There are things that happen that can obviously only take place in comic book reality, but the film never belittles them or makes jokes out of them. Quite simply, IRON MAN is a film that never fails itself, nor its viewer, by feeling the need to over explain every single detail, and trusts its origins as being believable enough for an audience. Even in its most absurd moments, the fantasy simply exists as a part of reality, and never comes off as too science-fiction-y.

Robert Downey, Jr. as Stark, Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's assistant, Pepper Potts, and Jeff Bridges as villain Obadiah Stane turn in confident, strong work, and take their characters seriously, which is refreshing. The acting in this film is far and away the best of any superhero movie, and Downey's turn as Tony Stark is inspired. I think it just goes to show how much casting actually lends itself to certain roles, as Stark is (and becomes a much worse) alcoholic, and given Downey's own much-publicized problems with addiction. He knows this aspect of the character well, and he knows how to - in this first film, at least - hint at Stark's dependency, but not overplay it or make it obvious. If they ever film the story arch "Demon in a Bottle", which sees Stark battling his alcoholism and is one of the best IRON MAN stories period, I imagine it will be nothing short of fantastic.

Director Jon Favreau throws in some subtle nods to what could come in further installments, mostly for fans to speculate on or get really excited about. The terrorist group that abducts Tony is called the Ten Rings, which points toward the arch-enemy of Iron Man, The Mandarin, who seeks the ten rings of power, as well as the scene in which Rhodey, Stark's friend in the military sector, glances at one of the Iron Man prototypes and says, "Next time, baby." Rhodey becomes the much more heavily armed War Machine in the comics. There's also the much-publicized appearance of Nick Fury and the mention of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the "Avenger initiative," which hints at the super-team's appearance sometime in the future. But the real surprise is that you don't really have to be an Iron Man fan at all in order to enjoy the film and take away from it enough information that you feel like you know anything you should.

Finally, I want to say that this film looks fantastic. There is a lot of special effects work at play here, and it's handled really, really, amazingly well. The Iron Man suits are part practical and part CGI, but it's so seamless you really can't tell the difference. The action sequences are likewise thrilling, and believable, if at times venturing into slightly cartoonish territory (the fall from the sky and then surviving thing, for instance.) The final battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger is a bit short and somewhat standard, but seeing the two suits battling in the streets and destroying everything in their path is a whole lot of fun, and like I said, looks really nice. For the most part, the world of IRON MAN is a pretty strict PG-13 one, complete with enemies being blown up, smashed and slammed into walls, and being shot in the head with any number of Tony's gadgets. There are so many deaths in IRON MAN that had there been any real amount of blood shown, it would have been an easy contender for an R.

As a film, it's faithful to its source material, and that may very well be why it works so well. The comic has long been considered one of the best (when it is written well, of course, like any other continuing series), so it should be no surprise that if you just translate something that's already quite good into another medium the results will be positive. As a semi-fan myself (I've always liked Iron Man, but didn't read his books as much as the X-Men or Batman ones), I was very much blown away. Please, please, please let the rest of the summer season live up to the awesomeness of IRON MAN.


Anonymous said...

even after reading your review of this i still got suckered into seeing "baby mama" instead. hey, tina fey's cute, and at the time i still thought she was one of the writers. worst mistake this summer.


matt said...

I rather enjoyed BABY MAMA for what it was. There were a couple choice bits in it. I can watch Amy Poehler do anything, though...