Iron Man (***½)

Posted on May 3rd, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Iron Man Review

When I heard they were making a big screen version of the Iron Man comic books (sorry, graphic novels don’t exist, losers) it felt like a body blow – yet another crude and artless raping and pillaging of our cultural history by Hollywood in pursuit of dollars.  Then I heard that the lead was being played by…Robert Downey, Jr!??!?  Um, I’m sorry, I’m afraid I didn’t hear that right…did you say Robert Downey, Jr. would be playing Iron Man????  That…doesn’t make any sense…at all.  I mean, once I thought about it, it sounded slightly interesting, but what in the world were the Hollywood studio execs thinking?  You have to have a big name star to go in your big budget picture with the big special effects and the big promotional tie-ins so you get the big box office with a big early summer season opener…

…right?

Well, then I found out that it wasn’t produced by a “major Hollywood studio”, it’s actually the first major motion picture produced by Marvel (the comic book folks).  And the director?  None other than Jon Favreau, who is about as unlikely a director of a big-budget, special-effects-laden, summer-blockbuster movie as Downey is as the star.

So then I started to get mildly interested.  But that always happens to me as the summer blockbuster season approaches, and I am disappointed about 95% of the time, so I was still skeptical.  Then I started hearing early reviews – and they were good.  And not the bought-and-paid-for-blurb-friendly-pabulum that gets associated with crap like Transformers, Cloverfield, War of the Worlds, King Kong, etc.  Actual positive critiques of the film by cineastes.

“Huh…”, I thought, with tremendous insight if I do say so myself.

When the film opened yesterday I found myself really wanting to see it – however Mynagirl was just returning from out of town, so schlepping out to see a movie would have been near-torture for her during her post-travel recovery.  But, we both wanted to see it and vowed to attend the first screening today (the Saturday after opening).

Which we did…and it was magnificent.  Go and see it right now – in fact, stop reading and just go see it.  Then come back here and finish this review.  One and only one caveat – this film is based on a comic book, so, well, don’t expect it to be super-realistic.  It’s a comic book story, right?  Go in with that mindset and you won’t be disappointed, because Iron Man transcends what I’ve come to expect from big-budget comic book films.  Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast in the lead.  The rest of the roles are also superbly cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges.

The screenplay is intelligent and funny, and the story is engaging.  Yes, the bad guys are a shade stereotypical, but Tony Stark (Downey’s character) is a conflicted hero.  He’s the brilliant son of one of the key players in the Manhattan Project, as an engineer he’s a prodigy, and as a man he’s a charmingly arrogant lothario.  He takes over his father’s company and turns it into gigantic weapons manufacturer, always turning out the latest and greatest technology that the military needs (or at least wants badly after seeing his demonstrations).

Yes, he’s a merchant of death, but on the good side.  Or so he thinks, and thereby hangs the tale – I’ll say no more about the plot because even though this is a big-budget movie with dazzling effects, it’s actually kind of story-driven.

Speaking of the effects, they are also near-perfect.  They aren’t used too little or too much, they appear on screen in what felt like just the right proportions, and they are done with subtly understated mastery, meaning that you don’t get jolted out of the story by cheesy looking effects, they just work perfectly within the context of the story.  For those who want nothing but wall-to-wall effects, this film may not fulfill that jones, as the heavy rocking doesn’t get started until what felt like 45-60 minutes into the story. 

The final scene is particularly satisfying, and be sure to stay all the way through the end credits for a hint as to whether or not there will be a sequel (duh!).

All I can say is, if there is a sequel, I’ll be first in line.

Update 5/11/2008:  Iron Man kicked Speed Racer’s butt at the box office this weekend!!  And this was Iron Man’s second week in release, while it was Speed Racer’s opening weekend!  Hahahahaha!  You may wonder why this makes me happy when I have no direct involvement in either production, but I am filled with glee to see the Wachowski brothers (creators of Speed Racer) fail so spectacularly.  They created “The Matrix”, which SUCKED, but which somehow hypnotized unsuspecting moviegoers into thinking it was good, leading to several sequels and endless imitations – so many, in fact, that it derailed moviemaking for several years, much to my dismay.  Plus, if even half the rumors are true, the Wachowski’s are a couple of freaky weirdos.  So, a big-budget failure of such stupendous magnitude is just what I think they deserved, and maybe will stop them from making any more movies.

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