Monday, May 5, 2008

Iron Helps Us Play

You know what? Screw waiting I feel like I'm the last person on the internet to be talking about it. Iron Man is the best pure blockbuster film of the last, let's call it five years. What's most gratifying about the movie's success is that the film dazzles and delights in it's smaller moments as much as it does during the big set-pieces. The reason behind it's success? Simple: Robert Downey Jr, quite simply the best special effect in a summer movie to come along in a long time.

Downey Jr's portrayal of the "cool exec with the heart of steel", Tony Stark, is invigorating, exciting and most importantly fun. I've no doubt watching The Dark Knight and it's impressive roster of talent will take my breathe away later this summer but I sincerely doubt I'll be having nearly as much fun in the theater. Downey plays the comedy to the hilt, he's got "fuck you" money and at the movie's start he's more than happy to revel in his hedonism with gambling, women and booze (the man has the coolest looking liquor cabinet in movie history-and it's PORTABLE). He's just so damn fun. But what's more remarkable is that Downey handles Stark's dramatic (his post-kidnapping press conference-getting the press to sit down on the ground-it's so bizarre it comes off as authentic), romantic (his encounter with Pepper Potts at the gala) and impassioned moments (watching the news report of the Ten Rings attack) with just as much aplomb. It's a rare superhero picture that makes you long to see the man out of the costume as much as you want to see him in it. Downey is electrifying in more than one sense of the word, he invigorates his co-stars who would otherwise be sleep-walking through a big action comic book movie any way (I remember you in Sky Captain Gwenyth, I don't forget).
Devin Faraci over at CHUD really nailed it right on the head in his review stating that the film scores it's highest marks in character and tone. Downey brings the character and Favreau and his writers (Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby of Children of Men) bring the tone. It'd be very simple to have Tony be incredibly mournful about the death and destruction around him that has by-in-large been caused by him, plenty of opportunities for big sloppy, soppy melodrama (and we all know how well THAT worked out for Toby crying every three minutes Maguire). However, Iron Man remains breezy fun even in it's non-superhero moments. It's brisk, energetic and the script keeps the proceedings a delight from start to finish (a finish which really underlines that overriding sense of fun that permeates the film). Sure the film follows the standard first superhero movie formula, but it finds original ways to overcome and twist that formula. The film breezes through it's exposition opening en media res with Tony Stark getting attacked and captured in the Middle East and then flashing back in an exposition dispensing award sequence where the "before" Tony gets revealed to the audience. You'd think that that a billionaire, screw-around, playboy, weapons designer would be the last role-model for audiences to lash onto, but Downey charms with the material, not in spite of it. We latch onto him because he has a can-do attitude, his conflicts (like being near fatally wounded) are just problems that can be over come with ingenuity and spirit.
If we're going to get nit-picky, I will say that none of the actors (as talented as they are) can even touch Downey. Sure they raise their game when he's around, but make no mistake who's the star of this movie. The moment he leaves a scene the other performers feel just a touch limp. They're fine, bu not GREAT. Paltrow's Pepper Potts has the verve and spunk one would expect from the character (and is given way more to do then I would've ever imagined). Howard and Downey have a nice, easy chemistry that makes the two a fun pair but I don't think Howard will find his "oomph" in the role until he becomes War Machine. Jeff Bridges gives an oddball verve to Stark's antagonistic business partner Obadiah Stane but when he turns villainous it's as though Bridges is out of ideas and plays it rather obviously. Additionally the score is flat, uninspiring and unmemorable, I certainly wish Marvel got iconic music that was worthy of their iconic characters.

Once the Iron Man armor comes to the fore it's Favreau's time to shine. His reliance on equal parts practical effects as well as cgi makes the suit believable and a really powerful and visually dynamic piece of work. When Tony in his mark II armor makes goes into action it's a real "hell yeah!" moment for the audience. Iron Man is a big, dangerous, incredibly cool piece of technology. It really feels as though the armors in this movie are functional and exist in the real world. Which makes it all the better when two suits of armor duke it out at the end it doesn't feel like two cgi characters bashing each other, two avatars. No, it's two characters and there are stakes here, life and death, ideologies.
Now I need to reveal my nerd bias a bit. The movie is littered with nerd references and allusions that only comic fans will get (but they never overwhlem the film and make it impossible to enjoy). You get references to War Machine, the Roxxon Corporation, SHIELD, the Mandarin, Jarvis, Happy Hogan and a lot more (especially at the end) and I got squeal-ish at all of the film. Especially the SHIELD agents. I mean, if those are SHIELD agents then there is SO much more happening on the periphery in the world of the film. It's...very exciting.

1 comment:

Football Chick said...

I realize I'm way late on this but Iron Man is AMAZING and I agree in highly recommending it to everyone. Everyone! Loved it.